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Welcome to my blog, which features frequent updates on local Takoma Park issues, including City Council meeting agendas, plus occasional commentary on national news and politics.

February 27, 2019 City Council Agenda and Takoma Junction Update

Dear Neighbors:

Here’s a link to the February 27, 2019 City Council agenda:  https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/city-council-meeting-agenda-wednesday-february-27-2019/.  Since last week’s meeting was postponed due to wintry weather, that agenda is carried over, and there are a couple of new items. Before the regular meeting starts, Pepco will make a presentation on its project in the City, with resident Q and A as part of the session. In the regular meeting, there’s a single vote on the budget amendment we’ve discussed and voted on previously. Then we’ll discuss Youth Council issues, resident committee appointments, Council Priorities, and proposed legislation to ban the use of plastic straws (those last two items were not on last week’s agenda). Upon completion of those discussions, the Council will go into a closed session for a meeting with the City Manager regarding her performance evaluation.

Office Hours:  I’ll be at Takoma Bevco on Thursday, February 28 from 10:00 AM - Noon to meet with residents about any topic. No appointment needed. If you can’t make it then, feel free to contact me so we can arrange a mutually convenient time to talk.

Takoma Junction Update:  As outlined in the blog I circulated on Thursday (http://www.councilmemberkovar.com/blog/2019/2/21/february-21-2019-update-on-takoma-junction-development), with NDC now having submitted to the County Planning Office a design that’s about 15 percent smaller than its original proposal, the City Council is considering how best to move forward. With the next formal action on the project a March 19 County Development Review Committee (DRC) meeting that’s open to the public, City Manager Suzanne Ludlow has proposed a schedule for the City’s upcoming steps on the project. You can read her email -- sent to Councilmembers on Friday -- outlining her proposal at the end of this message. Among her key schedule recommendations are a presentation from NDC about the new plan on March 20 (the day after the DRC meeting), and a City Council vote on the new plan on May 15 (with the County Planning Office vote likely on or about June 14).

I’m continuing to give thought to how we ought to proceed. On the one hand, as the City Manager’s message points out, this schedule is generally aligned with the approach to site plan changes in the Junction resolution adopted by the Council last year. On the other hand, I’d like to have a clearer sense of what the new plan consists of prior to the DRC meeting. By the same token, if NDC were to present after the DRC meeting, I’m not convinced having them appear before the Council literally the day after that meeting is the best way to elicit the most information. However, I do think it would be beneficial to have a read-out on the DRC as soon after the meeting as possible. These are among the aspects of the process I’ll be discussing with my colleagues, and I’d be glad to hear residents’ thoughts on these and other points.

Finally, I mentioned in last week’s blog and at other times the need for NDC to improve their communication with the City. I’m hopeful the changes in that area laid out in the City Manager’s email will lead to improvements.

Pepco presentation:  If you’re concerned about the ongoing effects of the Pepco project on our neighborhoods, this session will offer an opportunity to learn details about the status of the project and plans for its next steps, and to ask questions about when Pepco crews may be scheduled to be on your street, and actions they are taking to address residents’ concerns.

Anyone who has undertaken even a modest-sized home improvement project certainly understands that the timeline and impact of a project may change from what was originally anticipated. However, it’s my view that Pepco has fallen short in terms of its communication with the community and City officials, especially when the timing or location for work has changed. Municipalities face legal limits in their ability to regulate utilities’ activities, but I’m hoping we’ll be able to work with our representatives in Annapolis to explore some changes in that area. A key part of any effort along those lines will be having feedback from residents on the impact of this type of project. So I encourage all interested residents to attend this session. If you can't make it and would like to have your comments made part of the record, feel free to send them to City Clerk Jessie Carpenter (jessiec@takomaparkmd.gov) and to me.

Budget Amendment:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190227-1.pdf. This budget amendment comprises a series of shifts in funding, due mainly to either delays in filling City positions or slower than anticipated activity on larger projects. I voted for the amendment when it was approved unanimously by the Council two weeks ago on a preliminary vote, and I’ll be voting yes this week on final passage.

Youth Council:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190227-2.pdf. The update will include suggested changes to the Youth Council charter, on which we’ll likely vote during an upcoming City Council meeting.

Council Priorities:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190227-3.pdf. As in past years, the Council has been discussing its priorities for the coming year, and working specifically on changes to the existing priorities document. As a result of our discussions -- including at two Council “retreats” -- we’ve identified several top priorities to which we intend to give particular focus in the coming year, with an understanding that we’ll work to build racial equity considerations into all of our priorities and actions. The top priorities we’ve identified are the following:

·       Ensuring we have a range of safe, quality, and stable housing options that are affordable for residents of varying incomes and all races and ethnicities  

·       Planning and preparing for development in the City and region while maintaining the special character and diversity of Takoma Park

·       Prioritizing actions, policies, innovations, and new opportunities that mitigate and adapt to the causes and effects of climate change  

·       Improve and formalize systems for Council-appointed committees  

·       Improving policies and processes, particularly those related to the Tree Ordinance and traffic, to make them more equitable and easy to understand and follow

The Council will maintain our more comprehensive list of priorities, all of which we’ll hope to make progress on, and we’ll devote significant amounts of time to our annual budget process, too. But the expectation is that the five priorities listed above will absorb much of our attention.

This week, in addition to continuing to refine our priorities document, we’ll bring tax and budget considerations into our discussion to help ensure we have a clear understanding of how feasible some of the ideas may be within an overall financial context.

Plastic Straws:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190227-4.pdf.  Based in part of advocacy from local elementary school students, the City Council has begun considering legislation to generally ban the use of plastic straws and stirrers, with exceptions for patrons who may need them. We’ll be discussing this idea and a draft ordinance. I’m supportive of taking this step, provided the ordinance ensures that disabled individuals who may require straws can easily obtain them. I also want to make sure the transition to a new policy along these lines will be workable for small businesses.

Committee Appointments:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190227-5.pdf. Our discussion will focus on recommendations for pending appointments to fill openings on City committees, commissions, etc., within the context of the Council’s interest in promoting more membership diversity.

Administrative Session with City Manager:  After we complete action on the agenda outlined above, the City Council will meet with the City Manager as a follow-up to her performance evaluation. These kinds of Administrative function sessions on personnel matters aren’t public.

Feel free to be in touch with comments or questions regarding any of these topics, and you can scroll down to see the City Manager’s Takoma Junction email.

Peter Kovar, Takoma Park City Council, Ward One

240-319-6281; www.councilmemberkovar.com


City Manager’s February 22 Takoma Junction Message:


Dear Councilmembers,

I want to follow up on my last email regarding the Takoma Junction project with my recommended process moving forward.

We have learned that the smaller plan being considered by the County was at the request of County staff and was not the desire of NDC. The letter received earlier this week from NDC left that matter unclear, but we have confirmed that it was, in fact, at the direction of the County.

As I have said all along, we expected that there would be changes to the plans as they go through the County process. How to handle those changes was specified in a provision of City Council Resolution #2018-41, lines 502-508:

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT, the Council will provide additional comment on any modifications made to the Site Plan during the Montgomery County development review process that noticeably change the building’s or site’s appearance, footprint or functionality to ensure that the modified plan continues to address its goals for the revitalization of Takoma Junction and will include those comments in a Resolution to the Montgomery County Planning Board when the draft Final Site Plan/Preliminary Plan comes before the Montgomery County Planning Board for consideration.

Proposed schedule moving forward

I propose that NDC come to Council on March 20 to present its plans as of that date. March 20 is the day after the Development Review Committee (DRC) meets and City staff would have comments to share based on our own review as well as information from the various departments and agencies that participate in the DRC. The DRC discussion may lead to other changes that may be needed in NDC’s plans. For this reason, it is best to wait until after the DRC meeting to have this presentation. From a City staff capacity issue, I prefer that staff focus on its careful review of the current plans in the coming weeks, rather than respond several times to changing plans and requests.

Consideration by the Montgomery County Planning Board is to occur within 120 days of the acceptance of an application, which takes it to about June 14, 2019. (The time period can be extended.) I propose that the City Council have a Work Session on May 1, 2019 on the Takoma Junction plans and then consider a Resolution at the Council Meeting of May 15, 2019. Additional dates in May could be considered for continued discussion if needed. This allows adequate time to submit a Resolution to the Planning Board regarding the plans within the standard development review time frame.

The month of April is the primary month for the Council to consider the proposed FY20 budget, involving presentations, and special Budget Work Sessions. It is better to have discussions of Takoma Junction plans once budget reconciliation is largely completed.

Improving communications

In addition to the scheduled Council discussions, from now through May, communications with NDC on process or certain issues of Council concern should be formalized. NDC requests a weekly phone call to be held between NDC staff, City staff and a City Council representative, focusing primarily on questions of process and new information that arises from the County review.

In addition, Councilmembers are encouraged to send me questions that may be answered in writing by NDC and posted on our website. Questions I have heard so far are: “What is the impact of a smaller building mass on the financial feasibility of the project?” and “What impact might there be of a smaller building size on expected rents and types of building use?”

I hope this addresses concerns on how we can best move forward through the development review process. Staff is also trying to work on budget preparation and other major projects, so I would like to have this process and timeline be as clear as possible.



March 6, 2019 City Council Meeting Agenda

February 21, 2019 Update on Takoma Junction Development