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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.

Agenda for July 10, 2019 City Council Meeting

Dear Neighbors:

I was pleased to see many Ward One friends and neighbors when I marched in the Independence Day Parade. It followed a different, somewhat shorter route this year due to the large tree that fell on Maple Avenue in the early morning and blocked the normal route. Many thanks to City Police and other staff, along with the Independence Day Committee, for making the necessary last minute arrangements to allow the Parade to happen anyway, not to mention their work to put together this year’s fireworks-free Fourth of July celebration. I also appreciate the Pepco repair crews who worked to restore power to the neighborhood, and the patient residents of Maple Avenue whose electricity didn’t return until the evening.

Here’s a link to his week’s City Council meeting agenda: https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/city-council-meeting-agenda-wednesday-july-10-2019/. The meeting will start with a presentation by the Legal Services Review Advisory Group. Then there will be votes on resolutions on a City staff pay structure and on the use of specialized counsel for land use matters. Finally, we’ll have work sessions on the possible creation of a Parking Management Task Force; on 2020 legislative priorities for the Maryland Municipal League; and on appointments to resident committees.

It was previously announced that County Councilmember Tom Hucker would appear before the City Council as part of this week’s meeting. However, that has been postponed so he can attend the Community Conversation on Racial Equity and Social Justice that’s being hosted by the County Executive and the County Council President on the same night: https://www2.montgomerycountymd.gov/mcgportalapps/Press_Detail.aspx?Item_ID=23277&Dept=1


City Council Schedule. The Council will meet on the next four Wednesdays, up through July 31. Then we’ll be in recess for the month of August, with our first meeting back on September 4.

Office Hours -- July 10. I’ll be available on Wednesday from 3:00 - 5:00 PM at the Girl and the Vine to discuss local issues with Ward One residents. Appointments aren’t required. If you’re not free then, contact me in order to schedule a mutually convenient time to get together.

Montgomery College Math-Science Building Public Meeting -- July 9.  The next public meeting on the new building will take place from 7:00 - 9:30 PM at MC’s Cultural Arts Center (7995 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring). The meeting will focus on the upcoming phases of the project, including demolition of the existing structures and construction plans.

Library’s 84th Birthday -- July 9. This important milestone will be celebrated at 7:30 PM in the Library, with cake, kids’ activities, crafts and more.

Coffee with the Mayor -- July 17.  The Mayor and I will continue this early morning tradition, this time at Takoma Bevco starting at 8:00 AM. Drop by for coffee and conversation.

Suburban Deer Management Presentation -- July 17. A deer management specialist from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources will lead a presentation and discussion at 6:30 PM in the Community Center Azalea Room.

Special City Council Session on Tree Polices -- July 22. On June 19 the Council formally began the process of reviewing our Tree Ordinance and considering how to develop and implement tree canopy goals, with presentations on the current version of the ordinance and on the canopy analysis that was provided earlier this year by an outside academic specialist. You can see the presentations and discussion through this link: https://takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/meetings-and-documents/city-council-video/. You’ll need to scan ahead to 1:48:30 in the June 19 video sublink.

On Monday, July 22, there will be a special Council work session devoted solely to tree policies. The session will be conducted jointly with the Tree Commission and the Committee on the Environment, both of which will offer their recommendations. We are in the early stages of this process, with a tentative follow-up discussion in September for the Council to consider the general direction it would like to go on tree issues. My own view is that work on revising the ordinance and developing canopy goals can largely move forward in tandem, since they are inter-related. As this effort unfolds, it’s my hope that a key priority informing any tree planting efforts undertaken by the City will be emphasizing the major contribution of native species in promoting and maintaining biodiversity. I’ll certainly be supporting that principle.

Dockless Scooters Pilot Program. The City is participating in Montgomery County’s Dockless Vehicle Demonstration Project. The project is expected to last 6 months with an option for extension. More information on the program can be found here. The County has a survey open to solicit resident feedback on the program.

Small Cell Tower Regulations -- Going Into Effect on July 15. The Council earlier this year enacted an ordinance governing the installation of small cell towers in the City’s public rights of way. The ordinance was adopted in response to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling that significantly pre-empted the ability of municipalities to set their own rules for such installations. This means that in some areas we would have liked to have tighter restrictions, but we were legally hamstrung by the FCC ruling.

City staff have now issued the regulations for implementing the ordinance, which you can see through this link: https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-clerk/administrative-regulations/admin-regulation-2019-1-small-cell-wireless-final.pdf. Members of the public and the Council had the opportunity to provide input on the draft regulations, and I’m pleased that the final regulations take into account some of the concerns that were raised as part of that process. In addition, Daryl Braithwaite, our Public Works Director made several important commitments on how her department will enforce the regulations that also address some of the points raised by the Council and the community.

The changes to the regulations include the creation of a publicly accessible website with details on all applications as soon as they are received; clarification that the City will be responsible for hiring all contractors for measurement of Radio Frequency emissions, which is a key public health concern; mandatory consultation with our Committee on the Environment on all applications; a requirement that pedestrian and bicycle sight-lines be taken into account in considering the placement of towers or equipment; and making it clear that the regulations apply whether a cell unit is installed on a pole or any other location or structure.

Ms. Braithwaite also committed in our discussion on June 19 to appropriate public notice of any tree impacts associated with tower installation; robust community engagement around any negotiations for potential reduced fees in exchange for public benefits that could be provided by telecom companies; and requiring installations to be coordinated with other utility or street construction projects as needed.

With all the changes and commitments that have been made, I think we have a solid regulatory structure in place. To the extent there are areas that may still need our attention, we have the ability to amend the ordinance in the future to address them. With that in mind, we’ll be closely monitoring any cell tower applications that may be submitted. Interested residents who’d like to see our June 19 discussion on the regulations can do so via this link, starting at the 1:11 mark: https://takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/meetings-and-documents/city-council-video/ 


Legal Services Review:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190710-1.pdf. With our current City Attorney contract due to expire at the end of this year, the Council had previously appointed a group of three outside attorneys with ties to the City to conduct a review of our municipal legal services practices and needs, including how best to determine the legal work that should be handled by the City attorney as oppose to specialized counsel. The advisory group issued a report on these matters earlier this year, and will be presenting it to the Council this week.

City Staff Pay Structure:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190710-2.pdf. Takoma Park contracts with outside consultants to review the pay of City employees who aren’t part of a collective bargaining unit. This review is conducted in order to see how the City pay structure compares with other similarly situated Maryland municipalities, and it’s also used to help determine staff pay. We’ll be considering a resolution to establish increases in pay for the coming year for this group of workers. It includes most management positions, jobs considered confidential in nature, and most part-time positions. There are currently 42 full-time positions in these categories, along with 6 open slots. I think it’s important for the Counsel to ensure that our employees receive fair, competitive wages, while at the same time being good stewards of taxpayer dollars. I’ll be reviewing the pay scale and the resolution with those considerations in mind.

Legal Counsel Land Use Resolution:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/20190710-3.pdf. With the pending closure of Washington Adventist Hospital, and the possible purchase of the hospital property by Washington Adventist University or another entity, some potentially complex land-use legal matters will likely be coming before the City government. The City Manager is requesting that the Council authorize the retaining of specialized legal counsel to provide relevant advice about the hospital property or other similar land use matters. Under the resolution and our current contracting procedures, any legal work exceeding $5,000 would have to be voted on by the Council. I think it’s important for us to have this type of advice, and with the $5,000 cut-off, I plan to vote in favor of the resolution.

Parking Management Task Force:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190710-4.pdf. We’ll be discussing the idea of creating a resident task force to advise the Council and City staff on potential changes to our parking policies. The City previously contracted with an outside consultant to conduct a parking management study and recommend changes to our parking policies, many of which would apply to Ward One. You can review the study and recommendations through the above link. Given the complexity of the issues, along with the some staff changes, the Council has so far made limited progress in reviewing these proposals. With the impact of any parking changes likely to vary widely by street and neighborhood, I’m inclined to believe that a resident task force would be well positioned to provide valuable advice on appropriate parking policy changes.

MML Legislative Priorities:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190710-5.pdf. Every year, the City has an opportunity to recommend up to three legislative action requests to the Maryland Municipal League for potential inclusion in their agenda for the upcoming State legislative session in Annapolis. The Council will discuss possible items for our list to submit to the MML. My biggest areas of concern on which I think MML can be helpful are blocking pre-emption by the State of our small cell tower ordinance; curbing poorly coordinated, unresponsive activity by utilities within our borders; and addressing housing cost increases connected to the Purple Line. I’m open to other ideas for the 2020 agenda, and I encourage residents to contact me with suggestions.

Committee Appointments:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190710-6.pdf. Information on specific nominees was not available at the time this message was prepared.

Sign Up for the Takoma Insider. To sign up for the weekly electronic Takoma Park newsletter featuring a comprehensive listing of City sponsored events and meetings click on this link:  http://takomaparkmd.gov/about-takoma-park/sign-up-enews-updates/.

As always, please be in touch with questions or comments about any of the issues that are covered in this message.

Peter Kovar

Takoma Park City Council

Ward One



July 17, 2019 City Council Agenda

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