City Council Odds and Odds

Dear Readers,

Not “odds and ends” because issues before the City Council never seem to end.

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RENT CONTROL

Under considerable outside pressure from the county, the city council pushed through an ordinance creating rent control exemptions, even though the form of the overall rent control ordinance is still being hashed out and will not be written for months. Why? Because the county wants non-profit-owned, subsidized rental units NOT to be rent controlled.

If you think that is confusing, dear Reader, you are not the only one. Gilbert has been making The Mighty Effort to get his brain around this, and just when he gets one end secure, the other end snaps back – like trying to put a twin-bed-sized contour sheet onto a king-size mattress.
The urgency seems to be due to at least one pending sale of an apartment building to a nonprofit organization and this exemption must be passed into law so the purchase can go through. Otherwise, the property will go to other buyers who will likely convert to condos.

“Why?” you may ask, oh, confused Reader! Why do nonprofit landlords need rent controls to be lifted so they can make a profit, while “for-profit” landlords are subject to rent control and therefore not allowed to make as much profit (or no profit, according to many landlords). This apparent contradiction has been noted by for-profit landlords in tones ranging from loud to derisive. Litigation has been mentioned.

Again.

Unfortunately for the proponents of rent control who support these exemptions, the explanation is a bit murky. This has had the effect of handing a blunt instrument to rent control opponents to hammer them with, as they have done for a number of weeks during “citizen comment.” Lately, that portion of the meeting has been more like “lawyers’ threat time.”

The reason non-profits have to make a bigger profit has to do with the potential profits from the eventual sale of a property being figured into the rent of a for-profit building. Selling the building for profit is something a nonprofit owner can’t do, so they need to have higher rents. That’s what your Gilbert understands, anyway. By the way, low income tenants in these non-profit-owned buildings will not pay the entire rent, they pay a percentage of their incomes and the government picks up the rest.

There was a lot of concern when the council started looking at exemptions to rent control, because homeowners with accessory apartments were afraid they would lose their current exemption. The city staff, who sometimes seem at odds with the council on rent control, had recommended that all exemptions other than for non-profits be dropped, and this rang alarm bells (and then councilmembers’ telephones) all over the city.

The council kept the exemption for accessory apartments, however. It is in the new ordinance along with the exemption for non-profits.

THE GYM

The city will be hiring a firm to do a feasibility study for the gym. The staff took proposals and recommended the ANCL Architects firm. The council will vote to award a contract July 31 and the study should take about eight weeks. So, in the fall we will know how feasible (in other words, “how expensive”) the construction of a gym is.

OLD TOWN DEVELOPMENT, LEGACY FUND

The developer ICG/Takoma has dropped plans for its ambitious and controversial residential development on the “Taliano’s” property. Word is that the property will continue to be used as commercial space, and that Bruce Levin, a local developer who had a small interest in IGC, will buy out the rest of the project from the other partners.

Even though this project’s potential traffic/parking nightmare is no longer a threat, the local neighborhood association is still pushing the council to get a grant from the Community Legacy Fund, a state loan program, to create a comprehensive parking solution for Old Town. Parking has long been a problem for the area’s residents and businesses.

PARKING AROUND THE COMMUNITY CENTER

A consultant presented proposals to create up to 57 parking spaces in the area around the municipal building/community center. Some of them were no-brainers, such as putting in parallel parking spaces on Maple. Others were potentially controversial, such as buying the PEPCO substation property on the corner of Maple and Philadelphia and turning it into a parking lot, or moving the cul-de-sac barrier several yards up Grant Avenue to create a 4-car mini-lot. Of course, it would not be the Takoma Park way to discuss automobile traffic without giving equal time to bicycle and pedestrian traffic. crosswalk “bump-outs” and streetscaping on Maple Avenue were also recommended. Alas, they lamented that there was no place for a bike lane. Hopefully, the consultants will consult with the Safe Roadways Committee which recommended marking the Maple/Philadelphia intersection with “sharrows” – chevron shapes showing lane is shared by bikes, and work something out.

Staff recommended, and the council agreed, that the simplest, least controversial steps be taken and the parking situation then be reassessed.

PARKING PERMITS

In amazingly quick response to citizen complaints, the council acted to establish a parking permit zone in the Belford Place/Conway Avenue/New Hampshire Avenue neighborhood. It seems that in order to avoid parking lot fees at nearby Belford Towers, many tenants park on the surrounding streets. This has resulted, residents say, in lack of parking for homeowners, litter, and altercations. Colleen Clay, their ward representative, worked diligently on this one for her constituents. She even tried to contact Belford Tower’s absentee landlord (a large corporation) but to no avail.

The permit required for the situation is without precedent in the city. Current permitting ordinances are set up for business hours to prevent commuter parking, but here the residents were asking for 24/7 coverage. That may come later, but the ordinance the city passed July 24th restricts parking from 7:00 pm to 8:00 am.

SPEED HUMPS

What could be more “Takoma Park” than speed humps? Councilmember Colleen Clay, in a careless moment, revealed that speed humps are her “least favorite traffic calming device.” If that doesn’t spark a recall movement, it will be only because she spoke in the course of proposing two speed humpizations – “one or more” speed humps to be built on Woodland and Lower Conway Avenues. Councilmember Elrich was a bit put out that the Woodland Avenue residents were able to get nonstandard speed humps – they requested humps that are more “bike friendly” and gentler than the city’s standard hump, but he was assured that the humps would be built to the county standard, so there were no extra expense sincurred in hump-design.

And, you thought council speed-hump discussions would be boring, dear Reader!

– Gilbert.

About the Author

Gilbert
Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

1 Comment on "City Council Odds and Odds"

  1. Colleen Clay | August 4, 2006 at 8:18 pm |

    The reason non-profits have to make a bigger profit has to do with the potential profits from the eventual sale of a property being figured into the rent of a for-profit building. Selling the building for profit is something a nonprofit owner can’t do, so they need to have higher rents. That’s what your Gilbert understands, anyway. By the way, low income tenants in these non-profit-owned buildings will not pay the entire rent, they pay a percentage of their incomes and the government picks up the rest.
    Gilbert. I don’t understand your assessment of why non-profits need relief from rent control while for-profit landlords do not. Maybe you could more fully explain your logic. As I understand the economics of rental housing, rents are set by the surrounding rental market, not by the resale value of housing. There are a number of factors, including access to credit, vacancy rates, regulations or incentives, and tax policy, that drive rental prices. Rents can be greater or lesser than the monthly amortized (30-year) value of a given unit (One way to represent the sale value of a unit to the unit cost). Also, residents of non-profit housing do not always get additional government subsidy.
    And by the way, it’s not a secret that I think speed bumps are at the bottom of the traffic calming trick bag. I dislike them because they damage vehicles (Maple Avenue Bumps!); slow emergency response; and are problematic for bikes, assisted mobility vehicles and people with back or other health problems. However, my role is to assist residents as well as set policy.
    Colleen

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