With engines set at Warp 10, the city council zoomed through their most recent three meetings. Good thing there are no speed cameras in the council chambers!
They were able to jog along faster than a light beam because most of the agenda items were no-brainers, requiring only a quick vote. Items dealing with staff pay scales had been previously discussed. Appointments to the Recreation Committee, the Board of Elections, and the Commission of Landlord-Tenant Affairs needed no comment. The appointment of new mayor pro tempore Reuben Snipper to replace outgoing (now outgone) Doug Barry took a millisecond.
The vote for a resolution in support of the elementary school’s Young Activist Club was held up for a few moments for a few charming and persuasive comments by the young activists themselves. They are petitioning the schools to replace disposable styrofoam cafeteria trays with reusable ones.
Heads up on these tidbits, Dear Readers. They came up at various times in the last three weeks during one discussion or another. Little was decided, but they will come up again and you might want to know about them:
How Dry We Are
First, the council, staff, police chief, city attorney, and the Old Town Business Association got liquored up. Not in the fun way. They imbibed the distilled spirits of all the city, county, and state laws about liquor stores – and there are enough of them to fill a whiskey barrel.
Roz Grigsby of the Old Town Business Association came before the council June 1 with the question often posed to her, “Why can’t we have a nice upscale wine store in Takoma Park? Huh? Huh? Whyzat? Hey, how ’bout ‘nother lil’ drink? ”
The reason we don’t is the city’s unique history. Takoma Park was established as a dry city. It remained so until the 80s when restaurants were allowed to sell liquor. Liquor or beer and wine stores are still not legal, they would only be allowed through changes in city code, which would have to be cleared all the way up the line to the state. The voluminous state and county laws and regulations are daunting, not only to anyone wanting to open a beverage store but to the communities where they reside. Once a store is allowed to open, the community has little control over the hours it is allowed to be open or the kind of store it is. In other words, once the city says someone can open an upscale wine store, it may get a downscale slop shop – if not at first, eventually. As Sue Silber, the city attorney said, a wine store can seem like a sweet thing, “but sweet things can become sour.”
Chief Ronald A. Ricucci and Ms. Silber brought up crime issues that liquor stores and bars can introduce into a community.
The longer the council, staff, and police discussed it, the less enthusiastic they became. They also realized it was too late to submit state legislation this year. However, the question will likely become part of a city survey in the near future.
Councilmember Terry Seamens was against the idea of a beverage store, saying there were were bigger priorities that needed to be addressed. He saw no positive outcomes from such an establishment. Councilmember Snipper was of the same opinion and added that he has heard from constituents strongly opposed to the idea.
Your Gilbert feels that this is one area the city should respect and uphold it’s quirky history, even if inconvenient to those whose quality of life requires strolling through Old Town displaying a prestigious bottle of plonk. As Councilmember Snipper noted, there are any number of liquor stores within close distance. City restaurants where one can buy a drink with dinner are fairly subtle to the observer, a liquor store would be a big fat middle finger in the face of the city’s teetotaling founding fathers and mothers.
We also feel that the city should not enter into any arrangements with the archaic county liquor control system. Personally, Your Gilbert refuses to buy liquor from any beverage store in Montgomery county. All beer, wine, and hard liquor sold in the county at restaurants, bars, and liquor stores must be purchased from the county Department of Liquor Control. It is a needless, ridiculous system which results in high prices and narrow selection.
Another interesting tidbit is the “Sector Plan,” short for “Takoma/Langley Crossroads Sector Plan.” The plan is for redeveloping the junction of University and New Hampshire Avenues and large portions of those two major streets leading up to the crossroads. It directly involves three jurisdictions: the city, Prince George’s County, and Montgomery County. It impacts on the city’s revitalization plans for the New Hampshire Avenue Corridor, just south of the junction, and the District of Columbia just beyond. However the jurisdictions are not communicating well about this redevelopment plan, and both Prince George’s and Montgomery have their own Takoma/Langley Crossroads Sector Plan.
This is bad news considering that the proposed Purple Line is going to run right through there. If there isn’t good coordination between all jurisdictions there could be serious problems for traffic, businesses, and nearby residents.
One aspect that looks like trouble is the proposed “right, right, right, right-turn” or “jug-handle” traffic plan proposed for the area. Supposedly these patterns are needed to keep traffic from getting snarled once the Purple Line light rail is in place. On an ordinary city grid they make sense – a driver can’t turn left onto a cross street, so she turns at the right instead and goes around the block – sort of an urban cloverleaf exit.
However, the Langley Park junction is not an ordinary city grid. The “roads” suggested for this jug-handle route are currently alleys and streets as narrow as 20 feet wide. They would have to be widened to 60 feet. As Erwin Mack told the council, “buildings would have to go.”
Mack, Executive Director of the Takoma/Langley Crossroads Development Authority, Inc. represented several concerns to the council, among them that no traffic study has been made of the area, yet the plans are going forward.
The council is preparing a resolution that presents its concerns to Prince George’s County, including the jug-handle turns, a firmer commitment to installing bike lanes, and better multi-jurisdictional coordination.
What If They Installed Speed Cameras and Nobody Paid?
The last tidbit, for you speed camera fans, is that only 20% of the New Hampshire Avenue speed camera tickets issued in April have been paid. The city manager reported that camera-issued speeding tickets netted $70,000, but if everyone had paid would have netted $300,000. She hastened to add that the city installed the cameras to slow traffic down, not make money.
Two for Six
Who will it be? The council must choose between two applicants for Ward 6’s council seat. When he moved out of the city, councilmember Doug Barry left the seat open until next November’s election. Whoever takes the seat must agree not to run in that election.
Barry Lee Howard and Donna Victoria stepped forward to fulfill this civic duty. Both applicants deserve kudos (or medication) for stepping forth so selflessly. Ms Victoria, a 15 year resident of Ward 6, is the likely choice. She has a long record of civic involvement that would enable her to get up to speed with council issues quickly. The appointment will be made at the council’s next meeting June 22.