They didn’t go for it. The county Park and Planning department refused to rename Takoma Urban Park “Gilbert Kombe Park.” The renaming petition from the neighborhood next to the park (popularly known as “the gazebo park”) at the corner of Carroll and Westmoreland Avenues, was spurned. Their efforts, including winning the city council’s support, were in vain.
The late Gilbert Kombe was a Westmoreland Avenue resident who died last year at the age of 49, leaving a grieving widow, young children, and neighborhood. The Zambian-born Kombe was a doctor who helped deliver HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in 114 countries. He was also active in local schools and youth soccer leagues.
Last July the Westmoreland Area Community Organization (WACO), the local neighborhood association, asked the city council to support its petition to rename the Takoma Urban Park. WACO set out to rename the park before they thought of Gilbert Kombe. The neighborhood has had a long-simmering indifference to the official name. The indifference boiled over into disgust when the county posted an erroneous new name sign that left out “Urban” – so it just read “Takoma Park.”
So WACO proposed a petition to rename the park, asked the community for nominations, and voted on the overwhelming favorite – Gilbert Mombe Park. They took the petition to the city council asking for support. They thought it would be a no-brainer.
The council, however, was not wholly supportive. Councilmember Colleen Clay pointed out at the time that the request would likely be rejected. Kombe, she said, did not meet the requirement of having been a person who contributed significantly to the park system. Councilmember Reuben Snipper worried that the notoriously arbitrary county would not cooperate. Both abstained from the vote, so it passed with 5 “ayes.”
Councilmember Dan Robinson, representing Ward 3 where the park is, argued for the council’s support. He was optimistic that with the city council behind it, Park and Planning would agree with the renaming.
Alas, at the Oct. 4 meeting, Robinson announced that Park and Planning had turned the petition down, for exactly the reason Councilmember Clay said they would.
Clay tactfully refrained from saying “Told you so!”
The council may return to the various memorial alternatives suggested last July by Clay – renaming a street, city park, or other city property, dedicating a bench or tree, or erecting a monument or plaque – perhaps in city hall.
Councilmember Robinson lost on one park – so far. But, at another park he’s a winner. This emerged when the staff described to the council the county’s plan for another one of its parks located in the city.
Decades ago, Robinson single-handedly started a movement to restore the stream and forest in county-owned Piney Branch Park, the woodsy parkland between Piney Branch Elementary School on Maple Avenue and Takoma Park Middle School on Piney Branch Road.
While walking the path – a neglected, junk-strewn track following a dry stream bed – Robinson observed that the stream water still flowed there, though trapped in an old pipeline. He advocated removing the pipe to”daylight” that stream. This was a fresh concept at the time, and it was strongly resisted by the county Park and Planning department.
Robinson started a group he called the Green Team to push for restoring the stream and improving the park. Green Team volunteers cleaned up the trash along the pathway, pulled invasive ivy from the trees, and got many residents interested in the park and its possibilities. It also got them to pester the county to support improvements. Robinson says they also got the city Public Works department to clean up the steep hill above the stream where they had dumped some old concrete and had allowed runoff from the leaf-compost pile.
In the mid 1990s, Robinson says, Park and Planning responded with a plan to fix up the path and make a wetland. He sees that as the prelude to the park renovations about to begin this fall.
Along with a new picnic shelter, 2 new playgrounds, a volleyball court, a skateboard park, landscaping, a new basketball court, and reconfigured parking lot, the park will get a new “loop” path, the removal of invasive plant species, and a wetlands area in the woods. The stream will still be in a pipeline, says Robinson, but he is glad for the wetlands and other improvements that he and the Green Team fought for 15 years ago.