Right or Wrong of Way?

Dear Readers,
Everybody wants our roads! First the state asked for our piece of Route 410, and now Walgreens is asking for our alleyways! What’s next? A herd of bison asking for Buffalo Avenue?
Walgreens, the national drugstore chain, purchased a gigantic piece of Takoma Park a few years ago. Most of the land is occupied by strip malls at the corner of New Hampshire and University Avenues. The property is about the size of a small shopping mall, and that, or some other kind of development, is obviously on Walgreen’s corporate mind.
How do we know? Because they’ve asked the city to abandon its right-of-ways on the property. In other words they want our roads.

The roads in question are alleyways, one of them a dead end. Walgreens claims there is a crime and loitering problem in these alleys, and it wants to control, maintain, or even shut some of them down. In the long term, Walgreens wants to develop the site without having to plan around those existing alleyways.
In return Walgreens would grant the city a right-of-way to the roadway along the eastern side of the property – a route that is now used by the savvy as a cut-through between University Avenue and Holton Lane.
Trojan Horse?
it seemed to Your Cynical Gilbert that the crime/loitering issue was a Trojan Horse – calculated to win local authorities over to their side – while their real purpose was to remove a potential obstacle to their future development plans, plans that the city may not like. It seemed as though at least one councilmember – Josh Wright – was thinking along the same lines.
Wright suggested that the city would have more leverage if it waited until Walgreens presented a development plan. He said the city could meanwhile address the crime/loitering situation.
In contrast councilmember Terry Seamens stressed how pleased he was to have Walgreens bring economic development to the city.
Judging from their questions and comments, the rest of the council had varying degrees of suspicion and doubt. But, as Your Gilbert has observed, hostile questioning is not an indication of how they will vote, as demonstrated in three council votes last fall approving tax waivers for properties – after much blustering against them (here, here, here, here, AND here). And, indeed, the council agreed unanimously Jan. 24 to pass Walgreens’ proposal on to the Montgomery County Planning Board for “mandatory referral review.” If the Planning Board approves it, it bounces back to the city for further review and approval.
The Chew Must Go On!
The council took another bite out of the Task Force on Environmental Action casserole. It is too big and tough a dish to digest all at once. The council is trying to do something (SOMETHING! ANYTHING!) for the environment – without spending a lot of money the city doesn’t have.
The more they discuss it, however, the less of an obstacle lack of money seems to some councilmembers. The TFEA priority recommendation to the council was to hire a sustainability coordinator – without which, the TFEA said, the city’s “green” ambitions will remain unrealized. The phrase “one-cent raise on the tax rate” has been voiced more often lately. Residents, say some – particularly councilmember Wright – would be willing to put their money where their environmental mouths are.
Other councilmembers don’t agree. Councilmember Fred Schultz, for one, said the council was only “deluding ourselves” and members of the TFEA, because when expected budget cuts slice into city revenue, they are more likely to be laying staff off in this spring, not hiring an environmental sustainability coordinator.
But, others say, though there will be initial costs to hiring a coordinator, she or he will save revenue in the long run. So will some of the other TFEA recommendations, such as purchasing all city streetlights. Streetlights are the city’s single biggest energy cost. Replacing the bulbs with energy saving ones, though a big upfront cost, would pay for itself and more-so in time.
Zoned Out
If you want to see a Ward 6 resident’s* head explode, whisper “CR-Zone” in his/her ear. That’s Commercial-Resident Zone and its new – so new it is still growing. And like all growing things it is not as cute as it used to be.
This is the county’s doing. They dreamed up the CR-Zone (Commercial Residential Zone) as a new, more flexible commercial zone for areas with small shops, cafes, etc. mixed in with residential homes and apartments. That fits the description of the Takoma/Langley Sector, which awaits massive redevelopment.
The Takoma/Langley Sector is the famously ugly strip-mall-plex blighting the intersection of University and New Hampshire Avenues. The southern half of that intersection is in Takoma park’s Ward 6 (Montgomery County). The other half is in unincorporated Prince George’s County. PG County and Montgomery County together (sort of) are developing the area. Hence the Takoma/Langley Sector Plans – one for each county.
By the way, according to Ward 6 resident Barry Howard Prince George’s County subject to a class-action lawsuit for rushing its plan through without sufficient opportunity for resident input.
Montgomery County is trying out the new CR-Zone in Takoma/Langley, and anticipates applying it to the rest of the county. However, they keep changing it.
The city tentatively approved the CR-Zone when it was sketched out in 2009. It sounded like a good deal for small businesses and for creating mixed-use neighborhoods and ending the car-oriented shopping district model. Seems great, right? Visions of residents walking to little cafes and specialty shops in their bustling neighborhood.
Ah, but since then the county has applied its best bureaucratic minds to the matter, creating three sub-zones within the CR-Zone category, two categories of development, and a whole new review process called a “Sketch Plan.” And they are still tinkering with it.
City residents who live next to the areas to be redeveloped are alarmed by how high developers will be allowed to build, and how small the “buffer zones” are now permitted to be between residential and business areas. The council is, . . . shall we say “concerned with,” or “p*ssed at?” . . . the county about it?
They’ve asked city staff to track this – and the last report was that the zone is still undefined and there will be a series of meetings about it continuing at least into the spring.
Prepared To Go
Emergency Preparedness Committee, turns out, DID follow up on some of the suggestions made following last year’s Snowpocalypse. See our Jan. 6 “Year in Review” (under the subhead “Plowing Ahead”). For instance, various departments have participated in emergency test exercises.
The committee’s biggest news when it presented it’s report Jan. 24 was the retirement of Wolfgang Mergner, whose three years as chairperson is up. He has been the model of a citizen committee volunteer for ages. If you’ve ever been to a neighborhood association meeting in the last couple of decades, Dear Readers, you probably saw him giving a presentation or conducting a poll on safety or emergency preparedness. As Mayor Williams said he has been “highly effective.” The council mustered him out with honors – passing a proclamation in his honor.
The committee was, OF COURSE, prepared for Mergner’s retirement. They have been grooming committee member Jennifer Kurtinitis for the position.
Less Boring
*Calling someone a “Ward # resident” is SO boring, Dear Readers! What’s a snappier name? Should ward residents be described like those of cities and states? Someone from Texas is a Texan. A Washington (both the city and state) resident is a Washingtonian. Somebody from Los Angeles is an Angeleno.
So, should it be, say, a Ward Sixtan? A Ward Fourian? A Ward Onester? A Ward Twoter? A Ward Fiveno? A Ward Threetie?
Your opinions matter on this important issue! Let’s hear from you, Dear Readers!

– Gilbert

About the Author

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.

4 Comments on "Right or Wrong of Way?"

  1. I see the phrase “Takoma/Langley” used several times. Why on earth do Takoma Park resident want to be associated with or be reminded of our proximity to Langley Park? Takoma Park is a lovely, idyllic town. Langley Park is a third-world, war zone.

  2. You’re missing the point. The massive development and the Purple Line will transform Takoma/Langley into another Silver Spring/Columbia Heights/Arlington-Clarington clone. Property values will soar, and all those bothersome third-world people will be pushed out.
    – Gilbert

  3. Barrie Howard | February 10, 2011 at 1:25 pm |

    Glad to see you’re covering the zoning issues, Gilbert. Many people are asleep at the wheel on this one, but when it applies to the entire County, then the rest of Takoma Park will wake up and realize this isn’t just a Ward 6 issue.

  4. It is a tough issue to cover, Barry! How can one report on the CR-Zone when the county keeps changing it?
    We think you should issue regular press-releases “What The CR-Zone is THIS week.”
    Maybe then people will start to realize the shiny new train coming at them full speed is too big for the tracks and the engineers haven’t finished installing the brakes.
    – Gilbert

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