Sidewalk Wars get more toxic as the Takoma Park council looks for a process to bring peace in our time – after recess.
Yes, the Takoma Park council and mayor have skipped town on their summer recess. Whatever they are doing this August, we’re sure it is sustainable, livable, engaged, responsive, and service-oriented – as called for by the city’s Strategic Plan.
They earned their break. Through July they beavered their way though a pile of ordinances and resolutions on: fines and fees, tree planting, speed bumps, facade designs, a solar power installation, and others. They also authorized purchase of a leaf vacuum and a wood chipper. It was SO exciting!
The big news is that the city council for the first time ever RESCINDED a speed bump!!! Months ago they approved – as they always (used to) approve speed bump requests – a bump on Sherman Avenue. But in hindsight they agreed that Sherman Avenue is just too darn steep for a bump. So, at their last summer meeting July 25 they turned the vote around – unanimously. There were snowballs in Hell THAT night!
More on speed bumps. Another ordinance shortens by half the distance allowed between speed bumps – paving the way (so to speak) to turn city streets into mini-roller coasters. As Betty Davis almost said “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!”
The council passed Increases in fines and fees. These are necessary to balance this year’s budget. The extra you’ll now pay for driveway apron permits, dumpster permits, and utility permits keeps the tax rate down. Same for traffic and vehicle infractions. Those all increase by around five dollars – from $35 to $40 for an expired parking meter ticket, for example.
They also amended the city tree ordinance so that people who plant young trees get credit for them. The credit is useful if later they want a permit to chop down a mature tree. Tree axe murderers are required to plant several replacement trees (it takes a herd of saplings to replace one big, mature tree). That can get expensive. The amended ordinance allows people to get credit for trees planted before they pull out the axe.
One of the hotter issues carried over to next fall is sidewalks. Residents showed up July 25 to express their opinions on the subject and to listen to the council discuss it.
Catherine Tunis, who often shows up to give the walk blocker’s viewpoint, once again complained that city staff and literature give residents the impression that new sidewalks are required by federal law – in order to comply with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards.
She feels the city should make clear that ADA requirements do not mean that new sidewalks have to be built where there are none. They apply only to existing sidewalks – or to new sidewalks the city and residents CHOOSE to build. ADA requirements stipulate sidewalk widths, angles, curb ramps, and suchlike.
But ADA requirements will be “triggered” if there’s a gap, said Ward 2 councilmember Colleen Clay, speaking later in the evening when the council discussed the issue. A short, sidewalk-less section between two sidewalks might be considered a “gap” that the city is obligated to fill, she warned.
Most of the council seem fed up with this issue, as are some residents. The sidewalk resistance movement has delayed a number of sidewalk projects and bogged the process down in increasingly toxic argument, says the council. Councilmember Reuben Snipper said it was frustrating to observe the bickering and delays from his Ward, where his constituents have wanted sidewalks for years. They would gladly take them if Ward 2 residents didn’t want them, he said. adding that he doesn’t want to wait 10 years to build them “where they are not controversial.”
The walk blockers have produced a few petitions from residents who do not want sidewalks. New paving would be bad for the environment, they say, increasing rain run-off. Tunis, who served on the city’s Environmental Action Task Force, cited a “dead zone” reported in Chesapeake Bay – the result of nitrogen-rich run-off. Other people say their quiet streets do not need sidewalks, or they object to surrendering a swath of their front yards to concrete entombment.
On the other side a resident complained during Citizen Comment period that her neighborhood wants a sidewalk and petitioned for one – but it has not been built. Both she and the people who spoke against sidewalks say a better process is needed.
And that’s what the council was discussing. Councilmember Fred Schultz offered his Ward 6’s process as a possible model. That ward recently had a series of meetings about new sidewalks. Showing residents preliminary plans, he said, proved important. They had something on paper to react to and suggest changes.
The subject will be taken up in the fall, the July 25th discussion period was only to hear opinions and ideas.
As will the Washington Adventist Hospital’s impending move – and the supposed “Wellness Village” the hospital says will replace it. The hospital still doesn’t have permission to make the move, the state hearing is coming up in the fall.
It seems to Gilbert that the hospital is likely to get permission, in which case this will become an even bigger wrestling match with the hospital administration. Only this time, the city will have even less leverage.
City elections are a mere 4 months away! Two councilmembers have announced they are NOT running, Dan Robinson – Ward 3, and Josh Wright – Ward 1. The rest of the council and the mayor will probably run for reelection. Usually stepping-down announcements are made before the summer break to give potential candidates enough time.
So far the only person who says she is planning to run is Kay Daniels-Cohen – for the Ward 3 seat. She is frequently seen at council meetings already, as she has served on several committees. If there is such a sport as extreme enthusiasm, she is top of the field. She wears Your Gilbert out just watching her.
On the plus side, Daniels-Cohen made a point of keeping her remarks during Citizen Comment* down to 1 minute and 30 seconds. This could well mean early-adjourning council meetings if she wins office.
The city’s Nominating Caucus will be Oct. 4 in the city council chambers. That’s when we all discover who has decided to run for what, as each candidate’s nominator steps to the podium. Last time, two years ago, there were some surprises!
*un-elected candidates traditionally attend all the council meetings once they’ve decided to run. Your Gilbert looks forward (note the sarcasm oozing from that statement, Dear Readers) to them lining up for the microphone at every meeting. We’re going to need more cases of gin.