City bites county!

City bites county

GRANOLAPARK

Dear Readers,

Takoma Park snarled and snapped at the county. The city feels it’s been kicked around enough.

The latest kick is right in the tender Takoma/Langley Sector. Ow, that hurts!  The county was SUPPOSED to listen to the city and the local residents, then come back with revised guidelines for the development soon to engulf the area near the New Hampshire and University Avenue intersection. This is right next to and includes Ward 6 residential neighborhoods. They are not happy with how big and close the commercial development could get.

So, at their Sept. 26 meeting the city council sent a scathing dis-recommendation to the county council.  “Each successive version of the Urban Design Guidelines presented by the Planning department staff is more generic, contains less guidance, and is not specific to our community. . .” the council’s resolution says.

The Urban Design Guidelines “do not reflect a public dialog with the local community” or  “the unique qualities of Takoma Park, or the City’s efforts to revitalize the area, improve pedestrian and transit friendliness.”

We asked county council at-large representative Marc Elrich if the city’s resolution would have an effect. The former city councilmember said, as he strolled through Takoma Park’s farmer’s market, that he thought the county council would heed the city’s criticism. He supported the city council’s position.

Tie

The council split 3-3 on whether to place an environmental advisory question on the ballot. Councilmember Fred Schultz, who would have been the deciding vote, left the Sept. 26 meeting early to attend to his stepdaughter’s funeral arrangements.

The proposed advisory question would require the city to reduce it’s greenhouse gas emissions. The “no” votes were Mayor Bruce Wiliams, and councilmembers Colleen Clay and Reuben Snipper. Voting “yes” were Josh Wright, Terry Seamens, and Dan Robinson.

The “no” voters objected to placing a requirement on the city that might come back to bite. If state and county revenue sources dried up,  it might give the city manager no choice but to cut services or positions in order to meet expensive environmental requirements. They also said a soon (?) to be hired staff environmental coordinator would accomplish the same thing.

Mayor Williams noted that the city government accounts for a only a tiny fraction of greenhouse gasses produced in the city.

The council will vote on the issue again at their first October meeting.

Flop

The city Recreation Committee flew a suggestion by the council Sept. 19 that landed like an overweight turkey. The city’s Recreation Department, said committee representatives, should be renamed the Recreation, Art, and Life Skills Department.

The council greeted the suggestion with throat clearing and  “Errr’s.” The committee representatives said that the name reflects the current county trend. Some Montgomery County municipal recreation departments offer more than sports, field-trips, and ping-pong tables. They cited Gaithersburg, which has renamed it’s department “Recreation, Parks, and Culture.”

Takoma Park, the committee members said, is already part of this trend, and could offer an even wider selection of activities, classes, and programs. “Life skills” classes such as cooking and “accounting 101” should be offered to young residents. According to surveys they conducted – this is what the public wanted they said.

The council seemed dubious about the name change, and the committee’s amateur survey methods.  They were were open, however, so some of the suggested classes and activities – as long as they city could afford them, and if they were really what the public wanted.

Reuben Snipper, no doubt remembering the last time a councilmember suggested changing the Recreation Department, spoke emphatically, underlining each word in florescent yellow as it came out of his mouth, that this was not a criticism of staff – just a PROPOSED change in direction. And it was not because the staff are doing anything wrong.

The proposed changes did not settle well with all of the council. City recreation committee head Kay Daniels-Cohen (who just happens to be a Ward 3 candidate for council) felt compelled to boost the proposals (if not the clunky name-change) at the next council meeting Sept. 26. She poo-pooed objections to the committee’s survey methods, saying a professional survey would probably get the same results.

Say what?

The sunny, relaxing memories of the Takoma Park city council’s August break were extinguished in one agenda item – the dreaded Sidewalk Installation Policy discussion.

The council is getting poked in the ribs or yanked by the arm from three sets of residents. One set is eager to get sidewalks, their community has been queued up for years to get them, and they are upset with recent delays. Another set is unhappy with the process the city uses when it goes to put a sidewalk in. The third set doesn’t want new sidewalks, not on their street, anyway.

So the council is trying to make the process better, more democratic, and less contentious. They got into their own contention, however. Councilmember Dan Robinson got testy with Councilmember Fred Schultz as the clock ticked closer and closer to 11 pm.

Shultz was ruminating on just who should have a say whether a particular sidewalk is built or not when Robinson starting quizzing him on his statements. Schultz, objected to being interrupted. He was trying to have his say, he told Robinson. Robinson replied, “if you just have your say, we’ll be here for a very long time.”

Mayor Bruce Williams had to step in, stifle Robinson, and allow Schultz to finish his train of thought. It was a longish train, but his  point was that it was not necessarily fair to give only residents whose property adjoined a proposed sidewalk a vote in the matter. A sidewalk, he said, is a public service, and there are people in surrounding areas who would benefit from that service, people in wheelchairs or parents pushing a baby buggy for example.

Schultz thought the city council should be able to override a resident vote against a sidewalk if there was a vital public interest in having it there.

Also of concern were ADA requirements (Federal laws mandating  access for disabled persons) that sidewalks should be continuous with no “gaps” where one block votes down the installation.

– 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.