GRANOLAPARK: The times they are a changin’ back

GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT

Dear Readers,

So much for change!

The Fresh Ones may be shaking up the Takoma Park city council, but there are only three of them and FOUR of the Old Guard.

So, when Seth “Galloping” Grime’s resolution in support of a zoning change hit opposition – it went down like that frail old lady trying to cut the line ahead of Your Gilbert at the liquor store last Thursday. Less bloody, though.

Grimes, as we reported last week, shoved the city counci off its usual dozy track, galvanizing them into throwing their unconditional support behind the zone change. OFFICIALLY unconditional, that is. UNOFFICIALLY, Grimes pledged to bring up their conditions and concerns with George Leventhal. County councilmember Leventhal is the one proposing the zoning change.

What this is all about, Dear Readers, is allowing the commercial use of church kitchens. This is one of those micro-enterprise deals for local, and presumably low-income, entrepreneurs who want to start some kind of food business. Food for sale has to be prepared in a commercial kitchen.

Currently, most churches are in residential zones, so to rate them as commercial, they would have to be rezoned.

The city council wanted local control – via what’s called a Special Exemption (SE). That was the unofficial message they wanted Grimes to convey to Leventhal.  He delivered it, but Leventhal said “no dice.” He will not revise his proposal.

Hmm, in that case . . . said the Old Guard councilmembers, crow-barring the train of state back onto the old rails, no dice for you, either.  In quick order councilmember Reuben Snipper, then councilmember Fred Schultz, then Mayor Bruce Williams withdrew their support. “I find it quite astonishing” said Snipper, that the city could even consider supporting anything that didn’t allow for citizen participation in the decision-making. They made a point, however, in praising Grimes for his work on the issue and, as Schultz said, “the conscientious way he’s gone about it.”

“Reading the tea-leaves,” a crestfallen Grimes said, quickly calculating the votes mounting against his resolution, “I’ll table [it],” rather than watch it go down like that frail old lady. The resolution was tabled with a 6 to 1 vote, the dissenting vote from freshman councilmember Tim Males.

He will likely return with a resolution of support-with-conditions – the direction the Old Guard was nosing the previous week.

Council approves hideous design

The council was shiny with pleasure about the most recent proposed Sector Plan Design Guidelines. The last set of proposed guidelines made the council livid.They complained about the lack of specific guidance, inadequate protection to adjoining neighborhoods, lack of focus on pedestrian needs, and inadequate illustrations – all indications that their testimony and recommendations had been ignored by the county. The revised book of guidelines addressed each of these problems.

Dear Readers. that’s “Sector Plan” as in the Takoma/Langley Sector Plan  – Montgomery County’s development around the intersection of New Hampshire and University Avenues.

All well and good – the county listened and responded to the city. However, the city and everyone else is ignoring the 10,000 lb mastodon in the room. If the photos and illustrations in the guideline booklet are any indication, the county is trying to make Takoma Park – or one corner of it, anyway – look like Everyplace Else. The trend these days is to put up big boxes but try not to make them look like big boxes. To do this they stick on bits from 1990’s stylish architecture: randomly placed windows, skinny columns, metal grids, railings, alternating materials to give the impression (unsuccessfully) that parts of the block were built at different times in different styles, and, of course, the Big Round Corner. You gotta have a Big Round Corner.

Sector Plan sketch

From the county's proposed Takoma/Langley Sector Plan Guidelines book.

This new developement is going to look as un-Takoma Park as it could be. There will be nothing to mark it as local, or even regional – not the slightest bit quirky, feisty, diverse, unique or progressive. No! It will be yet another mono-cultural, soul-less outdoor shopping mall,  indistinguishable from new developments in Silver Spring, Columbia Heights, Bethesda, Clarendon, and all across the country – downtown Charlotte, NC, for example.

Assuming the guideline booklet is an indication of what the county has in mind – if you were taken blindfolded to the center of the Sector after it is built, and the blindfold removed – you would not be able to distinguish your location from any of those places, Dear Readers.

Is this really what the city wants?

– 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.

3 Comments on "GRANOLAPARK: The times they are a changin’ back"

  1. Gilbert, I won informal 7-0 support from the city council for the concept of community commercial kitchens. I’d rather have that than a 4-3 vote for a resolution that isn’t really even needed yet anyway, which is why I offered to table the resolution. A support resolution won’t really be needed until the county council votes on the zoning text amendment, which won’t be until March at the earliest, and even then it’s not critical.

    You missed the irony that came up later in the council meeting, as yet unnoted by anyone else, that the council seemed to cotton to the idea of the city’s holding rec programs in the gym at the self-same Takoma Park Presbyterian Church, whose request for support — my request was theirs — three council members refused. Rec programs at the church gym would bring far more people — and parking and vehicle congestion — to the gym than use of the church’s ~ 600 sq. ft. kitchen would, and that gym use would be allowed without a special exception, without any consultation of neighbors. I don’t see a problem with that, by why did’t council members who would insist on an SE for the kitchen?

  2. We also didn’t mention the irony – noted by councilmember Fred Schultz – of the city council ending up in opposition to city residents. The movement to change the county zoning started with the Takoma Park Presbyterian Church.

    We meant to mention a couple of other things but forgot in the rush to post the article. But, we’ve now added them. Rewriting after “publication” is one of the great advantages of the internet.

    One of the things is how the council praised councilmember Grimes even as they qualified their support for his resolution. The council does support the idea of community kitchens, it’s just that they, as all politicians seem to do, want to tinker with whatever resolution is laid before them.

  3. Bruce Williams | February 6, 2012 at 11:58 am |

    If I can clarify–what three of us had a problem with was enshrining in county zoning law the by-right use of church kitchens in residential neighborhoods without the chance for neighborhood input. We all supported community kitchens/commercial kitchens in churches in residential neighborhoods if there is the chance for input, but the zoning law change would take away any opportunity for that input. The way to get input is through the Special Exception process.

    As far as supporting the possibility of recreation uses of the TPPS gym–we would also support that because there would always be the opportunity for the community to weigh in on the uses and possible changes to those uses. If there were too much traffic or noise or parking issues, things could be worked out or adjusted at the local level.

    Again, the only issue here is the process to ensure local input. We are not against the uses.

Comments are closed.