BY LEJLA SARCEVIC
BREAKING ELECTION NEWS: The only challenger on the Takoma Park city ballot withdrew from the race. Shortly after, a write-in candidate for mayor emerged.
The city announced Oct. 31 that Eric Mendoza, Ward 4 council seat challenger has withdrawn from the race. His name will still be on the ballot, however.
The following day, Elizabeth Wallace announced her write-in candidacy for mayor.
“It’s shocking to see how many blanks there are on the ballot where the names of contenders should be.” she said. “That’s why I threw my hat into the ring last Friday. Yes, it’s the last minute. Win or lose.”
Wallace, a city resident for 19 years, said “Perhaps my candidacy will spark a dialog about civic engagement in our city and what it will take to have more candidates every year. Sixteen or sixty years old, we all want a choice!”
This is the second of two articles covering the Oct. 23 Takoma Park Election Forum, “The City of the Future,” hosted and moderated by the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Voice. This article reports on the discussion about long-term issues facing the city. The first article reported on the Ward 4 campaign and current city issues.
Takoma Park is finding itself in a transformative time. With the Purple Line likely to be approved in the next year and the significant changes to surrounding areas like Silver Spring, Takoma Park is likely to see significant changes within its city boundaries, many of them out of the city council’s control.
Some of these changes were foremost on the minds of residents as the council tries to balance Takoma Park’s history and traditions with an emerging need for development.
Due to only one contested ward this election, what ensued was not a debate, but an open discussion between residents and councilmembers about what Takoma Park may look like 25 years from now.
One of the big topics of the night, intersecting several questions, concerned sector plans and zoning for Takoma Park, affecting everything from retail and new residential areas to transportation.
City’s plan for New Hampshire Ave “roadscaping.”
A great issue for Takoma Park is how it holds on to its history and proud charm while moving into the future. Will Takoma Park lose what it has always had going for it to gentrification or is there a way to balance the best of both worlds?
Retail and New Hampshire Avenue
“Working with Montgomery county, the county adopted a sector plan for that crossroads (New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard) which introduces the kind of development that could occur, the type of zoning that would regulate and urban design criteria that would tell a future developer what the buildings can look like, that would be acceptable to the nighborhood,” said Schultz.
However, he said that none of this actually encourages the current business owners to upgrade or develop.
Instead, he thinks that the city a has an obligation to aggressively target new developers and encourage the current property owners to take advantage of the Takoma-Langley sector plan.
The Mayor said that the city has been working with Montgomery County, with Prince George’s County, with the department of planning and with the metropolitan Washington council of governments.
Takoma Park mayor Bruce Williams.
Williams believes that the Purple Line is going to drive a lot of redevelopment, and that some of the council’s actions in supporting the purple line have borne some fruit and that the purple line will make a difference.
Moderator Bill Brown, Voice editor, expressed concern about what he called gentrification on a massive scale that is out of the city’s reach.
He said that some of the plans he’s seen would make the border areas of Takoma Park look like downtown Silver Spring or any of the other new residential areas that have been built in recent years.
Daniels-Cohen said that she doesn’t want Takoma Park to look like Bethesda or Silver Spring, but that she’s not sure that gentrification is going to change the diversity of the human beings in Takoma Park.
She fears for the small business owners who may have to shut down and wait to re-open while the area is re-deveopled.
Ward 3 councilmember, Kay Daniels-Cohen.
“We have to think about what we want in Takoma Park, what we want to retain in Takoma Park. We’ve been very proud of the fact that we’re like a small town in the middle of this big megalopolis. So, we’ve to some extent already faced those challenges in the past,” said Seamens.
“We want that commercial development, so that we’ll have the services that people want and need here so that we don’t have to drive somewhere else to get them. People can use their feet or their bicycle or improved transit to get to that stuff to make it local,” said Williams.
Mayor Williams said that this kind of redevelopment would also help the city expand its tax base which currently is heavily reliant on single family residential.
“I hear this sort of apocalyptic vision of what’s going to happen when the purple line comes and how gentrification is going to sweep over the Langley Park and East Silver Spring area. I don’t buy that,” said Schultz.
“On our side of the county line, we’ve got zoning I think that will allow us to have out cake and eat it too. It’s extraordinarily innovative zoning as zoning goes in the United States.”
He was referring to commercial residential zoning (CR zone)– a type of zoning adopted by Montgomery county that encourages diverse uses in the county’s commercial areas. The idea behind these zones is to counter sprawl by giving residents easy access to lively commercial areas that are built into a living community.
Schultz believed it was going to be some time before Takoma Park saw any significant changes within its city boundaries. He did not anticipate additions of the kinds of apartment buildings and commercial areas that have appeared in Silver Spring recently.
Ward 5 councilmember, Jarrett Smith, disagreed with Schultz’s prediction.
Smith said it’s natural for developers to move to the Long Branch area.
“Montgomery County spends actual money, to bring affordable housing. It’s not just playing with zoning or managing paper like our department does, for rent stabilization. They actually invest in it,” said Smith.
Ward 5 councilmember Jarrett Smith.
“As more people move to Montgomery County because right now the county has almost a million residents, a large percentage of those people need affordable housing. Long Branch is going to provide that opportunity. I don’t think it’s going to take 10 years for that to break ground,” said Smith.
Takoma Park has always focused on economic diversity, with rent control regulations opening up Takoma Park to people from across economic backgrounds. With potential gentrification heading in Takoma Park’s direction, can the city retain its economic diversity – and does it want to?
“I don’t think we want to look like any other jurisdiction. I think Takoma Park takes great pride in our diversity,” said Seamens. “Economic diversity is really, the bottom line factor there.”
The moderators asked whether there are things that council can do to encourage the knowledge of the city’s rich and proud history among new residents who may not know Takoma Park well.
Williams said that the council has set up a committee to recognize the history of the city’s people.
“We do a little better job of kind of recognizing our buildings, but not our people,” said Williams.
Schultz predicted that within 5 years, a third of the city’s residents will have lived here 5 years or less.
“Takoma Park’s going to change,” said Schultz. “The city of 25 years from now, has got to be somewhat different than it is today. If you look at the housing stuff, it’s going to attract different types of people.”
The city’s architecture and housing will continue to ensure the economic diversity of Takoma Park, said Schultz.