GRANOLAPARK: Boring council meeting held


Dear Readers,

Most boring meeting IN HISTORY! Since 2005, anyway, when Your Gilbert started covering the city council.

How bad was it? It was FAR beyond “so bad it’s good” into “so bad it’s worse” territory.

Why was it so boring? Because of how the council rated 46 Takoma Junction development criteria, the criteria by which they’ll chose a final developer from among the 4 “finalists”  – unless the movement to scuttle and restart the process succeeds.

Anyway, what they did was project a spreadsheet on the big screen, stopping for a little tutorial about how to use the software. Some people just can’t resist showing off their computer-fu. Then each of the 7 councilmembers (which includes the mayor) went through the list of 46, calling out numbers representing how important that item was to them. The ratings were on a scale of 0 – 3, lowest to highest priority.

EACH of the 7 voted on 46 items. Each!

“1 . . . , 3 . . . , 1 . . . , 2 . . . , 1 . . . , 2 . . . , 3 . . . , 0 . . . , 3 . . . , 2 . . . , 2 . . . , 2 . . . , 3 . . . , 3 . . . , 3, . . . , 2 . . . . hmmm, I dunno if I feel like that’s a 1 or a 2. But since “I gave ‘traffic impact’ a 3, maybe I’ll give it a 3 also, . . . but, on second thought make them both 2s.”

40 minutes of this whizzed by in what seemed like 40 years. “This must be what its like to be dead,” we thought to ourselves.

When, after a lengthy discussion they dropped one of the criteria items, reducing the total to 45, we wept uncontrollably.

From listening to talking

The council discussion was the Listening Session followup. Over the last few weeks the council had two listening sessions in which residents could air their thoughts on the Takoma Junction development proposals. See coverage here.

They recapped what they’d heard – and heard again at the Feb. 9 public-comment period – from residents representing various views and interests. They can be loosely described as falling into 3 camps (with some overlap): stop the process (generally co-op supporters), slow the process (they want more public space), and onward with the process.

We’re getting to the point that we get irritated (more than usual) with residents who get up and make critical remarks that only show how little they know. One woman, for example, blamed the council for creating the divisions (the three camps). Lady, there is no way in hell the council can come up a process that eliminates division in Takoma Park.


Council listens to resident at the January Listening Session.

As has been the case since the 2012 Takoma Junction Task Force report was submitted to the council (and not ratified), there are a lot of ideas and opinions about what to do with the Junction – and many of them conflict. As Mayor Bruce Williams observed, there are lots of things people would like to see,” but it’s like putting 25 lbs of potatoes in a 1 lb sack.”

The spreadsheet was a step toward figuring out how the council as a whole rates all the ideas, concerns, and issues (summed up as “criteria” raised.

One. At. A. Time.

The criteria included: co-op expansion, community open-space, traffic impact, affordable housing, purchase price, rooftop garden, and so forth.

The results are posted here.

The top ten were:

1. Aesthetic compatibility – height, setback
2. Co-op expansion
3. Co-op business continuity ‐ access during construction
4. Expanded retail
5. Maintaining bike share at the Junction
6. Purchase price
7. Parking/Structured parking
8. Public parking for whole Junction
9. Past performance/types of tenants (the developer has)
10. Sense of Place for Junction as a whole/how City lot can enhance it

Oddly, though two of the co-op’s criteria, expansion and business continuity, were #1 and #3. Their third criteria – co-op loading zone – was #13.

The lowest 10 priorities:

36. Rooftop garden
37. No residential
38. place-making element – design landmark
39. adjacent properties – RS Automotive
40. no residential parking
41. exploring grant options for public art
42. size/massing 3 stories flat
43. residential – 20 or more (units)
44. preschool/daycare
45. R-60 lot single family home

So, the average council member wants a low building that includes an expanded co-op and other retail. It wants a bike share station and adequate car parking. The lot should have a “sense of place,” meaning, we suppose, it looks inviting. And the developer should be experienced with a good record of attracting retail stores of the sort we want – independent and local. And they want a low price tag.

The average council member definitely does not want to put a house on the lower  wooded city lot on Columbia Avenue. They are not so hot on having a school there, or residential units. Public art? Meh. They aren’t too worried about the RS Automotive gas-station/auto-repair across the street. They don’t care about the development looking distinctive or having a rooftop garden.

Worrisome for the Ability Project supporters, they are below the mid-line. So is the concern that the development include businesses for the wider community, i.e. less affluent, minority and immigrant residents.

Encouraging to the green-space advocates, that criteria is above the mid-line, as is outdoor seating.

How long was it, again?

40 freekin’ minutes!

Closed or open meeting?

Next week the council meets with the four finalist developers. Since the discussion will touch on negotiation strategy and contents of bids or proposals, it was scheduled as a closed-to-the-public meeting.

However councilmember Seth Grimes has been lobbying for the meeting to be open. He spoke to a couple of developers, he said, and they did not mind discussing these matters in public. Why not ask the rest of the developers whether they want the meeting closed or open, he asked.

So, they are doing that, and the council will decide whether to keep the Tuesday, Feb. 17 meeting closed or open it up. As of this writing (Feb. 12), the decision has not been announced.

UPDATE: The city announced at 4:00 PM Feb. 13 the City Council meeting Tuesday, February 17, 2015 will be a closed session.

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.

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