GRANOLAPARK: Swish, swish, swish!

GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT

Dear Readers,

Takoma Park city council members sharpen their butcher’s knives (swish, swish, swish) and eye the herd. Which developer will fall under their blades?

The council met with each of the three remaining development companies behind closed doors over the last two weeks, and at last Monday’s open city council meeting Feb. 23, they said they made much progress in the closed sessions.

As a result, they are ready to cut out another finalist. Swish, swish, swish.

council

City Council, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015.

The developers are the three finalists (down from four) who submitted proposals to redevelop the city’s Takoma Junction lot. That is the parking lot between the TPSS Co-op and the auto repair shop near the firehouse. The three remaining are: The Ability Project, Keystar & Eco Housing, Neighborhood Development Company/SORG.

The closed sessions covered financial details, including how well backed the developers are and how much rent the proposed developments would bring in. According to counciilmember Fred Schultz they spent as much time hearing about Ability Project’s methods and ideas as they spent on the other two developers. The Ability Projects’s proposal includes a learning center for developmentally disabled adults.

Schultz also said that 2 of 3 developers have impressive financial wherewithal and experience. “They know what they are doing. 2 of them have done this many many times.”

Smith

Councilmember Jarrett Smith, Feb. 23, 2015.

Councilmember Jarrett Smith said he was ready to pick one, saying, “I think we should fairly quickly wrap this up.” Once the final pick is made there would be at least 6 months of negotiation with the finalist, he warned.

The mayor said his sense was that a council majority “are ready to take it to 2, not quite ready to take it to 1.” Swish, swish, swish.

The acting city manager said they should wait a week before announcing who the two semi-finalists are. It would, she said, be appropriate to talk to the rejected party first before the official announcement.

It’s Your Gilbert’s guess that the two finalists are Keystar & Eco Housing and Neighborhood Development Company/SORG. If that is so, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Ability Project is totally out of the picture. There is a possibility their center could be a tenant.

Behind closed doors, maybe

Councilmember Tim Male and others pushed for a closed door session with the TPSS Co-op. The Co-op is the Takoma Junction anchor store. it wants to expand into the city lot space as part of the development. All of the proposals include a Co-op expansion. But, starting last September co-op management and supporters turned out to public hearings in packs, trying to get the city to reconsider the Co-op’s own development proposal as one of the finalists.

MarilynBerger

Marilyn Berger, TPSS Co-op Project Manager.

At last Monday’s meeting, however, Co-op project manager Marilyn Berger seemed more resigned to working with one of the other developers, “if that is where the path leads.” She called, as the co-op supporters have been since the fall, for a “new process,” but this time she didn’t mean they want the city to start from scratch. This time she was asking for a process the co-op can use to work with the final developer. That process she said, would make good the city’s promise that the developer would meet the co-op’s needs. She asked for a meeting and a dialog with the city.

Acting city manager Suzanne Ludlow said she will ask the city attorney if the council can meet with the co-op in private. The “open meetings” laws may not allow it.

Slow down!

Residents made comments. Roger Schlegel, former Takoma Junction Task Force member and community activist asked the council to delay the process so they can carefully consider future Junction development. He asked, what if a restaurant were built across the street or in the auto repair shop buildings next to the lot – where would those patrons park?. “The answer is, ‘nowhere,'” he said. He urged the city to use the lot to “lock in” sufficient parking to meet the needs of a fully occupied Junction.

Schlegel

Roger Schlegel addresses council during comment session, Feb. 23, 2015.

Other resident commenters echoed his parking concerns, but later in the evening council member Tim Male said it is clear that no matter which plan they choose, “we will get fewer parking spaces than we have now.”

As for pausing to consider future development, council member Jarrett Smith saw future development as a reason to speed up, not slow down. He foresees that the Junction development will have the same “ripple effect” the new Republic and Busboys and Poets restaurants are having on Old Takoma, a few blocks down Carrolll Avenue. New stores and restaurants are moving into the area – and rumors are that rents are rising. The block opposite the co-op will probably see other Junction buildings redeveloped within 2 – 5 years, Smith said.

A successful Takoma Junction redevelopment will prove the city can do large development projects, said Smith. That would be useful when proposing upcoming development along New Hampshire Avenue, a strip-mall flanked major traffic corridor along the city’s eastern side that the county wants redeveloped.

Apartment buildings must recycle

Wards 4, 5 and 6 have more rental units than the other wards. So, when the council discussed a proposed ordinance Feb. 23 that would require apartment buildings to recycle, council members Terry Seamens (Ward 4), Jarrett Smith (Ward 5) and Fred Schultz (Ward 6) were worried about costs to landlords and tenants.

Schultz didn’t want to impose an “unfunded mandate.” The city has rent control, he said, limiting how much landlords can earn. Many of them barely make a profit. Who’s going to pay for the additional recycling bins and structures to house them? Who will pay for the tenants individual recycling buckets? Who will spend time educating the tenants about the program?

In case you haven’t guessed, Dear Readers, the answer is “the landlords!” Who will probably find a way to pass the cost onto the tenants.

Single-family households, he said, don’t pay a dime (yeah, well, except in taxes) for recycling. The city provides free buckets and curbside collection.Landlords will have to pay for private contractors and, apparently, all the buckets and bins.

schultz

Not wholly satisfied – Fred Schultz.

Terry Seamens said he’d like to see landlords included in the discussion.

The public works department director practically cartwheeled to the microphone to correct their impression that this is a NEW law. The multi-family residence recycling law, said director Darryl Braithwaite, was passed in 1992. The ordinance before them was a re-writing of the law. She said the purpose was to simplify the law, but from her description the purpose was to implant teeth in it.

The old law was weak on compliance, the city doesn’t know how many landlords are recycling. The new law requires annual reports and proof of recycling contractor hiring. Also, landlords won’t be able to get their rental licenses renewed if they don’t comply. The law also has a new provision requiring city businesses to recycle, she said.

The three councilmembers were not wholly satisfied. it still seemed to them that many landlords about to get whacked with an unfunded mandate – and the costs might be passed on to tenants as fees.

– Gilbert

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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.