GRANOLAPARK: Old Activist Club strikes again


Dear Readers,

The group dubbed by a wisecracking council member “The Old Activists Club” is back. When they first shuffled into a 2013 city council meeting they followed a presentation by the Young Activists Club, which was working to save the planet. The Old Activists Club was working to ban yellow curbs and mis-matched street signs.

We thought we’d shamed them out of their sad effort at the time, but no. They shrugged off our contempt and recently emerged from their temple with a report and recommendations they want the city to adopt as “streetscape” policy design guidelines.

The council appointed the Old Activists Club as the Residential Streetscape Task Force. Their report, Takoma Park’s Residential Streetscapes: Safeguarding our Distinctive Visual Character, makes recommendations ranging from ludicrous to noble.

First the ludicrous, because that’s way more fun

Even the report name “Safeguarding our Distinctive Visual Character,” is ludicrous. Look around, Dear Readers, especially outside upscale neighborhoods. Though some parts of town have been spiffed up, Takoma Park’s distinctive visual character is still scruffy yards, chain link fences, and dinky little shingled or brick homes that lower-middle income people, musicians and artists can afford to buy or rent. Once upon a time there were residents who wanted to preserve THAT distinctive visual character. A decade or two ago they marched in the July Fourth parade with signs reading “Keep the Tacky in Takoma Park!”

Those people are now lying in a mass grave underneath an Historic District sign.

The phrase “our valuable streetscapes are at risk” appears at least twice in this report. “Valuable.” That tells you a lot. it looks like part of the city’s creeping priority shift from community values to property values.

They want design standards – you know, like Chevy Chase or Reston. They want new and replacement sections of road and sidewalk repairs to match the color and texture of the old.

They don’t want any jarring colors on ADA-required curb-cut “warning pads.”


Visually abusive ADA-required warning pads. Image from the task force report.

The most ridiculous guideline they want to impose is a stringent standard format for street name signs. Because, –  Unspeakable! Unholy! – the street signs are inconsistent!!! The task force wants street signs to “give the appearance of having been professionally designed and manufactured.”

Street signs.

We think these old activists should consider whether they really want to waste their golden years working on street sign design guidelines when they could be helping the Young Activists Club save the planet.


Inconsistent, no-class street signs. Image from the task force report.

The noble

The task force’s noble recommendations are that the city make utilities follow some rules about scheduling work, letting residents know well ahead of time, trimming trees and fixing the holes they dig or the mess they leave.

All we can say is “good luck.” The city is not the boss of the utilities, especially when they are working on the state highways laid across Takoma Park. In our many years of city-council watching this issue comes up often, is never satisfactorily settled and returns again and again like an I Love Lucy rerun because the utilities forget (or “forget”) the arrangements made with the city.

Your Gilbert favors the task force recommendation to make speedhumps consistent, but it doesn’t go far enough. Your Gilbert recommends speed humps should be consistently GONE.


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It’s been clear for years that speed bumps are outmoded, unsafe and un-environmental, yet no city authority has the guts to systematically tear them up and replace with better traffic-calming methods.

But, we digress. The city council accepted the report May 26 and staff estimates they can have a streetscape policy written up “sometime this fiscal year.”

Doesn’t that make your pulse quicken, Dear Readers?


The council continues to battle the county council’s bizarre attempt to create special zoning for religious/educational facilities so the Washington Adventist University can build a 65 foot tall Health Professions building across the street from a residential neighborhood on Maplewood Avenue – which would violate the current zoning laws.

This is the county’s proposed Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 15-04.

At the May 26 meeting WAU was called “pig-headed” by council member Fred Schultz and “inept in reaching out to the community” by Councilmember Terry Seamens.


 Erkin Ozberk, city Housing & Community Development planner, briefs the city council on zoning May 26.

Councilmember J Smith, in whose Ward 5 the building is proposed, said the university’s neighbors “just don’t understand it.” He said the WAU is a 19 acre institution which is due to get thousands of square feet more when the adjacent Washington Adventist Hospital closes. “There is no reason they couldn’t build this somewhere else,” he said.

Mayor Bruce Wiliams said the city council would vote on a resolution opposing the ZTA amendment at the June 1 meeting. They can bring the resolution to meetings of the Montgomery County Planning Board June 4, and the Montgomery County Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee June 8. The amendment is on those meeting’s agendas.

– Gilbert


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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.