IMAGE: Montgomery College Provost Brad Stewart, PhD addresses the Takoma Park city council, Jan. 20, 2016.
GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT
The infuriating presentation was saved until last. The mayor, who sets the Takoma Park city council meeting agendas, knew everyone would flee the room if she didn’t plan it that way.
Look at the first two agenda items: 1) Comprehensive Annual Financial Report and Audit and 2) Actuarial Report on the Police Pension Plan.
Doesn’t the prospect of sitting through that make you want to dive into a barrel of wet cement, swim to the bottom and stay there until it is nice and hard?
To save you from that urge, we’ll sum up the mind-numbing presentations:
1) blah blah blah the city did a good job blah blah blah
2) blah blah blah the city is doing some new stuff blah blah blah.
See what we had to put up with? For YOU?
The infuriating presentation Wednesday, Jan. 20 was given by Brad Stewart, Phd, Vice President and Provost of Montgomery College’s Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus. Since 2005 he’s been in charge of the college’s expansion plans. NOT, please note, expansion onto new land. The Facilities Master Plan is to demolish some old buildings and build taller and wider ones on the college’s existing footprint.
Some background for those unfamiliar with Montgomery College and its past expansion plans. This goes back to the early 1970s when the community college, established in 1950, sought to condemn and demolish 22 Takoma Park homes on Block 69* for new school buildings. Residents fought and won against the college, the county and a pro-development mayor and council supported by the locally-powerful Seventh Day Adventist church. At the same time, there was an overlapping struggle to stop the county from demolishing homes to develop the area around the planned Takoma Metro station. When people talk about the good old days when Takoma Park activists sat down in front of bulldozers – this is when that happened.
The Montgomery College Takoma Park campus. Jan. 21, 2106, Photo by Mary Ellsworth.
Some of the same residents are still in the Montgomery College neighborhood, and they have long memories and lingering trauma. Also, because of the years-long fight over development on the nearby Takoma Metro grounds, the community activists are already activated. A number of them spoke at Wednesday’s city council meeting. They were not happy.
They’d been an early December meeting for public comment held by the college to review the expansion plans. What they saw at the meeting alarmed them.
Speaking to the city council Jan. 20, Dr. Stewart (no relation to Takoma Park mayor Kate Stewart), said that the meeting for public comment was sufficient and that his architects listened and responded to resident’s concerns.
If that were true, however, the plan would not involve any taller, wider buildings on the eastern side of campus at all. Instead they would have shifted to the western side of campus, which borders a more urban, commercial part of Silver Spring along Georgia Avenue and East-West Highway (Rte 410). That’s what the residents want, and that’s what they’ve made VERY CLEAR to the provost.
He was handed a city committee report on it back in 2008.
Granolapark reported on it in our Feb. 28, 2008 column, Chilin’:
“In brief, [the committee] recommended that the college should expand to the west of the campus, replacing the big, ugly concrete-box storage businesses on Fenton Street, and to the other side of the railroad tracks. They favored the college selling some or all of its properties on “block 69.” Block 69 has college-owned properties on each of its four corners, the rest is residential. The committee fears the college will try to build massive, out-of-scale buildings on these lots, and perhaps buy up more of the block to do so.”
As we reported in 2008, it hurted Dr. Stewart’s widdle feewings that he had not been informed of the committee’s existence until he learned the Montgomery College Neighbors Advisory Committee would be presenting their report at the Feb. 25, 2008 city council meeting.
“Following the committee’s report Provost Stewart addressed the council. He tried to be polite about it, but he was clearly unhappy that he had been, as he repeatedly phrased it, “frozen out” of the committee’s process, as he had only recently been informed that the committee existed and would be presenting a report. He also repeatedly said that he agreed for the most part with the committee’s recommendations, BUT, … and here he talked vaguely about Reality, Limitations, Budgets, and the like. He did get specific about selling block 69 properties for “chump change,” and how the storage buildings would cost many millions more.”
So, here in 2016 we have Dr. Frozen Out coming back to the council, caught in the act of freezing out the council and the community. Oooo, the irony. The gall. The hypocrisy. The hubris!
The red flag
The city council waved a red flag at the college in October when it learned about what they called a “highly compressed timeline,” starting in August and ending February 1. They sent a letter objecting to the lack of community involvement in the process.
They also expressed alarm that their lawyers claim the college does not need to submit its plans to the Maryland/National Capital Park and Planning Commission for a 60-day review period, as everyone else in the county has to.
The college held one meeting for Takoma Park residents to see the completed plans in early December. Doctor Stewart insisted there were two meetings. But it came out that one of them was in Rockville.
The plans will be presented to the college trustees on Jan. 25 and if approved, sent to a state commission for its approval Feb. 1. When asked by council member Peter Kovar, in whose Ward 1 the campus resides, if there was an opportunity for public comment at either meeting, Dr. Stewart said there was, but the date to register had passed.
The council and staff will be in touch with the board and commission to see if the registration period can be waived. They will also send another huffy letter after they see the results of the meeting.
Down to money
The provost was cagey about plans for the college day care center on Block 69. The rumor is that it will close in June this year. He would not confirm that, and said he couldn’t talk about it, but he did say that someone “has been talking out of turn” about closure plans – which the council took as tacit confirmation.
The day care center is in a former single-family home on a corner lot. The fate of that lot and building are of concern to residents and council, but Stewart could provide no further information.
They might decide to sell it. But what will they do with the money? The committee report, as stated above, suggested selling the Block 69 properties to buy the storage-unit facilities on the west side of Fenton Avenue for expansion space.
The college’s day care center at the corner of East/West Highway and Takoma Avenue. Photo by Mary Ellsworth.
It seems it all comes down to money. Dr. Stewart intimated that he can’t afford to expand to the west, it’s more expensive than using the eastern campus.
In fact, he hinted that all of this expansion planning is a pointless exercise. He’s required to produce a new master plan every ten years, he said. Very little, he pointed out, came of the last one. There was no funding available.
Was he floating the suggestion that nothing would come of this plan either, and that he was just going through the motions of submitting the damn thing because it was a job requirement? Or was it a red herring?
Since “this is not the first rodeo, and not the last one,” said counclmemeber Rizzy Qureshi, the college needs to work on better communication with the city. “There exists a level of frustration that shouldn’t exist.” he said.
*Block 69 is bounded by Philadelphia (Rte 410, East-West Highway) and New York Avenues between Chicago and Takoma Avenues.
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