IMAGE: Tree stump on Ritchie Avenue, Sept. 29, 2016, Photo by Bill Brown.
GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT
A lot of people are reeeeeelly ticked off with PEPCO’s recent tree-trimming massacres, not just in Takoma Park but throughout the state.
So, not only is the city council considering revising its tree ordinances, it is plotting to join forces with other Maryland jurisdictions to bring PEPCO and other utilities to heel.
“It’s like we’re dealing with mini-dictatorships.” said councilmember Fred Schultz.
Mini-dictator PEPCO’s Ritchie Avenue tree trimming was so shocking – allegedly taking down trees that were not even in the way of power lines – that city arborist Todd Bolton pitched a fit when he saw what they’d done. Bolton got PEPCO to ban the offending sub-contractor from doing any more work in the city.
Tree advocates were still upset that the city issued PEPCO tree-cutting permits in the first place, however. They want to look at revising the tree ordinances to prevent it happening again.
Unfortunately, as Schultz said, utilities are mini-dictators that can largely ignore city laws. The best the city can do is have agreements with them – Memorandums Of Understanding, they are called, MOU for short.
So, what’s going to come out of this move to revise the tree ordinance? The language could be simplified, said councilmember Schultz, while preserving the ordinance’s objectives. The objectives are to protect the city’s tree canopy, he said, yet the canopy is shrinking, he said.
Councilmember Rizzy Qureshi decried a home re-construction hold-up due to the tree-ordinance. “I believe in trees,” he said, but he would like to look into creating waivers or some other procedural flexibility for investors redeveloping abandoned properties.
It was generally agreed that the tree ordinance will be on Monday’s “Green Team” meeting agenda. The Green Team is the combined forces of the City Council, Tree Commission and Environmental Committee.
The city is not the only jurisdiction with little leverage over utility tree-cutting. There seems to be a groundswell of frustration among state municipalities and counties. “This issue is hot” in Baltmore County, says Michele Douglas of Public Policy Partners, the city’s lobbying firm.
So, there could be utility-taming state legislation in the works, said Douglas and new PPP associate Alice Wilkerson. Wilkerson was most recently state senator Jamie Raskin’s chief of staff.
City lobbyists, left to right, Alice Wilkerson and Michele Douglas of Public Policy Partners at the Sept 28, 2016 city council meeting. Photo by Bill Brown.
Raskin is certain to win election this November to the US House of Representatives, one of many local politicians changing seats. Wilkerson, who was being introduced to the city council Sept. 28 as the city’s new lobbyist, showed her usefulness by explaining who the new contact people will be for several of these political movers.
Why does the city need a lobbyist, you ask?
The lobbyists shepherd legislation the city wants through the state assembly or county council. They also track legislation that could affect the city negatively.
Lobbyists Douglas and Wilkerson met the council Sept 29 to get the city’s priorities for this year’s legislative session – which is a mere 90 days next spring. This is the time to prepare.
The priorities list, as summarized by mayor Kate Stewart was: bond bills, legislation that reins in utilities, personal property tax enforcement, and free-standing emergency medical facilities.
The bond, a loan to the city, would be for extensive city library renovations.
It might also be for an aquatic center to be built on the Washington Adventist Hospital property after the hospital leaves. It’s a very rough proposal. It’s not clear if the hospital would go along with that and who would own and run it – the hospital, the city, or the county?
Piney Branch Pool doomed
What is clear is that the Piney Branch Pool is doomed. Keeping it in operation has been a yearly battle with the county and now the school system wants the space for classrooms. So, if there’s to be a public indoor pool at this end of the county, the proposed aquatic center may be the best shot.
The free-standing emergency medical facilities is also related to the hospitals impending departure. The city wants to keep the emergency room. There is legislation coming that would make that possible. Making sure the legislation would allow WAH to charge the best rates possible at the emergency facility is vital. Otherwise WAH would have an excuse to drop the idea.
Personal property tax enforcement is currently a hodge-podge. Some businesses don’t even know they should be paying this tax on inventory. It’s the only opportunity the city has to make income from businesses. It is prohibited from levying a sales tax.
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