GRANOLAPARK: Too much off the top

IMAGE: Tree stump on Ritchie Avenue, Sept. 29, 2016, Photo by Bill Brown.


Dear Readers,

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.

– 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.

8 Comments on "GRANOLAPARK: Too much off the top"

  1. Aquatic center? How about renovating the city’s rec center, as promised?

  2. The rec center is not affected by state or county legislation, so it wouldn’t come up as a priority for the lobbyists.

  3. Appreciate the article. Trees are critical for our community and life itself. How people can do this is beyond me. We hate getting rid of trees but obviously if they are sick or in the way we do our best to minimize removal but do so only if absolutely necessary. Thanks for getting the word out and ensuring this doesnt continue.

  4. Yes, but why build a new aquatic center when it makes no sense? Among other things, the county plans to build a new aquatic center just down the road –

  5. “Just down the road?”

    So all the Takoma Parkians, especially the low income youngsters in Wards 4 and 5 who can now walk to Piney Branch Pool, would then have to drive or take public transit to a location over 2 miles distant. How does that replace PBP? At least the WAH site is equally within walking distance.

    And just like the SS library, which you always say is an acceptable substitute for the city library, it would be full of local residents and would not be able to handle the additional usage from Takoma Park.

    • Yet we pay for it. And I do believe that the number of TP residents who use the library would hardly burden the new library. We’re a two-mile wide “city” with hardly enough library users to do that. Let’s get real and stop rationalizing ridiculous spending.

  6. “So all the Takoma Parkians, especially the low income youngsters in Wards 4 and 5 who can now walk to Piney Branch Pool, would then have to drive or take public transit to a location over 2 miles distant.”

    They’re already going to the pool at Long Branch, just like they’re already going to the far superior library at Long Branch. Anonymouse is right – the “city” is a glorified hamlet with oversized pretensions.

  7. Current situation: There is an underutilized recreation center in Takoma Park that the county should eventually pay to renovate, given that city residents, unlike those in Rockville and G’burg, pay county recreation taxes.

    But, wait, that facility is over on the unfashionable side of town, next to apartment complexes and strip malls catering to working class Latino immigrants that the Voice has continually characterized as urban blight.

    Solution: Let’s ignore the current situation and build a fancy new aquatic center in the middle of town at city expense, even though it will be duplicative of similar centers in Takoma and Silver Spring and a pool at Long Branch, thus depriving the city of one of its few useful sites for property development.

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