Ward 3 Voter Guide 2014: Most pressing issues, Ward 3

What are the most pressing issues facing Ward 3? How would you address them?

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JEFFREY NOEL-NOSBAUM

On the ward-level, I do not have one or two issues that I think are most important or pressing to address. However, there are at least three issues that I would like to make a difference on:

1) Sidewalk quantity, quality, and accessibility.  I generally favor highly accessible sidewalks on every street.  I want to maintain and improve the walk-ability and bike-ability of the City and the Ward as much as possible, especially for younger residents.

2) The odd and illogical gerrymandered shape of the Ward.  Unfortunately the Council has just gone through the redistricting process and the current Ward is substantially the same as it was before, which means we will have to wait another ten years to correct the problem.  I believe that the disconnect between the two parts of the Ward is a factor that leads to increased alienation and disinterest by a portion of the Ward’s population.  As I said in my 2011 campaign before redistricting, I support making the Ward more compact even if it means I would no longer be in it.

3) Lack of broad civic engagement by residents in the City.  One shortfall is that in city elections, not enough people step forward to run or come out to vote.  That is why I think Ward 3’s three-way race is a great development for Takoma Park.  To make sure I maintain a connection with less engaged residents, I plan to get out and walk the Ward on a regular basis to here the concerns of the residents if elected.

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ROGER SCHLEGEL

Note: I am choosing to be as thorough as needed in my responses, with the hope that I am able to share some good ideas that will spark further discussion among voters, including Council members, community leaders, and possible future candidates for the City Council. I have previously shared many of these views in testimony before the City Council, on city committees, and in other public forums.  If readers don’t have time to read these entire responses, I would urge them to focus on the point I am trying to make that addressing climate change should be the unifying priority for Takoma Park.

Over the next eight months, the City Council is likely to reach a decision to sell the City-owned lot at Takoma Junction to a developer. I am concerned that the current timeline for this process will not allow for effective incorporation of public input into the initial design and could thus result in a “train wreck” which forestalls revitalization efforts. Because of my commitment to fairness and detailed knowledge gained while serving on the Takoma Junction Task Force, I would like to be on the Council when key decisions are made about this possible development so that an optimal outcome can be achieved – one that is comfortable for nearby residents and in harmony with Takoma Park’s identity, values, and economic needs. (See more below.)

Crime and public safety in general are of course pressing issues, particularly in the Sycamore Avenue area and on lower New Hampshire Avenue within Ward 3. I do feel that improved inter-jurisdictional communication and new technology have made our police more responsive in terms of apprehending criminals. However, I do not understand why the police department’s stated commitment to increased foot and bike patrols never seems to be demonstrated in practice in my observation around Ward 3. I strongly believe that increased foot and bike patrols would build positive cooperative relationships between residents and police which would help to increase overall safety and which would help police have a better street-level understanding of risks to safety, such as overgrown vegetation, poor lighting, and vulnerable properties, vehicles, or possessions.

I am proud of my involvement in pushing for an improved and expanded sidewalk network in Ward 3, including not only new segments in Pinecrest but also widened and more passable segments on Columbia Avenue and Carroll Avenue. There is a great need for safe sidewalks in the southern part of the ward and for additional crosswalks on Carroll Avenue in the northern part of the ward. The new sidewalk on Lincoln Avenue is a great example of how a new pedestrian route can improve walkability and public safety without significantly adding new impervious surface. Pinecrest’s sidewalk project has had several delays, and the community continues to push to see the first designs. There remain areas such as Gude Avenue and the 6600 block of Allegheny Avenue that discourage pedestrian activity because of missing sidewalk links or narrow, uneven sidewalks that are blocked by utility poles.

Street maintenance is lacking in many parts of Ward 3. It is quite striking to me that if I drive out of Takoma Park on Poplar Avenue and proceed east on Ray Road, I encounter a neighborhood in Prince George’s County where every single street is in excellent condition. By contrast, the streets in my neighborhood have been looking like a mess for years. The recent massive WSSC water-line replacement project has made matters much worse, and I do not sense any urgency on the part of City staff to push WSSC to fix the problems caused by this project. Code enforcement is lax in our ward.

Again, there is no sense of urgency on the part of City staff to address persistent problems. I can understand that the necessary approach with code enforcement is to proceed diplomatically to try to negotiate a solution rather than to move quickly to legal action. Still, it should not be necessary for residents to initiate efforts to address code violations when we have a city employee who is assigned to work proactively to seek out violations.

A case in point would be the condition of our ward’s M-NCPPC parkland, which is subject to much illegal dumping and is at times inhabited by individuals living in temporary structures. It would not seem that City staff would need to hesitate in pointing out these issues to M-NCPPC because there is no potential for resident-versus-resident conflict. Yet City staff have not even gone so far as to demand that M-NCPPC cut back vegetation that blocks the sidewalk and infringes on the street. Another example of lax enforcement is the horrible condition of the Forest Conservation Area just behind and downhill from the City-owned parking lot at the Junction.

Behind the Co-op, there is always all kinds of garbage strewn among the trees. More recently, a huge pile of illegally dumped material has been allowed to persist behind the other end of the lot, adjacent to the Takoma Auto Clinic. I am very surprised that, at a time when the City is actively trying to show this site to potential developers, it has allowed all of this garbage to accumulate and persist in what is supposedly a protected patch of urban forest.

There are three parks in need of attention in Ward 3. Spring Park has persistent problems with soil erosion on the slope between the basketball court and the play structures. The asphalt paths are impassable in many places. The Native-American themed sculpture at the spring is crumbling. During the summer, poison ivy grows beside both formal pathways and informal trails created by children. At Sligo Mill Overlook Park, there is still no play area for children and youth despite the fact that this need was identified fourteen years ago in the 2000 Master Plan.

Throughout most of Ward 3, one is never farther than a quarter-mile from a playground. There are areas of Pinecrest – the fastest-growing neighborhood in the City right now — that are more than a half-mile from Spring Park; this distance discourages folks with strollers and toddlers from visiting a playground, and it is farther than many parents with elementary-age kids would allow their children to go on their own. In lieu of a good place to play, children in Pinecrest are playing on streets which become hazardous at rush hour when the traffic is dominated by cut-through drivers who tend to ignore stop signs. Finally, B.Y. Morrison Park could use a makeover so that it serves as a better amenity within the Junction commercial district.

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KATE STEWART

In the 18 month term that I am running for until the next election, there are three critical near-term issues facing the ward: the revitalization of Takoma Junction, ensuring a safe and welcoming community, and maintaining and improving public parks, gardens, and sidewalks in the ward. There are many longer-term opportunities that I hope to be a part of that would help make life in Takoma Park even better.

Revitalize Takoma Junction: I am eagerly anticipating the proposals that the city will receive by the end of May and to begin looking at ideas to redevelop the city-owned property in Takoma Junction. On the Council, I will make sure that we seek to implement plans that will address and improve the climate for businesses, traffic, and pedestrian use of this area.  As we plan, I will be particularly mindful of the impact on neighbors who live closest to the Junction, as well as ways improvements can benefit the entire community.

Ensuring a Safe & Welcoming Community: One of the city’s most important obligations is to ensure residents are safe – walking home from school or work, going to the store, or just coming home from a friend’s house. This requires meaningful communication and cooperation between the police and other members of the community and coordination with other jurisdictions, especially Montgomery County and DC police departments. Recently, we have not witnessed sufficient response and customer service from our police department and we can do better. Working with the other members of the council and the city manager, I will make sure improvements are made to this basic service our city provides residents.

Maintaining and Improving Public Parks, Gardens, and Sidewalks:  We need to make sure the city is maintaining our public parks and that we have opportunities to expand community gardens. Parks and gardens are essential parts of our neighborhoods as areas for residents to enjoy the natural environment, for children to get outdoors, and as a gathering place to keep neighbors connected.  Similarly, maintaining and upgrading sidewalks is key to ensuring neighborhoods are connected and residents can safely walk through town. On the city council, I will work to make sure areas of the ward are not neglected and residents views are heard and acted upon.

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