Ward 2 Update

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Council meeting

We start at 7:30 pm.  The Council will be discussing zoning in general and a number of specific projects.  This includes a proposal by the Adventist University to expand a building to larger than what the county code allows, by having County Councilmember Nancy Floreen propose a zoning text amendment to change the rules.   Also, consideration of development issues around the crossroads area of University and New Hampshire Avenue.  Finally, we will be discussing the city's sidewalk policy and whether we should make changes to clarify or revise the policy.  
Development pressure

Monday night, Council will be discussing zoning, development and specifically the area ('sector') called the Takoma Langley Crossroads shown in the map above.  This area includes all the area across Long Branch Creek and past Becca Lilly Park (click here for the story of Becca Lilly) up to the junctions of Carroll and University and University and New Hampshire.

The 52-page picture-rich sector design guidelines are here and the sector plan itself which includes more text and background on the area and development possibilities is here - these were developed in 2012. The 15 year old Takoma Park master plan that defines all the zoning throughout the city - administered by the County - is here.  

As I've said in an earlier message (repeated below), I think the city needs to work with the county to update our 15 year old Master Plan - OR - we should consider taking on independent zoning authority as Rockville and Gaithersburg do.  For me, one of the best examples of why we need an update is just in the 2012 sector plan.  City staff tell me that a full build out of the area (shown above) in the sector plan would result in a 34% increase in our population and more than 1,000 more school-aged residents.  On the one hand, that is hypothetical - it will take the Purple Line and many years of things going right for the local economy to create demand for that.  On the other hand, those numbers are just Takoma Park.  So if you think about crowding on our roads and in schools like Rolling Terrace which serve our city and neighboring areas, it's a bigger area of county-driven development and urbanization that will push up actual growth in population faster.  

There is nothing inherently good or bad about population growth - governments have an inherent interest in seeing it however because it grows the tax base and thus the size of government.  The question we as a whole community haven't really had a chance to discuss and debate is whether we see our quality of life getting better with that sort of increased density and urbanization or whether our lives and families are better off with different kinds of growth.  

I hope that we can have a referendum question about development and zoning on the November 2015 ballot.  Its a great way to gauge your interest in trying to get a handle on this issue - before its too late.  

County zoning amendment for the Adventist University

City Council has previously opposed a change to the County zoning code that would allow the Adventist University to build a taller building and County staff opposed it as well.  The zoning code change has now been amended to be more narrow - it would only apply to colleges and universities and it would allow buildings up to 55 feet instead of 65 feet, in a residential neighborhood.  I expect city council will still oppose this change but it will be discussed on Monday night.   


The budget passed last week and, as I indicated in advance, I voted against it (it passed 6-1).  On the issue of taxes, I'd note that the County found ways to lower the county tax rate (as they also did last year).  Links to Councilmember Riemer and Council President Leventhal's budget summaries are here and here.  

The Takoma Park budget includes many important programs, new services and amendments that I proposed or for which I supported other Councilmembers' proposals.  But I voted against the overall budget because we have to get a better long term plan in place on property taxes, growth of city budget, and planning for reserve funds and pensions.   I continue to support the idea of a progressive property tax and goals for the size of our equipment reserve and general fund balance.  

FROM LAST WEEK ON ZONING - Masters of our own destiny

If you live in Rockville or Gaithersburg, you are in a city that controls its own development future – deciding where high density apartments, commercial, housing or open space will go. 

Everywhere else in Montgomery County, including Takoma Park, we have ‘master plans’ that guide development and zoning but its ultimately the county planning commission that will decide what gets built in Takoma Park.   When the Purple Line gets we will see dramatic changes along University or New Hampshire Avenue – big increases in urbanization, and thus traffic and school crowding.  Much of the impacts of growing regional urbanization are beyond our control but within our borders, I think we deserve stronger control over the look, feel, size and pace of development in Takoma Park. 

I believe we should have a referendum question on the Nov 2015 city ballot asking residents whether the city should seek to create our own planning commission and zoning authority - OR - whether we need revisions to our master and sector plans under County zoning.   The Takoma Park Master Plan was approved almost 15 years ago.  Either track could be an improvement over where we are now, forced into constantly reactive efforts, to alter or prevent developments like a Taco Bell drive-thru or subdivision of wooded properties. 

A referendum question is just a first step.  Revising the Master Plan would take quite some time.  And if residents supported building up Takoma Park-specific planning and zoning capacity, any such action would still take state legislation, a great deal of planning, and the need to find funding to staff a new city program. 

Just as local zoning and development authority is right for Rockville and Gaithersburg, I believe long-term quality of life in Takoma Park is better served by local rather than county control.   If our choice was simply to revise our Master Plan, I think there would still be some tough efforts ahead to figure out whether the current zoning choices made available by the County give us options that don’t just result in a lot more multi-story urbanization that our schools, roads and other infrastructure cannot support and that will forever alter the ‘small town’ feel so many residents value as a reason to make Takoma Park their home.

In any case, a referendum would give the City Council a chance to check the pulse of residents on issues of development and projects that will very much affect the whole city in the none too distant future.

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