Happy New Year everyone! First, apologies for the long message. We started off the new year and the new Council session with a full agenda, and we discussed a couple of heavy topics that we’ve been working on for quite a while. The following items were on the agenda:
PROPOSED CONSENT AGENDA:
1. A resolution paying tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in honor of the upcoming celebration of Dr. King’s life and legacy. The City will be holding its annual celebration for Dr. King on Saturday, January 16, at 2 pm at the Clarice Smith Center. It’s a free event, and always includes a wide range of choirs and musical entertainment. I encourage you to go if you can!
2. Approval of Field Use requests by the College Park Boys & Girls Club. The city gives priority use of its fields to the Boys & Girls Club, which typically uses both Duvall Field and the Calvert School field between March and July on weekday evenings and on Saturdays during the day.
3. Approval of a recommendation of the Advisory Planning Commission to approve a front yard fence abutting Ruatan Street in the Berwyn neighborhood. Many houses between Berwyn Road and Ruatan Street in Berwyn front both streets, and even though the applicant’s fence is behind her house, it is considered a front yard fence because it abuts Ruatan Street. The APC voted to recommend allowing her to keep her fence, and no Council member challenged this, so it’s going on the consent agenda.
4. Approval of a recommendation of the APC to approve a variance allowing a carport in the Lakeland neighborhood that encroaches on the side-yard setback for corner properties, because the property is irregular in shape.
1. REVIEW OF THE CITY’S COMPREHENSIVE ANNUAL FINANCIAL REPORT FOR FY 2009. The auditors will present the financial report to the Council and the result of their audit. We received the reports last Thursday, and I’m happy to report that the auditors found that the financial statements present fairly, in all material aspects, the financial position of the governmental activities of the City and all fund information. The unreserved, undesginated fund balance in the City’s General Fund represents 29.43% of FY 10′s adopted expenditure budget, putting us in excess of the 25% requirement for reserves. We are also well within our limit for the amount of debt we may incur under the City Charter, despite the fact that we issued over $8 million in bonds to fund the construction of the downtown parking garage Overall, the City is in good financial health, although we will face some tough times ahead (more on that later). The report includes a lot of interesting statistics about the demographics of the City, which I won’t go into here, but if you would like to look at the full report, it will be available online after the meeting tomorrow on the city’s website at http://www.collegeparkmd.gov/special_reports.htm. You can now go to the website and see the financial reports from past years.
2. COMMENTS ON THE AMENDED US 1 PRELIMINARY SECTOR PLAN AND SECTIONAL MAP AMENDMENT. At this point, the US 1 Preliminary Sector Plan and Sectional Map Amendment has been reviewed by the Planning Board, and is awaiting review by the District Council. The planning board staff responded point-by-point to all of the written and oral comments provided by residents, developers, and the City, and I forwarded that response last month (let me know if you want another copy). The Planning Board did make some positive changes in response to resident testimony – for example, the staff changed the plan for Rhode Island Avenue to keep it as a two-lane connector road and NOT open it up south of Greenbelt Road. Also, the Planning Board took on-street parking off of Route 1, and hopes to use the space it was going to use for on-street parking to put in separated “cycle tracks,” which are basically bike paths that are elevated off the street for safety. Stronger language has been added to a number of sections relating to environmental protection – for example, the plan states that developers shall use LEED-based building standards and stormwater management practices instead of saying that these things are “encouraged.” Also, the Plan recommends conducting a feasibility study to determine if the Youth and Family Services building may be expanded to accommodate a larger meeting space or other services – short of a community center residents had requested, but something more than what we had before.
On the other hand, the Plan still leaves many gaps and could create problems if it is not amended further. First and foremost, the Plan puts off addressing traffic management strategies in further detail until after further studies are done. Currently, two transportation implementation studies are scheduled to be done by the end of 2010. The Planning staff told the City in a letter, however, that the City’s input would be incorporated, and neither the planning staff nor any traffic planning consultants have contacted the City. I am concerned that public input will also not be taken into consideration, and that these transportation management strategies may be inadequate and may not incorporate public comment. Furthermore, the Planning Board never consulted with the Maryland Department of Transportation. Although MDOT submitted comments, they were late (one day, from what I’ve heard), and the Planning Board refused to accept them. MDOT objects to many provisions in the Sector Plan – including, for example, reducing the width of the street lanes on Route One to ten feet, and leaving transportation demand management strategies until after the plan is completed. These comments could force the District Council to make many additional changes to the Sector Plan.
There are a number of other ongoing problems with the Plan – for example:
1) There are still a number of inconsistencies between the maps in different sections of the Plan and the maps and various narrative portions of the Plan. The Planning staff often responded that these maps are “illustrative,” but I think it would be difficult to effectively use maps that are inaccurate in material ways.
2) Although the Plan suggests downzoning (from M-U-I) significant portions of Route One (outside of the “walkable nodes”), it doesn’t follow through in the recommended zoning changes. Also, the Plan refuses to accept some proposed zoning changes from the City – for example, the Plan suggests upzoning the property at the northeast corner of Route One and Edgewood Road to a mixed-use zone (it currently is commercial office). Although the owner of that property has stated that his current plans could be accommodated under the current commercial office zone, and residents have consistently said that they don’t want a lot of density on that property, the Planning Board refused to listen.
3) The Planning Board refused to agree to the City’s suggested zoning for the Hollywood Commercial District, which, in my opinion, would have given developers an incentive to redevelop there while ensuring resident input in the development plan.
4) The Planning Board refused to add specific implementation steps for redevelopment of the Hollywood Commercial District or strategies to make Hollywood a walkable area, and did not make any recommendations for reconfiguration of the streets in Hollywood to make the businesses more accessible or more pedestrian-friendly. I believe that significant infrastructure improvements will be needed to revitalize the Hollywood Commercial District, and it would have been helpful for the sector plan to make recommendations in terms of how those improvements could be made.
5) The Planning Board failed to include specific strategies for protection of the Paint Branch in the Development Standards.
6) The Planning Board refused to add promotion of the use of Metro and satellite parking, or consideration of Metro connections, to the Plan.
7) The Planning Board refused to make recommendations as to how a comprehensive design scheme for parts of the City (for example, as might be necessary to establish shared parking or a uniform street frontage between developments).
8) The Sector Plan refuses to consider a trolley line or additional shuttle routes in the area, based on concern about current ridership. The problem with this approach is that the current transit options in the area are often inconvenient and do not have the same amenities that could be provided with a shuttle or a trolley line. Public transit often follows the “if you build it, they will come” rule – and if public transportation is convenient, accessible and easy to use, people will be more likely to use it.
9) Although my concerns focus on District 1, some of the other Districts have concerns about the plan – especially Autoville, where the Plan still makes a number of recommendations for connectivity and for higher zoning that residents have expressed opposition to in the past.
At this point, with all of these problems, the City needs to decide how to approach this. The staff suggests in its memo to the Council this week that it may be appropriate to ask that it be postponed to allow time to deal with these issues and allow Park and Planning to incorporate comments from MDOT, and to incorporate the results of the transportation implementation studies due later this year. This may not be a bad idea, given the importance of resolving traffic issues in a comprehensive manner and ensuring public input in this process. I look forward to discussing this with my colleagues tonight.
Go to http://www.pgplanning.org/Projects/Ongoing_Plans_and_Projects/Community_Plans/Central_US_1.htm if you want to see the draft of the sector plan and the Planning Board’s resolution with all of its amendments.
3. FURTHER REVIEW OF THE COUNTY FORM-BASED CODE LEGISLATION, PROPOSED ARTICLE 27A. To recap – this is a bill that would change the zoning procedure for large portions of the County, including, possibly in the future, downtown College Park and the area around the College Park metro. This came up last year, and it appeared as if Park and Planning wanted to rush this through the County – as a result, the City (together with a number of other cities, including Greenbelt) asked to postpone consideration of the bill to try to work out some of the problems. The ordinance has now been reintroduced as the first bill for consideration by the County Council in the new year. I sent an e-mail around in October of last year with a list of my concerns about the proposed ordinance.
The amendments help address some of these problems. Specifically:
1) All major zoning decisions (including approval of a regulatory plan and any amendments to the plan) may be called up by the District Council – which allows for some public accountability for all of the decisions relating to the form-based code.
2) The new bill also eliminates a provision that allowed developers to get in just about any possible use on a property as an “accessory use,” even if the use was substantial and had little to do with the “main” use on the property.
3) The bill now seems to require developers to put in more bike parking (previously, it only required 4-10 spaces for a development).
I still have some concerns about the bill, though. Specifically:
1) The bill still does not allow for public appeal to the District Council of the Permit Site Plan or variations from that plan.
2) It is unclear to me how adequate public facilities requirements fit into the proposed bill – this is important because it typically requires consideration of the impact of a new development on traffic congestion, public safety, school capacity, etc.
3) It is unclear to me how requirements for preservation of natural resources fit into the form-based code.
4) It seems that developers can propose changes to a regulatory plan that do not qualify as “amendments,” and therefore do not require review by the District Council.
5) Some of the requirements for public input into the permit process are still vague – specifically, how people can submit input into the development of a regulatory plan if they cannot participate in the “charrette,” when a public hearing must be held on amendments to the plan.
6) The “neighborhood manners” section, which addresses when commercial properties lie next to residential properties, addresses setbacks, but doesn’t address noise, smells, etc.
The City staff supports this legislation, because a form-based code process would help streamline the development process and encourage revitalization of some neglected areas. Although I agree that the form-based code may be appropriate to help encourage revitalization, I want to ensure that the ordinance allows for public input. I will not be able to support it unless some of these issues are resolved.
If you would like to review the bill (it’s long, and can cure a bad case of insomnia), you can go to http://egov.co.pg.md.us/lis/ and do a search for bills CB-001-2010, CB-002-2010, and CB-003-2010.
4. REVIEW OF AN APPLICATION FOR A CLASS B, BLX (RESTAURANT) BEER, WINE AND LIQUOR LICENSE FOR AZTECA BAR & GRILL, 9505 BALTIMORE AVE., AND A PROPERTY USE AGREEMENT WITH THE CITY. This is a new Tex-Mex/Salvadoran restaurant coming in next to the Duron Paint just north of Indian Ln., on the east side of Baltimore Ave. This seems like it has the potential to be a quality restaurant, although I want to ensure that the restaurant will be a restaurant, and not just a bar. The city’s draft Property Use Agreement includes a number of provisions regarding the sale of alcohol, including requirements that the sale of alcohol be no more than 30% of gross receipts for the business, and that all advertisements include food and not just alcohol. I also have some concerns about the parking situation at the property, because the restaurant has only five parking spots in front with back out onto Route One and about 20 spaces behind the restaurant, and I’m not sure it has the capacity to handle the 175 people that the applicant says it will have the capacity for – it appears that the restaurant is entering into a parking agreement with Duron paints, though, and this may resolve the issue. I hope to work with the applicant, because I always appreciate new, quality restaurants coming to North College Park!
5. FY ’11 BUDGET GUIDANCE. This is the start of our long City budget process. It looks like the budget process could be interesting this year – the staff predicts, at this point, that City revenue may decline over $1.8 million, depending on how much we get from new partial-year tax assessments for the University Overlook II and Mazza developments. As a result, department budgets will be limited from any increase, and the City may not grant COLA’s to City staff. As always, the Mayor & Council may submit wish lists about items we wish to see in the budget, but given our budget constraints, I do not believe I will be requesting much, if anything, this year. The NCPCA will also be taking up this issue at the February meeting, to decide what its desired budget priorities this year will be. The City’s budget worksessions are set (tentatively) for Saturday, April 10 and Saturday, April 17, and the public hearing on the budget set for May 11.
6. COUNCIL SUBCOMMITTEE FOR FY ’10 COMMUNITY SERVICES GRANTS. The Council will tonight decide who will sit on the subcommittee to consider allocation of the community services grants, which go to non-profit organizations serving our community. Non-profits may receive up to $2,500 from the City. In the past, these awards have gone to groups as diverse as the Boy Scouts, Meals on Wheels, and the American Legion Auxiliary (for scholarship awards for the Miss College Park program), among others. I sat on the allocation subcommittee for this grant last year, and may do so again this year. Applications for grants are due January 7 – if you know an organization that still might be interested in applying, contact the Planning Department at 240-487-3520.
7. REVIEW OF COUNCIL RULES AND PROCEDURES. The Council is required, by our charter, to review Council rules and procedures every two years. These are the rules that set forth the conduct of our meetings
8. 2010 COG APPOINTMENTS. The City belongs to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, and as a result, is allowed to sit on some of the COG boards, which make critical decisions impacting our community relating to transportation, air quality, and coordination across the region on public services, public safety, etc. I currently sit on the Transportation Planning Board, and used my appointment to ensure inclusion of College Park in the TIGER grant proposal for express bus routes and the region-wide bike-sharing program. I also sit on the Human Services and Public Safety Policy Committee, which considers a range of issues relating to services for homeless people, police protection, obesity. Other COG committees including the Metropolitan Washington Air Quality Committee, which has the authority to approve the air quality plans for the region and insure compliance with the Clean Air Act, the COG Board of Directors, the Climate, Energy and Environment Policy Committee, which is developing a regional work plan to address climate change, and the Chesapeake Bay and Water Resources Policy Committee, which acts as a regional voice and coordinating committee on issues impacting the Chesapeake Bay. I hope to continue sitting on the Boards I currently sit on – I feel that these committees benefit our City and that our continued involvement is critical.
9. BOARDS AND COMMITTEES. As always, if you’re interested in sitting on a City Board (and if you’ve made it this far in my e-mail, you must be interested in this stuff!) please let me know. There’s a full list of the Boards and Committees at http://www.collegeparkmd.gov/boards_and_com.htm
Please let me know if you have any questions!!
To sign up for email updates on Council Worksessions, please visit the North College Park, Maryland Community Discussion Group at http://groups.google.com/group/north-college-park/.