We have a packed agenda. Here’s what’s on it:
1. PROPOSED CONSENT AGENDA – TWO-YEAR EXTENSION FOR RIGHT-OF-WAY GRASS MOWING CONTRACT. The City hires contractors to mow the City right-of-way in areas around the City where no resident is available to mow it (such as around City parks and around other City-owned property). We have been working with the same contractor for the past five years, and the contractor has offered to continue mowing the right-of-way for the same price that it has been working at for the past three years. The staff competitively bid this out in 2006 and this contractor came in with the lowest price. The price has only been increased once since, in 2008, when costs for labor and material increased substantially. The staff reports that they’ve been satisfied with this contractor, so I see no problem with continuing with the same contractor at the same price.
2. PROPERTY USE AGREEMENT FOR THE JERK PIT. The Jerk Pit, a Caribbean restaurant previously located in the Campus Village Shopping Center, has moved to the old College Perk location, 9078 Baltimore Ave., and is applying to bring its liquor license along with it. As a condition for supporting the application to transfer its liquor license, the staff has drafted a Property Use Agreement, which requires that the restaurant get 80% of its profits from food, not sell beer in pitchers, and not sell alcohol after 2 am. The restaurant agrees to the proposed terms, but has asked that the City allow it to remain open after 2 am to continue to sell food. I am interested to hear what the residents in the nearby Autoville neighborhood have to say about this – there have been some noise problems with the Jerk Pit at the old location. One option may be to allow it on a temporary basis and see how it works out. I think this is a good use for the old Perk location, though, and I’m eager to try the restaurant once it opens.
3. DISCUSSION OF CITY ANIMAL CONTROL PROGRAM. Mr. Perry asked to place discussion of the City’s Animal Control Program on a worksession agenda, to discuss whether the City should continue supporting it. Some folks have raised concern recently about the state of the City’s animal shelter, located behind Davis Hall – this started out initially as a holding pen for animals that the City Animal Control Officer captured, and has become a longer-term shelter. The City may have to put some resources into fixing up the shelter, and this is something I would like to look into. I would like to work with the staff and other councilmembers to find possible grant funding to improve the shelter and make it more humane for the animals there – I think the City, which operates an animal adoption program through our Animal Welfare Committee, offers a more humane alternative to the County shelter. This should be an interesting discussion tomorrow night.
4. FURNITURE ON THE ROOF. The staff has not provided any back-up materials for this item, but I believe there has been a problem in the student-heavy areas of the City with people placing furniture on the roof, and the proposal will be to ban this practice.
5. PARKING PERMIT ISSUES. This item is returning from the discussion during the budget worksession earlier this year, when the City chose to increase the cost of parking permits from $5 to $10. I know that many people objected to paying for the fees in the first place, but some people also suggested some ideas to make the parking permit system more fair. One idea that came up was to make the fees progressive, so that people who have more cars on the street have to pay more – for example, to charge a lower amount (say $5) for the first one or two cars, and then charge $10 or $20 for additional permits after that. I proposed this because of the additional burden that the extra cars have on our streets – often, I hear residents complain about how they can’t park on the street when their neighbors have four or five cars parked on the street. I also suggested that we look at opening up some of the parking permit zones during the day time – so that people who stay home during the day can have visitors in the middle of the day (say 10 am-2 pm) without having to worry about permits. I think this might work in areas further away from the Metro, where people don’t have to worry as much about people parking in front of their homes during the day to take the Metro – concerns about commuters parking and then taking the Metro to work should be resolved if we keep the permits in effect until 10 am and after 3 pm. Let me know if you have any thoughts or comments about these ideas.
6. BAMBOO ON PRIVATE PROPERTY. Over the past couple of years, I’ve gotten a few complaints from residents about neighbors who grow bamboo in their yards and do not prevent it from spreading into their neighbors’ yards – something that is possible through the use of barriers or through proper yard maintenance. The City is powerless to do anything about this right now – it’s legal not just to grow bamboo but also to allow it to spread to neighbors’ yards. In order to address this, I spoke with the City attorney and we looked at an ordinance that Takoma Park has in place. It doesn’t prohibit the growing of bamboo, but it prohibits allowing bamboo to spread onto neighboring properties without their permission. In a way, this is just a “good neighbor” provision – it would only be enforced if a neighbor complains about it, and a resident can easily address the problem by putting in barriers to prevent their bamboo from spreading into neighboring yards. If a resident doesn’t address the problem, the City can step in and give the person a citation and a fine unless they put in a barrier.
7. REVISION OF THE CITY’S DEFINITION OF PROHIBITED VEHICLES. The City staff has wrestled for a little while with the definition of what vehicles on prohibited on City streets. Currently, the City prohibits any vehicle over a certain weight (3/4 ton), which includes many personal vehicles such as trucks and SUV’s. The intent of the City code is to prevent commercial vehicles from parking in residential areas overnight without a permit. The County, through the Zoning code, prohibits commercial vehicles in people’s driveways, and the City would like to make its rules for vehicles on the street consistent with these rules. As a result, the staff has proposed an ordinance which would prevent, between the hours of 8 pm and 6 am, the following vehicles from being parked on City streets:
a) Any vehicle exceeding 21 feet in length or six feet in width that is used for commercial purposes or exceeds one ton in weight;
b) Any vehicle exceeding a manufacturer’s gross vehicle weight specification of 8,500 pounds;
c) Any camping trailer (these are currently prohibited on City streets but not in people’s yards, and this would continue)
d) Vehicles containing advertising other than a firm name or similar designation less than 4 inches high;
e) Vehicles exceeding 300 cubic feet of load space; and
f) Any stake platform trucks, dump trucks, crane or two trucks, or vehicles with dual rear wheels.
I’m hoping that this won’t be overly inclusive, and won’t catch any legitimate personal vehicles in the prohibition. Please let me know if you have any comments or suggestions on this.
8. STUDENT LIAISON RESOLUTION. The Council discussed the student liaison position a few weeks ago, and we came up with some ideas to make the student liaison program more effective. One idea, to create some continuity in the position, was to have the deputy student liaison take over automatically for the student liaison at the end of his or her term. We also wanted to clarify the rules regarding attendance of the student liaison and deputy student liaison at Council executive sessions, by stating that the liaison could attend as long as they sign a confidentiality agreement, and as long as the executive session didn’t involve a personnel matter. We also discussed what provisions should be in place to allow for the removal of a student liaison who is not carrying out his or her tasks – the proposal here is to vote to refer the removal of the student liaison to the University of Maryland Student Government Association to consider. The draft ordinance we’ll be discussing tomorrow night would do all of these things.
9. LEGISLATIVE DINNER. Every year, the City holds a legislative dinner where we invite our County and State elected officials to discuss our legislative priorities for the year. This year, we decided to advocate for three pieces of legislation: 1) An extension of the legislation authorizing the City to provide passes for its residents to ride the Shuttle-UM buses; 2) an extension of the City Hall Bond Bill, which authorizes the City to issue bonds for the funding of a new City Hall; and 3) a Revitalization Tax Credit, which would allow the City to issue tax credits for developers to develop neglected areas of the City or to develop in an environmentally friendly way. We will be discussing how we will present these items (and who will present them) at the legislative dinner, which is taking place on Monday, November 29, 2010.
10. ZONING AUTHORITY. The County recently passed an ordinance authorizing municipalities to take on review authority of certain zoning decisions, including whether to grant: 1) alternative compliance from landscaping requirements on certain properties; 2) certification, revocation and revision of existing uses that are not in compliance with the zoning code (either because they existed prior to the zoning code or were allowed to happen in error), and 3) minor changes to approved special exceptions. These are very limited additional circumstances in which the City can exercise review authority. This proposed ordinance establishes a procedure for the City to exercise this authority. In most cases, these decisions will go before the Advisory Planning Commission, and be subject to a possible review by the City Council. The ordinance is very long and complicated, so I won’t go into too many details here, but most of it is pretty technical. Some provisions (dubbed “minor” changes in the bill) will be decided by the City’s Planning Director, but the Council will have the ability to review these and an interested party can request that they go to hearing before the APC. Let me know if you have any questions about this.
11. PARTICIPATION IN THE MML BANNER CITY PROGRAM. The Maryland Municipal League has a program called the “banner city” program, which they use to encourage cities to take part in state-wide programs. In order to become a “banner city,” a city must participate in both major MML conferences, recognize Municipal Government Month, and participate in the “If I Were a Mayor…” contest, among other things. College Park has not done this in a long time, even though I believe we do most of the things that you have to do to qualify. I’ve asked the staff to track this and see what we would need to do in order to obtain this recognition.
12. MARYLAND BOOK EXCHANGE DEVELOPMENT. Councilmember Stullich has asked that the Council take a formal position on the proposed Maryland Book Exchange development. This property has been the subject of a lot of debate and discussion over the past couple of months. A developer has come to the City proposing to put a student housing development with over 800 student beds and about 200 young professional housing beds. The Old Town Civic Association voted unanimously against this project, and many people have concerns. On the one hand, I understand the smart growth principles behind this project – the idea that students should be allowed and encouraged to live closer to the University, so that they don’t have to travel as far to get there. On the other hand, I sympathize with the concerns of the residents of Old Town – if someone proposed placing a student housing complex right in one of our neighborhoods, I would certainly be concerned. Old Town already has about 1,000 students living in it, and this would double the student population of Old Town. Residents there are rightfully concerned about the number of house parties this would create, the noise problems in the neighborhoods as students in this complex go to nearby houses to party, and the impact that this would have on the downtown area. I believe that we may be missing an opportunity if the developer goes ahead with this project – an opportunity to develop the land for professional housing, especially as M Square expands. In my opinion, it would be equally in line with smart growth principles to try to develop this property as professional housing, for the people who will be coming to College Park to work at M Square and the federal government buildings that will be going in near Paint Branch Parkway in the near future. I also want to respect the interests of residents, so that when developments come up that might threaten the interests of residents in north College Park, my Council colleagues will support me. As a result, I’m not inclined to support this project, and I think we should encourage the developer to go back to the drawing board and see what else he can come up with. I’m eager to discuss this tomorrow night and see what my colleagues think.
13. BOARDS AND COMMITTEES. Tomorrow, the Council will be discussing appointing Mayor Andy Fellows to the College Park City-University Partnership, and reappointing Richard Wagner and Senator Jim Rosapepe to the same. Currently, there are seats open for District 1 residents in the following committees: the Airport Authority, the Animal Control Board, the Animal Welfare Committee, the Cable Television Commission, the Committee for a Better Environment, the Education Advisory Committee, the Recreation Board, the Rent Stabilization Board (tenants only at this point), and the Veterans Memorial Improvement Committee. Thank you to Mark Shroder for stepping in to fill the Noise Control Board seat being vacated by Thibeaux Lincecum.
Please let me know if you have any comments or questions about any of these items. Thanks for reading!!