I hope you all are enjoying the beginning of Spring! If you’re like me, I’m sure you can’t wait for the weather to warm up a bit. The Council has a busy week this week with both the regular worksession on Tuesday and the budget worksession starting at 7:30 Saturday morning.
This Tuesday will be the first worksession with the new audio equipment in City Hall! If you watch the broadcast of the worksession on TV or online this Tuesday, please let me know how it sounds. Hopefully this will fix the sound problems that have long plagued our meetings.
Here’s our agenda for this week:
PROPOSED CONSENT AGENDA. There are three items proposed for the consent agenda:
1. APPROVAL OF USE OF DUVALL FIELD BY THE BOYS & GIRLS CLUB FOR BOYS LACROSSE HOME GAMES SUNDAYS IN APRIL AND MAY. The Boys & Girls Club got approval to use the baseball diamonds on weekends, but not the fields for the Sunday home Lacrosse games. The B&G Club submitted their application too late for use in April, but the City Manager approved their request to use it in April, as City rules allow.
2. CHANGE IN EFFECTIVE DATE OF EXPANSION OF HOMEOWNERSHIP GRANT PROGRAM. At the last Council meeting, the Council approved an expansion of the City’s Homeownership Grant program to allow career firefighters and EMT’s to take advantage of it, as well as people who purchase foreclosed and vacant properties. The amendment was to become effective in July with the start of our new fiscal year, but the staff has proposed making it effective immediately.
3. AMENDMENT TO THE CHARGE TO THE REDISTRICTING COMMISSION TO ALLOW IT TO CONSIDER RESIDENTS OF STRUCTURES BUILT OR ANNEXED INTO THE CITY SINCE THE CENSUS. A few years ago, the City Council amended the Charter regarding redistricting to allow the redistricting commission to consider residents erroneously omitted from the Census and to consider residents of housing structures built or annexed into the City after the census count was completed. It seems, though, that the City Code was not changed to reflect this amendment to the Charter, and the charge to the redistricting commission did not reflect this. This amendment will fix that oversight and formally make the redistricting commission’s charge consistent with the City Charter as amended.
4. PRESENTATION BY WMATA RE: ADDITION OF TEST TRACK BETWEEN COLLEGE PARK AND GREENBELT METRO STATIONS. WMATA has proposed building a third “test” track between the Greenbelt and College Park Metro stations. Currently, WMATA tests new and rehabilitated rail cars on existing “revenue” track, which sometimes interferes with the regular operation of the Metro or has to be done at night. WMATA did an analysis of the track areas, and found that the only place where it has sufficient right-of-way to install a third “test” is the area between College Park and Greenbelt. The proposed track would be built alongside the existing track between the existing track and the CSX rail. Construction is to begin in Spring of 2012 and be completed by late summer 2013. I have some questions for WMATA about the impact that the construction will have on our neighborhoods. Let me know if you have any questions or comments about this project.
5. FY 2011 PUBLIC SCHOOL EDUCATION AND FIRE DEPARTMENT GRANTS. The City put in its budget this year $10,000 for grants to local schools and $30,000 for grants to local fire departments to buy equipment. The local school grants are meant to be divided between the two public schools that are in the boundaries of the City – Hollywood Elementary School and Paint Branch Elementary School. Hollywood submitted a grant request for a collaborative planning for teachers program, and Paint Branch submitted a grant request for a project-based learning project. We didn’t get the actual grant applications in our packets, so I don’t know anything more about these specific requests, but we should get the grant applications and reports from last year’s grants on Tuesday night, so I can answer questions about the grants after the worksession Tuesday night. The City’s Education Advisory Commission unanimously recommended approving the grant requests. The City’s fire department grants are non-competitive grants of $10,000 each to the three volunteer fire departments (VFD’s) that serve College Park as first responders – Branchville VFD, College Park VFD, and Berwyn Heights VFD. College Park VFD is requesting $10,000 to apply to debt service on the 2010 custom ambulance it purchased, with a $37,000 annual payment. It will raise funds through fundraisers and other grants to pay for the rest. The Branchville VFD requested $10,000 to help pay for a new ambulance to replace the 2002 Ford ambulance it has, which is no longer in good shape. The total cost is approximately $175,000, and the fire department will engage in fundraising and obtain other grants to pay for the rest. Berwyn Heights VFD has requested $10,000 to apply for the debt service on a 2010 ladder track, which the department purchased to service the high-rise apartment buildings along US 1. The annual debt service for this truck is $42,000, and the department is engaging in fundraising and applying for other grants to pay for the rest.
6. REVIEW APPLICATION TO TRANSFER THE LIQUOR LICENSE FOR APPLEBEE’S FROM THE APPLEBEE’S CORPORATE ENTITY TO THE FRANCHISEE. This is part of an effort by Applebee’s to transfer ownership at all locations to the franchisees rather than the corporate entity itself. This won’t change much in terms of the operations of the actual restaurant, which must still be operated according to the terms of the franchise agreement and Applebee’s business plan. The City currently has a property use agreement in place, which requires the restaurant to meet a 35%:65% alcohol to food sales ratio, and the franchisee has indicated it is willing to continue this. The staff has also proposed setting a $2 minimum for beer sales.
7. DISCUSSION OF PROPOSED BOUNDARY FOR GREENBELT METRO AREA AND MD 193 CORRIDOR SECTOR PLAN. The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) is initiating a new Greenbelt Metro Area and MD 193 Corridor Sector Plan and Sectional Map Amendment (SMA) process, to begin in May 2011. This is intended, in part, to update the Greenbelt Metro Area sector plan, which was passed in 2001. The currently proposed boundaries include the areas east of the Green line Metro tracks that were part of that sector plan – the Greenbelt Station development and the state-owned natural area west of Cherrywood Ln., as well as Franklin Park (formerly Springhill Lake) and Beltway Plaza. The proposed boundaries also include the commercial areas along Route 193 east of the Metro tracks. A map of the area is here. The question for the Council to consider is whether we agree with these proposed boundaries. Councilmember Nagle and I held a meeting for residents to discuss this on Thursday night, March 31. Coming out of that meeting, I believe the following:
1) Residents wish to have input in the process to the same extent as Greenbelt and Berwyn Heights, regardless of whether any part of College Park is included in the sector plan. M-NCPPC’s activities thus far have not indicated that College Park is to be given the same treatment;
2) Residents are very concerned about proposals to redevelop the residential and natural areas in north College Park west of the Metro tracks, and are opposed to any sector plan that might consider doing this;
3) Residents are generally happy with the proposals in the Greenbelt Metro Area Sector Plan from 2001, which limited the height of the development just East of the Greenbelt Metro tracks limited to 4-10 stores, and the highest buildings, at 12 stories, in a “Maximum Height Zone” to be located at least 1400′ from the residential areas in Hollywood. See p. 178 of this document – for more information on how that was to be built;
4) People are very concerned about the Conceptual Site Plan that was ultimately submitted for the north core, which was passed in 2006 and proposed much higher buildings near the Metro station (as high as 18 stories). This Site Plan does not expire, and although the original developer that had contracted with Metro to build here is no longer in the picture, this proposal is still in place. When a new developer comes along, the City will have to renegotiate with that developer to ensure that the developer’s proposal is more in line with the 2001 Sector Plan;
5) Many people are concerned about preservation of the Narragansett Run and Indian Creek, both for the purposes of preserving natural areas and to ensure proper stormwater management in north College Park. While the wooded area along these creeks in the Metro station area has been proposed for preservation, it is currently zones as Mixed-Use. Residents are interested in downzoning this area to ensure its preservation. In order to downzone this area (which M-NCPPC staff agrees would be appropriate), this area should be included in the Sector Plan;
6) Berwyn Heights and the City planning staff have proposed adding a couple of additional areas into the plan, including the industrial area north of Lake Artemesia and in Branchville east of the Metro tracks (which is part of Berwyn Heights), and the streetscape on Route 193 between Route 1 and the Metro tracks (to consider additional pedestrian safety measures).
Given these considerations, I would like to propose that the Council send a letter to M-NCPPC strongly asking that the City of College Park and the residents of North College Park be allowed input and given equal treatment to Berwyn Heights and Greenbelt in development of the sector plan. I would also like to ask that the north and south cores of the Greenbelt Station development be removed from the Sector Plan, so that the recommendations of the 2001 Sector Plan remain in place. I want to ask that the wooded area along Narragansett Run and Indian Creek stay in the plan to be downzoned to an Open Space zone or something similar, to prevent this area from being developed. I would concur with the requests of Berwyn Heights and planning staff that the industrial areas along Route 193, and the street itself, be included to review what measures could be taken to improve these areas.
Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions now or as this process goes forward.
8. APPROVAL OF NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH RESOLUTION. The City is currently in the process of appointing new leadership for the Neighborhood Watch program, in order to expand the program city-wide and enhance its presence in our neighborhoods. Councilmembers Nagle, Mitchell, Afzali and I are part of a subcommittee charged with doing this, and we’ve put out “job” descriptions to recruit new leadership. A number of people are interested in helping out, but we decided to establish a formal steering committee to move this forward. We will be considering a resolution to do this. The steering committee will consist of three people, and will be charged with recruiting Neighborhood Coordinators around the City, training new leadership, disseminating information about criminal activity, and acting as liaisons between the police and residents. The police community liaison officer (currently Officer Black) will be part of the steering committee as well. Appointments to the Steering Committee will be in two-year terms, and will provide yearly reports to the Council about the status of crime prevention efforts in the City. I’m eager to move forward with this and see what we can do to build the Neighborhood Watch program.
9. REVIEW OF DRAFT CHANGES TO ELECTION LAW. Over the past couple of months, the Council has been discussing possible changes to the election and nuisances law to deal with two issues: 1) robo-calls and campaign materials sent out electronically (by e-mail, twitter, Facebook, etc.), and 2) time restrictions on the display of campaign signs in the City right-of-way. After talking with Jack Robson, chair of the Board of Elections, and throwing some ideas around, we will be considering an ordinance that would do the following: 1) require that anyone who disseminates campaign material by e-mail or social media comply with the notice requirements or link to a website that gives the required information, 2) require that anyone who campaigns with pre-recorded phone calls state the identity of the individual or entity that initiated the call, including a telephone number or address of that individual or entity; and 3) require that political signs in the City right-of-way not be posted more than 45 days before the election, and be removed within 48 hours after the election is over.
Also, due to the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, our attorney has recommended that we amend the elections ordinance to only restrict direct contributions from a corporation or business entity to a candidate, and allow business entities to independently promote or oppose candidates by means of election advertisements or other published or distributed literature.
We will be announcing next week when there will be a public hearing on this proposed ordinance. In the meantime, please let me know if you have any questions or comments.
10. DISCUSSION OF USE OF BOND BILL FUNDING FOR DESIGN OF EXPANSION OF CITY HALL PRIOR TO JUNE 1, 2011. In 2004, the State gave the City a $100,000 capital grant for design and engineering of a new city hall. The grant expires on June 1, 2011, unless the funds have been encumbered (or obligated in a contract). Over the years, we haven’t been able to get any further with these funds, because the City had hoped to get additional funding through the developer funds from the East Campus project, and possibly find a new location for the City Hall. The City explored selling the land where City Hall is currently located and moving to a new location, but we were unable to get anywhere with that. This year, with the impending deadline, the City attempted to get the Maryland State Assembly to extend the grant, but the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee was not supportive, due to the City’s lack of progress with the funds. The City’s consultant has advised that our best course of action may be to just expand City Hall at its current location, and with the parking garage now located across the street, it may be possible to expand City Hall into the surrounding parking lot. The City could quickly contract with a design firm by riding on another City’s contract if that City went through a request for qualifications. If the Council has consensus on building an addition to the existing City Hall, staff believes there may be enough time for us to encumber the funds before July 1.
11. LEGISLATIVE UPDATE. Assistant to the City Manager Chantal Cotton provided the following update about our City’s legislative priorities – the Bill to remove the sunset provision and allow the City to continue to bus pass program on the Shuttle-UM passed through the Senate, and is now awaiting action in the House of Delegates; the bill to extend the City’s bond for design of a new City Hall was withdrawn due to lack of support (see #10 above), and the Bill to allow the City to implement a revitalization tax credit program passed the Senate and is now awaiting action in the House.
12. APPOINTMENTS TO BOARDS AND COMMITTEES. Amy Neugebauer, Executive Director of the College Park City-University Partnership, requested the City’s appointments to the CPCUP. The City will be considering appointing Mayor Fellows and former Mayor Steve Brayman as its appointees, and approving resident Richard Wagner as a joint University-City appointment.
There are seats available to District 1 residents on the following committees: Airport Authority, Animal Control Board, Cable Television Commission, Committee for a Better Environment, Education Advisory Committee, Rent Stabilization Board (landlord position), Tree and Landscape Board, and the Veterans Memorial Improvement Committee. Please let me know if you have any questions about these committees or might be interested in serving on one.