Community Vision for Takoma hosted a Montgomery County Council District 4 Candidates Forum, on Zoom, on Tuesday May 17th. (You can now watch the recording below). All five Democratic candidates participated:
Al Carr, Amy Ginsburg, Troy Murtha, Kate Stewart, John Zittrauer
The Forum streamed on Facebook Live and you can watch the recording here:
Community Vision for Takoma (CVT) is endorsing Marc Elrich for County Executive. The decision was made by a vote of CVT organizers after considering the record, the candidates, and the CVT questionnaire responses.
Marc has done an exceptional job as the County Executive, steering Montgomery County through the pandemic and managing the County’s budget during a national crisis. Despite these challenging times, he has already taken numerous effective actions to address the climate emergency, the need for more affordable housing, and the legacy of structural racism.
Marc is already at work on preserving, improving, and growing our affordable housing stock for people with low and moderate incomes. He has proven his dedication to supporting working people, local businesses, and unions. He has proven his dedication to reducing our use of fossil fuels and our greenhouse gas emissions, and ensuring that racial justice is part of our climate response. He is a champion of the agricultural reserve, opposes beltway widening, and has been a leader for decades on ecosystem protection.
Marc’s experiences as a local public school teacher, a TPSS Co-op Board member, a tenant organizer, a Takoma Park City Councilmember, and a County Councilmember, give him a particularly broad and deep understanding of the needs in our County, and how to address them. Marc’s responses to our questionnaire document how his accomplishments and plans on climate resilience, transportation, housing, and racial equity, make him by far the best candidate for County Executive.
Community Vision for Takoma asked all of the Democratic candidates for Montgomery County Executive to fill out a questionnaire based on areas of traditional CVT interest (including climate change, racial justice, housing, cell-tower regulation, and Takoma Junction). David Blair did not submit answers. (Two Republican candidates registered too late to be included). The candidate responses are listed in alphabetical order (Marc Elrich, Peter James, Hans Riemer) after each question.
Q1: Why are you the best candidate to lead Montgomery County through the next four years of potentially daunting environmental, social, and economic challenges? In particular, what about your experience, skills, and vision prepares you for such a difficult role?
I believe that my leadership skills have been tested over the past years and have shown my ability to lead through the most difficult times. Following the science, I implemented the necessary but difficult restrictions, and when vaccines were scarce, we prioritized distribution to vulnerable populations and according to CDC guidance (unlike most places). We had the best vaccination rate in the country for large jurisdictions, with equitable distributions and we did this without a playbook or guide and with many people, including other elected leaders, criticizing my decisions, but I knew that we had to do everything we could to protect our residents.
And throughout the pandemic, we continued to plan for a post-pandemic future. I led the successful effort to pass Question A, which eliminated the arbitrary and unfair provision in the charter regarding revenue collection, and we’re already seeing the benefits from that change.
Under my leadership we issued a climate action plan to drastically reduce and eventually eliminate our greenhouse gas emissions. Working with Del. Lorig Charkoudian, I advocated for her legislation for Community Choice Energy (CCE), and Montgomery County will be the pilot program for CCE, which will help us green the county energy supply much more quickly. We have also solicited bids for changing the way we handle solid waste that will finally allow us to close the incinerator. In addition, we are electrifying our fleet, have built the largest community solar project for low and moderate income households, and our future projects will be net zero. We introduced legislation that adopts the green building code, and legislation in front of the County Council now will set new and aggressive standards for existing buildings – without this legislation it will be impossible to achieve these goals.
We have begun the steps of top-to-bottom police reforms that will change the way we police and incorporate mental health responses into the system. We bought a building, renovated it and opened it in March, and it’s now a 200 bed shelter for the homeless – allowing us to house our homeless population year round (except for those who refuse to come inside); this is a major change in county policy – before we had housed our homeless only during the winter months. This year we received funding to build a Restoration center that will let us provide people in a mental health crisis with an alternative to jails – we can’t continue to treat mental health crises as crimes.
The skills that make me the best candidate are the ones I’ve learned over the past 35 years in public service but in particular over the past 3.5 years as County Executive.
I can save 5+ billion dollars by stopping transit boondoggles and replacing them with a hybrid personal rapid transit system (PRT) that works for all residents. The company I run was a finalist to redesign Montgomery County’s Intelligent Transportation Systems. I have 45 years in R&D experience in transportation, local renewable energy, local food, artificial intelligence and robotics. This includes projects for two counties and a city.
I am the only candidate that understands why an “Elephant Can’t Jump” and its implications for public policy. Without an understanding of basic physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, macro economics and other sciences, a County Executive can’t make correct policy decisions on climate change, transportation, housing and the economy. The other candidates are lacking in basic knowledge of technology, its application and repercussions and are qualified for the issues that will be before them.
All the other candidates have said they would consult the “experts” before making decisions. I have been working with actual experts over the last 45 years. I don’t believe any of the other candidates are qualified to assess the qualifications of the needed experts. I have worked with experts like a UMD AG professor, and have proposed a project to sequester the 320,000 tons of carbon equivalents being off gassed by the County’s composting facility. This project would heat and provide organic fertilizer for 20 to 50 acres of greenhouses that supply healthy food to the County. This fell on deaf ears with three of the Candidates. Paul Schonfeld, another UMD expert in transportation, published a 2013 study that clearly shows that personal rapid transit systems outperform BRT and light rail on the Purple Line alignment in every category.
If elected, I will provide MoCo and its residents a free use license to all my technologies.
I am the only renter in the race and understands renters’ needs from actual renter’s perspective.
More details for my plans as County Executive can be found at pjames.us
Following is a bit more biographical information.
Hans was moved to serve by his powerful experiences growing up in Oakland, California, where many families and neighborhoods are deeply impacted by a lack of access to economic and educational opportunities. Hans learned that social change is necessary for disadvantaged communities to make progress, and that the Democratic Party is part of the solution. He also grew a passion for environmental preservation while hiking California’s wild landscapes.
After college, Hans came to Washington and got involved in the fight to save Social Security. Hans founded a nonprofit youth advocacy organization, The 2030 Center, to save Social Security from privatization. He staffed a national campaign that pushed the Democrats to rediscover their New Deal roots and find their voice as champions of the middle class when the program was under attack from Republicans.
They won. The Washington Director of MoveOn called Hans “One of five people in the country most responsible for protecting Social Security from George Bush.”
Hans joined Rock the Vote, where he guided political programs as the group registered nearly a million young voters during the 2004 election cycle. He launched an advocacy campaign to allow young adults to remain on their parent’s health care plans until age 25, which later became a key provision of Obamacare.
Hans met Angela Walker in 1998. They married in 2002 and settled in Silver Spring. Angela served as Executive Director of the Congressional Black Caucus political committee, where she worked hard to help Illinois State Senator Barack Obama win his election to the U.S. Senate. She introduced Hans to Barack Obama.
In 2007, Hans joined the Obama campaign as the National Youth Vote Director. His job was to work with students and youth organizers to achieve what seemed like an impossible dream: electing the first Black president. They won.
Hans became a senior advisor at AARP, managing retirement security campaigns. He ran for the Montgomery County Council and was elected in 2010, beating three incumbents in the At-large field.
On the Council, he has stayed true to his values and his belief that we can have growth, a clean environment, sustainable energy and liveable communities. In this way, Hans works to take the best of progressive thinking from the 20th century and reimagine it for the 21st century with its demand for equity, opportunity and solutions that work for and advance all.
His belief that communities must have job growth to succeed has guided his embrace of private sector innovation and his unwavering leadership for housing policies that support a growing, diverse workforce.
He has fought for educational opportunities, from pre-k through higher ed, to help all children achieve their potential. He has won victories for low income workers, such as raising the EITC and the minimum wage. His environmental commitment is reflected in his bold advocacy for policies to reverse climate change, including a plan to power the County with locally generated solar energy.
At home, Hans and Angela have two boys, ages 14 and 11, attending TPMS and PBES. They live in Takoma Park.
Please find additional information about me and our campaign platform at www.hansriemer.com
Q2: Beyond what the County has already done and planned, please specify any new specific policies and actions you will pursue to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from County residences, businesses, government operations and from transportation. What new plans would you propose or enact to prepare for climate-related disruptions?
We’re doing a lot and there’s more to be done. We are working toward all of our buses, cars, light trucks and possibly heavy trucks becoming electrified. We’re exploring technologies that could potentially use existing buses and retrofit them to be electric. We’re helping develop a regenerative agriculture project. We’re developing a path to close the incinerator and reduce our waste. Even after we burn our trash at the incinerator, we still landfill 30% of the original waste. That 30% is toxic ash and we can definitely do better. We have received bids to replace our aging Solid Waste Facility with equipment that will increase recycling dramatically, including food composting -possibly digestion- that will create green energy to power our vehicles. And that will put an end to the incinerator.
We are working to improve transit and get more people to use it. We also need to encourage residents to use solar in existing buildings. We’re developing a residential Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program that would allow residents to include the amortized cost of solar improvements on their property tax bills. Microgrids – especially publicly owned microgrids – paired with local energy generation make a lot of sense as well, and we need to continue to develop them.
We are introducing legislation to require new buildings to be all-electric and that should be sent to the council soon. And we’re going to revisit the requirement that new housing incorporate solar -and with our new Green Building Code, buildings should require less energy which means that they can use smaller solar arrays. We’ve sent a ban on gas leaf blowers to the County Council already. Soon to follow will be electric mowers–as the prices continue to come down they become more practical to require. And a big thing is that in the next year or so, the County will be the pilot for community choice energy – the County will be the buyer and supplier for the electricity in the County and we can use our buying power to create a cleaner grid faster than any other approach. I supported Del. Charkoudian’s bill in Annapolis to help make this happen.
We are assessing our watersheds to locate areas with the greatest risk of flooding and will then provide resources to help mitigate the risk and working with regional partners to identify a second local site for a large reservoir to help buffer the County against drought. We’re also continuing and increasing efforts to preserve existing trees and plant new ones. We continue to work to promote solar in the Ag Reserve as appropriate; unfortunately the electric company that serves the reserve has rejected every application because they have met the state requirement for the minimum amount of community solar they have to accept. They’re required to add about 1 community solar project a year and they have a waiting list that may fill the next 3 years and no county project is on the list. So I’ve been working with our delegates to get the Public Service Commission’s limits on solar raised if not eliminated. We have also converted a closed landfill to host solar, and a 5.6 MW microgrid with distributed energy generation, energy storage and over 2 MW of charging capacity for our buses.
My operating budget that I just sent to the County Council includes funding for the Montgomery County Green Bank; incentives for residential, multifamily, and commercial buildings to replace fossil fuel equipment and appliances with electric ones; funds to implement Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) and reduce energy consumption in multifamily and commercial buildings, and funds for water quality. We are also implementing a Save-As-You-Throw pilot program to encourage residents to recycle more and generate less waste.
The capital budget I sent to the Council in January has $433 million in infrastructure investments to green the county and added staff to the operating budget in departments to help residents, businesses, MCPS and our government implement green initiatives. We need to divest from the Carbon Underground 200. We need the votes on either the council to require divestment, or on the investment board itself so they can act on their own, and we are working toward that goal.
The county is responsible for the Crescent trail bike path on the Purple line. I would implement a personal rapid transit (PRT) pilot on the bike path alignment prior to completion of the light rail and prior to opening of the bike/walking path. The PRT will have lower transit times, carry more ridership on a 12’ path than the 32’-wide light rail. It will cost $5 million dollars instead of $5B for the five mile run between Silver Spring and Bethesda. That billions in taxpayer savings will go far to achieve many of the needs outlined in this questionnaire. Worse case, the pilot vehicles are removed and the bike/walking path is completed early. The multi billion dollars from federal and state approved funds can be preserved by not Ending the Purple Line. Rather switching lightrail tracks to PRT bike paths.
Give away 200K urban EVs to MoCo low income households – Best way to get gas cars off the road is to give away free electric ones
Eliminating Green House Gas (GHG) emissions will not solve the problem. We must put carbon back into the earth or we won’t achieve the carbon balance needed to stop climate change. I am the only candidate that has the technical knowledge of how to cost effectively put carbon back into the earth.
Put more focus on geothermal and passive solar designs for buildings through outcome based incentives.
Limit large building construction, as these don’t have the surface area and underground volume for solar and geothermal application to mitigate the building carbon footprint.
Reforest the AG reserve with agro-forestry – Trees are the easiest way to sequester carbon.
The County’s GHG inventory does not include soil emissions which are roughly 33% of total GHG emissions. Many current county policies promote practices that add to GHG emissions through soils.
Stop making emissions worse through bad practices – ie. Giving away free mulch. “Each of Boston University’s three highly urban campuses were net sources of biogenic C to the atmosphere. While trees were estimated to sequester 0.6 ± 0.2 kg C m−2 canopy cover year−1, mulch and lawn areas in 2018 emitted C at rates of 1.7 ± 0.4 kg C m−2 year−1 and 1.4 ± 0.4 kg C m−2 year−1”
Measure the total carbon footprint from recycling and yard waste centralized collections.
Publish all county public and private carbon footprints in 3D rendering (digital twin) of the county.
Move recycling efforts into neighborhoods for a smaller carbon footprint. Leave carbon and nutrients in neighborhoods to be reapplied to lawn and gardens there.
Build neighborhood greenhouses and maker spaces – Greenhouses sequester yard & food wastes and maker spaces eliminate carbon footprint of transportation of stuff.
Eliminating GHG is not enough. We need to return mineral carbon back into the earth. This is equivalent to 80 years of current GHG emissions.
Stop Industrial farming in the AG reserve. Biodiversity loss and the nitrogen cycle crisis are more critical threats to the environment than CO2 emissions. 90% of farming in the AG reserve is industrial farming making heavy use of synthetic fertilizers. This causes release of free nitrogen and phosphorus into the air and ecosystem. It isn’t just fish kills and algae blooms, but the destruction of entire bio-systems and many diverse forms of life in them.
Replace planned 90 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) miles with 400 miles of PRT at same cost as BRTs.
Elephants Can’t Jump! Many free small electric vehicles are more energy efficient than one large BRT bus. ie. An elephant can’t jump, but fleas jump 100 times their body length. The other County Executive candidates need to take Physics 101 to understand why elephants can’t jump and why articulating buses are bad for our environment. Truck and buses are responsible for 95% of road damage.
All other County Executive candidates say we should implement climate change mitigation actions and create an example to the rest of the world. I adamantly disagree. Since Montgomery County will suffer the consequences of the rest of the world’s decisions on how they address climate change, the County should be actively promoting the green economy. We need to supply economical viable solution for the rest of the world if we have any hope of winning the war on climate change. Being the poster child for climate change solutions won’t help us when we are under water.
As County Executive, I will facilitate the growth of green industry in the County. I will secure a large chunk of the $3B in battery and battery material factory grants for battery factories here in the county; likewise by placing large purchase orders (200k to 500K) for free EVs. We eliminate the job shortage by being the world leader in the clean energy sector.
See my climate plan, which is focused heavily on producing new renewable energy in order to reduce reliance on fossil fuels as well as supporting smart growth housing solutions, walkability and transit, https://hansriemer.com/climate
Q3. What new plans would you propose or enact to assess the environmental impacts of development, including greenhouse-gas emissions, air-quality degradation, loss of vegetation, landfill waste, and excess runoff into streams? What are your plans to mitigate these environmental impacts of construction and development?
Once the comprehensive policies are in place, including- implementation of the Green Building Code, passage and implementation of the Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS), more rigorous standards for stormwater management, and keeping development out of green fields as well as requiring adequate green space when we redevelop a space, we would not then need case by case assessments because the policies and practices would address the problems more comprehensively. Here’s how:
Green building codes (which are regulations that my team developed and the Council passed) imbed increasingly rigorous standards for new buildings, eventually achieving net zero buildings or better. BEPS are the standards that require existing buildings to achieve the higher standards that we need moving forward and the biggest impact will be switching existing fossil fuel energy with clean electric (which means that we need to accelerate the state’s requirement for a clean grid from 2045 to 2035 or sooner.) Buildings will be bench-marked to provide a path to a green transformation. I also sent legislation that the Council passed to expand financing options for businesses to go green (Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy aka C-PACE).
We can deal with stormwater by imposing stricter caps on stormwater quality and quantity, so that water flow is treated before it hits our streams – we analyze what will happen, but the regulations don’t solve the problems.
Couple doing the things above the right way with a transition to electric vehicles, which truly is accelerating, and I’m pretty confident that we could achieve the goals. It’s not that we don’t know what to do, but the political will has simply not been there – whether you’re talking affordable housing or climate change there’s a real reluctance to impose the necessary regulatory environment on the development community to get us there. It’s not free or cheap, and government will need to help fund the transition, but it’s certainly not impossible. As we have with the Green Building code and BEPS, we will put forward regulations and legislation that will get us there. (We are still waiting for the Council to pass BEPS; the City of Denver worked off of our proposed legislation, introduced their draft in July and passed it in November.).
Our land use decisions are important to minimize environmental impact. We have identified over twenty activity centers and we have master planned over 125,000 housing units in areas that are, for the most part, transit centered. If we keep development largely in these areas, we can avoid more erosion of green space and we also need to include a greater element of green space in future developments that are in the master plans. These targeted areas are already largely paved over and generally have access to transit, which is key to protecting existing green space.
I would measure GHG emissions at block level, not calculate them from inaccurate models. The county has not performed a proper measurement of GHG emissions. CO2 sensors are cheap and can be placed on every block.
Spend enough money to get real expert knowledge. The current county climate plan authorizes spending $100K on a climate change expert. This is a sad joke. The $100K translates to $60K to $65K in take home pay. There are no real experts that can be hired with that amount of funding, $300K is a more appropriate number. This is why I believe the Council’s 2035 GHG emissions goal is plain hogwash. The council approves hundreds of millions in tax breaks for WMATA developers and only $100K for a climate change expert.
Climate Change Emergency – That’s Bullsh&t !. Real emergencies have sirens blasting and no one sleeping until they are addressed.
Build an online portal using Digital Twin technology to display block by block GHG levels using color coded clouds.
MoCo Digital Twin will allow citizens to see the protected and actual (measured) impact of climate action plan items both proposed and implemented. This will provide a true assessment of the County’s Climate Action Plan.
Development permits contingent on projects meeting all environmental carrying cost limits – GHG, storm water, parking, traffic loading, water & sewer, school enrollment, etc.
Replace composting (80% CO2 & nitrogen emitted as GHG) to in-vessel composting where carbon and nitrogen are sequestered in local food production.
If impact assessment of trees is found to be positive, then reforest the AG reserve with agro forestry incentives.
Based on the assessment of impact of geothermal, promote geothermal with more incentives.
We must consider the entire region when thinking about how to accommodate a growing population. Our population will of course continue to grow due to births and migration patterns. We need to produce far more housing than we have been, and the best way to do so is to encourage redevelopment of existing structures, strip centers and parking lots. Especially within walkable neighborhoods such as Takoma Park, this is the most environmentally beneficial kind of development, rather than car-dependent greenfield development in exurban areas with no access to public transit. New developments that redevelop existing properties will improve environmental impacts significantly by replacing inefficient structures that waste energy and do not contain stormwater with new structures that are energy efficient and that contain and clean stormwater in order to slow how it drains into the streams. New development has very stringent stormwater requirements and a highly efficient energy building code; it’s the old buildings that are the big problem.
I am a strong supporter of building energy efficiency requirements and steered the Council’s adoption of the new Green Building Code. I have enacted a tax credit for buildings that exceed our best standards. I am proposing an all-electric building code as well to ensure buildings do not burn gas and to move our community forward on the vision of “electrify everything.”
Q4. Given the affordable housing crisis in the County, especially for residents with low incomes, Takoma Park’s policies for rent-stabilized housing stand out as a strategy to preserve affordable rental housing. (Note that the Montgomery County Housing Needs Assessment in 2020 reported that since 2010, half of all new households in the County earned less than $50,000 a year.) Do you support the preservation of rent-stabilization policies in Takoma Park, and, if so, what would you do to expand rent-stabilized housing across the County and to enhance the quality of such housing?
I support preserving it in Takoma, I helped write the law here, and I favor extending rent stabilization elsewhere in the county with exceptions for new construction because we get affordable units and market rents are so high there is not much point in controlling the prices. The county is going to have to help affordable units modernize for the energy code and the county can use low interest loans to help with renovations.
I want to set the stage for what the real affordable housing problem is and why market based solutions just won’t work. None of the other candidates talk about the “whole” problem nor do they offer any solutions. So let me start with where we are:
More than half our renters earning less than $75,000 income are rent burdened, most of them severely. In addition, of the 40,000 households projected to come here between 2020 and 2030, ¾ (30,000 households) are projected to need subsidized housing with most projected to earn less than $50k. And to make matters worse, Park and Planning projects that we’ll lose 11,000 more affordable units by 2030. The idea that the policy of “just build more housing” (the Koch Brothers prescription) will result in the housing we need is a joke – but it’s sadly county policy and being enshrined in the new proposed Thrive general plan. I’m the only person calling for real solutions for the people who are living here and likely to come here. If you add the shortage of housing today, to the projected loss of housing by 2030, and the number of new affordable units needed by 2030, we need over 70,000 units of affordable housing.
This is what our current policies do: we require between 12 1/2 and 15 percent of new units to be affordable in the MPDU range – for people earning from around $55000 to 80,000, or rents between $1400 and $2000. We don’t serve lower income households who comprise about 20,000 of the people projected to come here, and we don’t serve incomes above 75-80% of median income. And the only affordable units that get built are the ones we require.
So here’s the math: ¼ of the 40,000 households projected to come here by 2030 can afford market rate housing – that’s about 10,000 households. If those 10,000 units get built (and we’re on pace to build those market units) then the maximum number of MPDU’s that would get built is 15% of 10,000 units, or 1500 units. However, ¾ of the 40,000 households – 30,000 households are projected to need subsidized housing – the 15% of the 10,000 – 1500 – leaves out 28,500 households. Simply put, the developers won’t be building this affordable housing, and while the 1500 MPDUs puts a tiny dent in the need for future units, it does nothing to address the current need, nor what is projected to be lost by 2030.
WE GET THE HOUSING WE REQUIRE AND THAT’S WHY WE FAIL TO MEET AFFORDABLE HOUSING GOALS.
We do not lack zoning to build housing, we’re already zoned for at-least 125,000 more units. And the government doesn’t build housing, so building occurs in the private sector and they are driven by the market. Government sets the policies on what affordable units we get but it fails in three places: the amount of affordable units required doesn’t come close to the number of units needed, the units that are built don’t serve people with incomes below MPDU levels or just above MPDU levels, and we don’t require a housing mix that would create family sized units. I have been outspoken about this for years and have opposed developments that are simply a combination of the MPDUs (maximum 15% of the units) and the very expensive housing as we see in Bethesda.
I am also working to expand the MPDU law to include households down to 30% of AMI (about $30,000) and up to 100% of AMI (depending on family size) and require that 30% of a development be allocated to these expanded guidelines.
We also need to require more family size units. In a project that I negotiated where there was county land involved which gave me some leverage, I was able to get more units and more family sized units.
We are also working on legislation to be introduced to support a no-net-loss of affordable housing law that requires replacement of existing units at current rents and protects the rents from rising faster than inflation as the baseline for redevelopment of existing complexes.
As I mentioned above, I am a strong supporter of just-cause eviction laws (which we’re still working to get passed in Annapolis) and rent stabilization. I worked hard to strengthen Takoma Park’s rent stabilization law when I was on the Takoma Park City Council and would like to introduce rent stabilization throughout the county. That will be particularly important in areas around the Purple Line. Montgomery County master plans have too often proposed zoning changes that would displace low-income communities of color, and I was the one consistent voice on the County Council speaking out against these changes and in favor of preserving existing affordable housing and I continue to be involved as County Executive.
A man is drowning 50 feet from shore. A conservative comes by and throws the man a 25 foot rope and yells at him to swim the rest of the way because it’s good for his character. A liberal comes by and throws 100 foot of rope, drops the rope and walks off to do another good deed.
In 2019, Montgomery County became an official Sanctuary city. Did the council and Erich believe only undocumented millionaires would flood the county? The council and executive have “dropped the rope” on these new sanctuary seekers. Montgomery County has written a check it is unwilling to cash. With inflation at a 40 year high, rents will go higher. Smaller landlords that may have variable rate loans will be forced into bankruptcy and foreclosure. Years of rent control will put landlords in a position of not having a marketable property and be unable to sell.
I would support rent control that was focused on large multi-tenant buildings whose margins could support rent stabilization. However, as renters are paying the mortgages of landlords– I believe a far better solution is to provide financing directly to low income renters to purchase homes. Provide bidding advantages to low income renter collectives and mutual companies for county development projects. The county and planning only considers bids and development plans from large developers, who then profit from renters who service their loans.
I proposed a rammed earth home village on the site of a mobile home park in Germantown under a mutual ownership plan. This would have provided spacious sustainable homes at dirt cheap prices for the mobile home residents. Germantown master planners turned down the project saying they would never redevelop the mobile home park because these were the only housing the mobile park residents could afford. Two years later Planning approved an Elm Street development of high-end non-affordable town homes on the site. Elm Street gave each mobile home owner $2000 in compensation and kicked them to the curb.
The Cares Act now allows any entity to bypass banks and go directly to the Fed for loans. I would have the County back direct loans to low income prospective home owners. I would fight to end the undemocratic rule of the planning board. Board members should stand for election or Park & Planning should be merged back into county government.
I propose a Return to Eden plan that would allow sustainable development in the AG reserve if supported by sustainable designs, a PRT system to eliminate road traffic impact and GHG emissions and all other carrying capacity of water, sewer, schools, parking, impervious surfaces, etc. that meet a higher Garden of Eden development standard.
Also, we can’t just look at addressing each silo of the low-income problem in the county. Many small business owners say they have plenty of unfilled job openings and no one to fill them, so part of the problem we must address is providing job training for unskilled workers. By improving workers ability to make higher wages, we help address the affordable housing issue, as well. Finding and holding a decent job is impacted by transportation equity. A free EV for all low income families allows them to be competitive in the much larger metro wide job market.
I support Takoma Park’s policy as in the full view of the County it is part of an overall housing policy that has a reasonable share of the housing stock under rent regulation. But I would not expand rent control outside the City boundaries. There are better ways to put affordability restrictions on housing in other parts of the County without having such a negative impact on the supply of new housing, which we badly need. Takoma Park does not have any new housing and has not had any since rent control was enacted; in fact there are fewer units today than there were when it was enacted because single family rental properties are being converted back from multi-family rental into single family occupancy. My approach to preserving existing affordable housing is to devote public funds to purchasing existing affordable communities and then placing them under nonprofit ownership and then ultimately redevelop them over time. That is why I am calling for a $100 million fund for purchasing housing in the Purple Line corridor, for example, and it is why I have already created a $50 million “social housing” fund that I plan to increase to $100 million (separately from the Purple Line housing fund). At the same time, communities around the county must do their part to increase market rate housing, which alleviates pressure on rents and triggers affordable housing requirements under Montgomery County’s inclusionary zoning (MPDU) program, which has produced thousands of units since its inception in 1973. An overall housing policy needs many tools to meet our diverse challenges with affordability and access.
Q5. In February, the Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) made strong recommendations to improve the racial-equity and social-justice impact of the draft version of the Thrive Montgomery 2050 plan approved by the Council’s PHED Committee. The OLO memo faulted the proposed plan for prioritizing economic development in ways that could worsen racial inequities. Instead, the memo suggested, Thrive 2050 should directly prioritize equitable economic development. It also called for the County to get “meaningful input” from communities of color and residents with low incomes, so as “to co-create and update Thrive,” and make sure it doesn’t promote displacement of current residents. And it recommended the plan spell out “the historic and current drivers of racial inequities” in policy areas such as land use, housing, and transportation, as well as metrics to track the County’s progress toward equity. The Council has decided to hire a consultant to help it seek the input OLO recommended.
Do you believe Thrive 2050 needs to be substantially revised, and if so, what revisions – in terms of both changes to the plan’s actual content and the process for arriving at such changes – do you believe are needed?
Yes, Thrive needs substantial revisions and I’m not sure it can be fixed. First, the plan does not build on the strengths of the previous general plan, which concentrated growth along transit corridors and curtailed sprawl development. It starts from a baseline that doesn’t reflect who lives in this county and who’s projected to move here. It makes no place for large segments of our county in their so-called vision for 2050. It doesn’t address equity, doesn’t address affordability, doesn’t address job creation, extends density to places that we used to call “sprawl” like Potomac, Boyds and Poolesville – none of which have the infrastructure to support growth.
The assumption of putting density in the centers was that services could be centralized and there would be more job opportunities as well, and transit could be focused. Think of mini-cities. The previous General Plan and its subsequent revisions acknowledged the need for building workforce housing (all those red brick low rise apartments in Bethesda, Silver Spring and Wheaton). These centers were to have jobs in the center, surrounded by dense multifamily units (often workforce housing) and then tapering off beyond that to single-family residential neighborhoods because density should be concentrated near amenities and transit. They realized this 50 years ago.
Thrive follows a pattern of deflecting the focus from the real problem to an imaginary one. Thrive starts with the false premise of all these households coming here and we have to house them, even though the zoning in our master plans is the very thing that creates their projections – we’ve already planned for the growth and most of it is smart growth. So there is no “crisis” as it is defined here.
Instead of focusing on controlling what we can control: density, housing types, requirements for multi-bedroom units, percentages of affordable housing on all property that we expect to be developed in our big urban plans, Thrive focuses on existing residential neighborhoods where we have no control over individual decisions to supply the housing we need (anything with fewer than 20 units has no requirements for affordable housing; instead Thrive seems to expect affordable housing to magically appear).
And their own studies show that replacing existing units with duplexes and tri-plexes actually won’t increase affordable units – they even changed the definition of missing middle from missing affordable housing, to missing housing types which is not what most of us thought missing middle meant.
It moves development from urban centers and activity centers, where harming a blade of grass would be challenging because there’s so little grass there, and stretches it out into existing neighborhoods along the major arteries where the density would require reducing green space and tree cover – and would require a major refit of the stormwater system to accommodate increased imperviousness which will not be cheap. It ignores environmental consequences and threatens the concept of the Ag Reserve.
I would start over, do real community in person engagement, and let the residents help shape the community that they live in.
Not a single person I have asked had any clue what Thrive2050 was. Thrive 2050 was developed by and for large developers under the cover of the pandemic. We need to start over with a citizen led general plan.
Implement a “Digital Twin”: “Sim City”-like urban & transportation simulator that allows citizens to direct development in their neighborhoods. I proposed this Digital Twin to the City of Takoma Park a while ago in response to their RFP for a civic engagement tool. I would redo the 30 general plan process, this time with a citizen engagement online tool in place and plenty of community events to reach out to citizens to engage in the process.
E. Brooke Lee formed the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC) to prevent voters from allowing non-whites to live in most MoCo neighborhoods. MNCPPC is still an un-democratic entity. It needs to be rolled into the county government or the board needs to stand for elections by the people.
Thrive 2050 is a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate our intentions for racial justice. The county’s general framework for land-use hasn’t been thoroughly updated in almost 30 years, but, meanwhile, the county and nation have changed in numerous ways. The county has evolved from a simple DC bedroom community to one with urban, suburban, and rural identities and that brings some complex challenges to the fore, including a legacy of racial inequality. Thrive can and should address these issues head on.
I have reviewed Thrive 2050 and I am working with my colleagues on the Council to improve it. I look forward to the results of new input from our consultant and the passage of Thrive 2050 in the near term.
Thrive can and will be a powerful framework to advance racial equity. The opposition to Thrive is largely a resistance to exactly the kind of housing that has historically made Takoma Park a more inclusive community — a tradition of providing rental units inside of houses and the availability of duplexes or small apartment buildings in “single family neighborhoods.” If you look around Takoma Park, you will find many examples of the kind of housing that opponents of Thrive are decrying and that have made Takoma Park a more inclusive community. From ADUs throughout the city, to duplexes on Maple Ave, to small apartments on Lee Ave, to tall apartment buildings on Garland Ave, Takoma Park is an example of the inclusionary benefits of allowing different housing types within single family neighborhoods. However, many years ago those policies changed and today the City/County would no longer allow new housing to be constructed in the same manner as it was in the past. As a result you will only see very large and expensive new single family houses being constructed on lots in the City, as you can see on Ethan Allen Ave today. Thrive seeks to address that policy framework and call for more diversity in housing types once again. If Thrive can overcome the resistance, it will advance racial justice.
Q6. What do you consider the top three priorities in the County, in terms of ending racial injustices that stem from historical patterns of institutionalized racism, and what are your specific plans for addressing them? How would your policies and actions reduce racial disparities in health, wealth, home ownership, education, policing effects, and social justice in the County?
You listed 6 things and they’re all important. Applying racial equity lenses is at the top of my list. When I ran for County Executive, I pledged to bring a racial equity lens to decisions, policies, staffing, and programs of the county. That was before the events of 2020 that awakened much of our society to the pervasiveness of institutional racism in the nation. One of our first steps was to begin training the county government in how to apply a racial equity lens – to evaluate impacts and be transparent in documenting whether, using well-researched metrics, our policies are matching our words. To help us going forward, I established and appointed the first ever Chief Equity Officer and provided her with a staff to advance this important work. An example of how we are incorporating racial equity and social justice in our planning is documented in the Climate Action Plan, in which we held a workshop with over 20 organizations that work with vulnerable communities to consider how climate affects these communities and how our proposed responses would impact them.
We have an obligation to recognize the legacy of the impacts of past actions of the County. The internal work of training and the external work of evaluating policies and proposals will continue.
The pandemic has highlighted the longstanding inequality in our community. Our vulnerable populations have been hit hard – by high rates of sickness and death, by unemployment, and by housing loss. We have provided rental support, emergency housing, food assistance and legal aid. We have placed vaccination clinics all around the county and we are taking vaccines to populations that don’t have the time or resources to come to us. We have prioritized equity and social justice and we have done so with multiple partner organizations.
My most recent budget increases funding for minority health initiatives and we included money to keep the hubs operating. We learned valuable lessons from the pandemic. One was the need to put more power and funding into community groups that can deliver services and messages deeper into the community than we can. Trust, or the lack thereof, is a major barrier and our community partners greatly increased our effectiveness whether it was healthcare, food drives, clothing, getting information to people and helping them sign up for assistance. So these programs will remain and be expanded. I’m convening a meeting of all health providers – hospitals, clinics, minority health initiatives – to look at where we are today and see what we can do to better coordinate and deliver services to our communities, particularly those who struggle with the socio-economic conditions that are associated with worse health outcomes. I’m also meeting with one of our hospitals to work on how we could reinstitute community mental health clinics to serve all our residents. And my budget has money to build a restoration center that will serve to divert people suffering from a mental health crisis or drug or alcohol related impairment and provide an alternative to jail. Mental health resources have long been neglected by the state and federal government, but these are real and pressing problems and we need to address them.
And, as I think you know, I opened up a new homeless shelter with room for 200 or more, with services and meals attached to it. In the middle of the pandemic I realized that when the pandemic ended, all the people we’d sheltered temporarily would be put back out on the street and I could not, in good conscience, do that. So I told my staff to find a building and they did. They renovated between last September and March and now it’s open.
Last year I vetoed legislation that created a Business Improvement District (BID) in Silver Spring that imposed mandatory taxes and vested control with the wealthiest property owners, most of whom are White. In my veto message, CE Memo to Council President – Bill 3-21 Veto – August 9, 2021. I explain that the BID does not meet the county’s goals for racial equity and social justice and that an urban district corporation, like the existing Bethesda Urban Partnership, would be a better and more equitable choice for Silver Spring. I will continue to stand with the small business owners in Silver Spring – many of whom are people of color – to oppose this effort.
I introduced and got passed changes to procurement that give point preferences to local small businesses as well allowing us to go above the low bid for qualified local small business. We’ve put funding for the Black Business Collective into the budget.
I provided record funding for our schools to enable them to add the staff they need and to address learning loss. I’ve increased funding for Early Childhood Education every year and this provided operating funds so that Montgomery College can open a campus in the East County. They’ll begin classes in rented space while they identify property or land they want to acquire for a campus. We’re working on opening a food hub and innovation center in the CHI building on New Hampshire Ave to provide more opportunities for people in that part of the county.
We are using county property to solicit proposals for more affordable housing where we have more control over price and unit mix to achieve the goals I spoke about under housing. Our housing includes homeownership and I am working with nonprofits to make ownership a bigger part of their work. We have a project we’re building on Bushey Dr that is entirely affordable including incomes from $30k to 80K. This is critical to allowing people to build generational wealth and greater economic opportunities.
Policing is changing as we implement the state law and our own proposals. We just received a draft from our consultant of their review of everything involving the police department. We’ll be putting out a large set of recommendations that will cover, most if not all, aspects of policing — training and accountability using situations that have turned bad to redesign strategies and tactics that do not lead to the kind of tragic outcomes we’ve seen in some cases, uniform discipline matrices, new use of force guidelines, accountability for management, training of officers in both dealing with mental health crises and community policing. It will harmonize our expectations for policing with the training they receive. We’ve raised their pay and are increasing local recruiting to help us draw on more people from within our community
SROs & CEOs out of schools !
Use AI pre-screening of all county employees, starting with the police. Social Security found clear racial bias when it examined which claims were approved. By implementing a claims review artificial intelligence software system that was able to remove racial biased decisions, Goldman Sachs increased its hiring diversity by 26% by pre-screening candidates with AI software. Racial bias can be a conscious act, but most racial bias is from unconscious decisions. I would implement AI to remove both conscious and unconscious bias from our hiring processes.
Eliminate red lining and discrimination in employment and housing laws – use de facto standards ie. Outcome evaluations.
Provide transportation equity to all. Give free EVs compatible with personal rapid transit guideways to low income households. This will provide true transportation equity, not the current “take a seat at the back of the bus.” This will provide both the environmental advantages of transit and also provide access to jobs, education, healthcare, shopping and entertainment. True transportation equity will provide the same access to jobs, shopping, social participation, dining and entertainment that the rest of us take for granted.
Start a local currency that doesn’t bear interest.
Perform triage on all 911 calls to deploy the right combination of responders (ie. mental health practitioners, negotiators and police).
Have an independent police review commission. Members elected by neighborhood citizens.
Provide enhanced psychological screening and counseling on a periodic basis.
Provide better pay, non-violent mitigation training, etc., for police.
Provide people’s counsel to help victims of police violence and public corruption with direct access to the Grand Jury.
County supported mutual healthcare co-ops.
Housing, jobs, and education are critical priorities for my campaign. These are the 3-legs of a stool and all of them are equally important to build and maintain a strong community. Starting with housing, we have to make our county a place that welcomes new residents everywhere. Right now, it’s nearly impossible to build new housing in some parts of the county, even if those places have excellent public transportation. The historical legacy of exclusionary zoning has played a part in keeping parts of our county off-limits to anyone but the wealthy. It’s time that we take a closer look at those policies and adjust them where it makes sense.
Many of our residents live in Montgomery County, but work in D.C. or Virginia. While we can’t expect all of our residents to live and work within the county, we certainly could do a better job of creating and retaining jobs at home. We already have a substantial investment in our county workforce from the Federal government at research agencies like the NIH, FDA, NOAA, and NIST, but our current leadership has failed to attract incubator businesses that feed off the research conducted by these Federal agencies.
Our students have lost ground during the pandemic. We need an aggressive recovery plan that can help students accelerate on their path. A county as prosperous as ours that doesn’t have universal pre-K schooling is a failure to the hard-working residents that live here. I want to change that, along with giving our school system the funding and support to experiment with new education options for middle and high-school students who want different pathway programs other than college.
Q7. In July, despite resident opposition, the Council passed Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 19-07. This new law allows routine permits for cell towers as close as 30 feet from homes, with no prior notice to residents and no public hearings. It sets no limit at all, in terms of distance from homes, under special permits. This law is far less protective of residents than the FCC requires. Just weeks later, a U.S. Court of Appeals issued a blistering ruling that the FCC failed to give a reasonable explanation for its 25-year-old safety limits for wireless-radiation exposure, and so failed to show they adequately protect the environment and human health – especially children’s health.
Do you support a pause in implementing ZTA 19-07 until: (1) The FCC responds to the court order by issuing limits based on a thorough review of science, and (2) The County can assure residents that it protects our health and environment as far as is legally possible and doesn’t expose the County to liability due to zoning that does not meet that standard? Would you seek new County rules to require monitoring upon installation and then annually around all wireless facilities to document whether radiation exposures at least comply with FCC limits?
I supported pausing the implementation of ZTA 19-07 because the council failed to use the time since the November 2019 public hearing to collect best practices from other jurisdictions, understand the changing legal landscape at the FCC and work with residents to address community concerns. Pausing it would not hurt the business community because it is already allowed in the commercial areas and in some residential areas. I proposed a workgroup to allow an opportunity to understand the complexities of the issues, and to provide for meaningful community participation. I believe the urgency was and is in expanding digital access that is affordable and accessible. During the pandemic, we increased efforts to expand home internet for low-income residents, and expanded robust broadband for rural residents and small businesses. We are working on rule making and changes to the approval process and I agree that installation and performance should be monitored – and that data should come from testing not just modeling.
I would require more review of studies that report health effects from non-ionizing radiation. What is being ignored is the ability for 5G beam forming feature to be weaponized, as the multiple antennas of 5G systems, if hacked, can focus energy to levels we know cause health damage.
So far EPA and FCC have based 5G and RF safety on evaluation of “ionizing” radiation (RF radiation powerful enough to break off ions from atoms) exposure. These agencies and other proponents are ignoring health effects of lower energy “non-ionizing” RF radiation. I believe we need to study the possible health effects of non-ionizing RF fields.
There is a large body of research that suggests many bad health effects come from these lower energy radiation sources. That said, we need to apply the same public health validation of home wireless routers and smart home wireless technologies.
I support science – wherever it takes us. The science of non-ionizing radiation (which is what our devices use to encode information for wifi, cell phones, FM radio, walkie talkies, bluetooth and other communications) has been extensively researched by scientific authorities for decades and is subject to continuing ongoing examination as well as real-world reality checks.
We have all learned more about how public health works in recent years and the role played by major institutions such as the FDA, CDC, NIH, and WHO.
The good news is that billions of people use mobile devices today and, according to these authorities, there is no evidence that there are negative health impacts from the waves that the devices use to communicate.
That is why the CDC, FDA, NIH and WHO (among many) state very clearly that their review of the evidence concludes that our ubiquitous use of these devices does not pose a health risk.
Certainly there are some people who pick out a study or two and try to draw conclusions from them, but the public health agencies review all of the studies together and balance all of the evidence together. They believe we are safe in our use of our devices. Here, for example, are some links to public health authorities:
“Based on the evaluation of the currently available information, the FDA believes that the weight of scientific evidence has not linked exposure to radio frequency energy from cell phone use with any health problems at or below the radio frequency exposure limits set by the FCC.”
“A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.”
I know that the passage of ZTA 19-07 wasn’t universally supported, but I believe that we should stand with science. If we want our County to be a place that attracts new employers to bring jobs, a place that supports our children’s goals to learn and compete in the global economy, and a place that provides a great quality of life for our seniors who decide to stay and anyone who wants to live here, then we have to stay relevant. Takoma Park should not move backwards or remain trapped in a bygone era.
If the science changes and researchers discover evidence that wireless devices cause harm, then we can and will adjust our rules — as will every other jurisdiction around the Country. We are a community that should stand with science and health, every time.
Q8. What is your opinion regarding the Planning Board’s recent rejection of a proposal for a retail and office development at Takoma Junction, on public land owned by the City of Takoma Park? What can we learn from this extended saga? What lessons does it suggest about the pursuit of development that threatens the viability of surrounding businesses? About the value of open public space, about gentrification, about road safety – about the use of public space for public good? And about how best to incorporate public input on major projects in a meaningful–and timely–way?
I thought the project went bad for many reasons. It started by awarding a project and then allowing the winner to continually change the project from what they had promised the community and the city. The traffic plan and the lay-by were nuts, and when I asked the state what they thought they said they didn’t think it was safe or good for traffic. And there’s really no public benefit, no park or green space, it would hurt the other small businesses (I was surprised by the lack of enthusiasm for the project from the local businesses).
They could easily have built a decent project there. They could have topped the retail with housing, a school, or offices but at a scale that would have allowed it to fit there – the co-op and a group of local businesses had a project that was approved there 20 years ago that had a floor of office above retail, had parking on the surface behind the building so the building fronted on the street and it even accommodated delivery trucks. That proposal was just an idea, but it gave a sense of what could have been built.
The City did have the opportunity to look at how to use that public space for public good that could have incorporated retail but it seemed that public good was a variable that could be changed to whatever suited the developer. When the City bought the property some years ago, we were concerned about what the then owner was going to build there, and we wanted something that could be shaped to what Takoma Park wanted. I hope the City takes this opportunity to find a new developer who will work with the City and community to create something special that blends taking advantage of an economic opportunity as well as a community opportunity.
While the project’s “boxy” appearance seems out of place in Takoma Park, I believe these are decisions best made by the members of the community impacted. I will promote a system of oversight that engages citizens and not putting up walls that prevent citizen involvement in the planning and approval process of such developments.
Last year when the City of Takoma Park issued an RFP for a social equity public engagement system, I submitted a Sim City like digital twin solution. This is an online urban planning system that would engage all City residents in the urban planning of your city. This would have provided an open government platform to address lack of transparency in projects such as the Takoma Junction project. If elected I will implement a digital twin for citizen engagement and open government the County.
As I mention above, decisions on neighborhood development should remain with the citizens of each neighborhood to the greatest extent possible. A non-elected body should not have the power that Park and Planning does. Planning boards need to be elected. Another solution is to have a distributed elected planning board that addresses local development through the lens of local community members.
I would not, as County Executive, attempt to override the will of the community– as it appears others may have done.
Over many years, a lot of time, energy, money, and effort was spent by the residents of Takoma Park, the City of Takoma Park and the City’s development partner – only to be tossed aside due to a misapplication of traffic standards imposed by the Maryland State Highway Administration, probably due to the influence of certain politicians. I fear that future economic development partners will be reluctant to work with Takoma Park, because of the outcome and the way this project was mismanaged. That’s bad for our future.
My hope is that Takoma Park residents and City leaders will spend considerable time dissecting the project to create an alternative option in the near future. I think Takoma Park residents and City leaders would do well to observe how DC leaders are adding new amenities just across the border in the Takoma neighborhood.
On the positive side, I am excited about the restaurants that are opening there and I hope that the Junction will become a stronger center of commerce for Takoma Park.
UPDATE: On January 27th 2022, the Montgomery County Planning Board voted unanimously to deny approval of the Takoma Junction plans.
The Montgomery County Planning Board has scheduled a vote on the proposed Takoma Junction development for January 27th 2022. It was originally scheduled for January 20th 2022 but has been postponed by a week.
To send a written statement with your opinion about the proposed development to the Board before their vote, email Board Chair Casey Anderson at email@example.com, by noon on Wednesday January 26th.
The proposal has now been rejected by the City Council, the State Highway Administration (multiple times), and the community (96% of 385 comments on the City feedback page were negative).
The Board staff continues to recommend denial of the project, and this week reposted their report with that recommendation from last September. (This staff report was not presented or discussed in September, because instead NDC got an extension).
New information released on January 7th by the Planning Board, and linked to the original January 20th Board agenda, includes new documents and correspondence dated between September 2021 and January 2022, including:
An update on what has happened since the Board gave NDC a 90 day extension, with new research, written by the Planning Board staff in preparation for the Board vote. Among other things, the staff refutes the assertions that there are comparable lay-bys in use locally.
A letter from the Planning Board Chair to the SHA pressing them to explain what design for the deliveries and the exit/entrance would be safe, or to state clearly that there is no safe solution.
A reply from SHA to the Planning Board, reiterating that it is the developer’s job to submit a design for them to assess (not SHA’s job to figure out a design that would work).
Description of a meeting of the Planning Board staff, SHA, NDC and City of Takoma Park staff. The NDC lawyer described it as an attempt “to help facilitate communications and bring the matter to some type of resolution.”
A letter from NDC to the City Manager asking the City to cut down trees on private property adjacent to the proposed site.
A letter from NDC’s lawyer requesting that the Planning Board vote to give them approval “conditioned on future SHA approvals” for the layby and the exit/entrance drive.
A letter from the City to the Planning Board, reminding the Board that City Council “voted unanimously to recommend that the Planning Board not approve the current plan.” And they explain why the City Council “was deliberate in not recommending approval of the site plan conditioned upon State Highway Administration (“SHA”) approval of the lay-by.”
For a dated chronology of these new letters and documents, see our updated Junction Timeline.
Yesterday, County Councilmember Hans Riemer, who is running against County Executive Marc Elrich, arrived very late to the Takoma Junction process, weighing in with a public letter filled with errors, misinformation, and inappropriate lobbying. This use of Council privilege to interfere with the County’s public review process, and apparently to try to score points in a political race, endangers residents by putting our community at risk of being saddled with an unsafe development.
The letter was addressed to the County’s Planning Board Chair, Casey Anderson, and urged the Board to “move forward” with the Junction project even though the State Highway Administration (SHA) has found the plan unsafe (four times). Councilmember Riemer used language including “I urge you to press SHA…” This, in spite of Planning Board rules stating clearly (Section 3.2) that Board members “must not communicate with any Person, other than Planning Staff or another Board member, about the merits or facts of any pending Application…except during the Board meeting when the Application…is being considered.” And yet Councilmember Riemer appears to be urging the Planning Board to pressure the SHA, and to flout Board rules on improper contacts.
Correcting the Errors, Point by Point
Here, we seek to straighten out any confusion caused by the errors and misinformation in Councilmember Riemer’s letter to the Planning Board Chair:
MISINFORMATION: Councilmember Riemer expresses “concerns about delays,” implying they are the fault of reviewers(such as SHA).
FACT: The current delay was caused by NDC asking for a fifth extension with the Planning Board, since they have not been able to manage to come up with a safe enough plan for approval by the SHA. The Board granted the extension, despite their own staff recommending against it.
MISINFORMATION: Councilmember Riemer states that his “conversations with Takoma Park residents” tell him the project is “very popular.”
MISINFORMATION: Councilmember Riemer states that “residents are bewildered” (implying they are bewildered as to why the project has not been approved).
FACT: Residents are indeed bewildered, but based on the written feedback, they are bewildered about why the City has not yet pulled the plug on this project, since the SHA has repeatedly found it to be unsafe, and the City Council voted unanimously to recommend against approval of the project, for five separate reasons, only one of which is the lay-by.
MISINFORMATION: The development “will provide additional parking” for the Co-op.
FACT: The project’s design requires a waiver to build a garage providing less than the amount of parking required by zoning for the new tenants alone. With loss of the City’s parking lot, there will be a net loss of parking for the Co-op and the existing small local businesses.
MISINFORMATION: NDC “needs the Co-op to succeed” as the Junction anchor.
FACT: This spring, NDC tried to evict the Co-op from the City’s lot, backing off only after the Co-op filed for legal protection. And NDC has already tried to buy the building out from under the Co-op. So it appears they do not feel they need the Co-op.
MISINFORMATION: “The Co-op officially does not oppose the project.”
FACT: The Co-op has repeatedly stated its objections to parts of NDC’s plans that threaten the Co-op’s deliveries and customer access to the store. Following extensive negotiations, the Co-op signed the mediation agreement with the City and NDC to not oppose the project unless NDC changes the project in material way(s) that would adversely affect the Co-op’s operations.
MISINFORMATION: “The lay-by…will primarily serve the Co-op.”
FACT: Any development with retail and restaurants this size is legally (and logically) required to have a loading zone for their own deliveries, and waste pick-up. Since no tenants have been made public, we have no idea what deliveries the new tenants will require.
MISINFORMATION: Implying the developer would consider any option other than a lay-by, Councilmember Riemer writes “…if there is an alternative approach that is better than a lay-by, great…”
FACT: NDC has steadfastly refused to cede any rentable square feet to make a safe loading zone at the rear of the development, where it belongs according to zoning. They have insisted on a lay-by, despite being told by SHA, and County reviewers, after four separate submissions, that each lay-by iteration was unsafe.
MISINFORMATION: Implying that the City wants this project. Referring to “a fair and equitable treatment for the property owner (the City)” and calling this project “the City’s exciting vision.”
FACT: The City Council voted unanimously to recommend the Planning Board reject this development proposal, for five separate reasons (not just the lay-by). Councilmember Riemer neglects to make any mention of this fact.
MISINFORMATION: Councilmember Riemer calls the City lot “a moribund parking lot.”
FACT: The parking lot is in full use, and often full, supporting the small local independent Junction businesses relying on it, including some that have just opened, or will open shortly. The developer has no plans to provide any particular number of parking spaces to these businesses.
MISINFORMATION: This project is “infill development.”
FACT: Infill development is defined as the reuse of “unused or blighted land.” The City lot is in full use, providing an essential function. The “walkshed” for development near a Metro stop is recognized as a half-mile. The Junction is too far from the Takoma Metro to qualify as walking distance. A Metro planner came to City hall during public comments, expressly to explain that the Junction is too far to qualify as Metro-accessible.
MISINFORMATION: Takoma residents want more shops, and offices.
FACT: Because the rents will be significantly higher than current rents at the Junction, any shops will drive gentrification if they succeed. However, retail is a sector that has been circling the drain since the pandemic. And, there are empty offices all over the region, due to the ongoing pandemic. This project is obsolete.
MISINFORMATION: The project will bring “a lot of new wage-earner jobs.”
FACT: By trying to pressure the SHA into approving a dysfunctional and dangerous lay-by as the loading zone, we risk driving out the Co-op, possibly the largest retail employer in the City. The Co-op is beloved for employing a diverse unionized staff with excellent benefits, working to feed the community. Workers in retail stores typically make minimum wage, with no benefits. So this would be a terrible trade-off, in terms of local jobs.
ASSERTION: There has been political interference in the planning process.
FACT: Yes, Councilmember Riemer’s letter is an attempt to use his Council position for political interference in the planning process now that the project is pending at the Planning Board. And he appears to be attempting to distort the decision on the safety of the Junction development to gain political ground in the race for County Executive. The County Council, and Planning Board, should not let this behavior stand.
Planning Board Grants 5th Extension for Takoma Junction Project to Gain Approval
On September 15 2021, the Montgomery County Planning Board agreed to give Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) a fifth extension to obtain approval for their proposed Takoma Junction project. NDC now has until January 20 2022, (approximately 90 additional days), to attempt to get approval from the State Highway Administration (SHA) before returning to the Planning Board. To date, the SHA has found both the layby and the exit drive unsafe (in four separate rulings), despite multiple design attempts by NDC.
In approving this fifth extension request, individual Planning Board members appeared to be unfamiliar with the details of the project. Notwithstanding the Planning staff’s recommendations that both the extension and project be denied, and the City’s recommendation that its own project be disapproved, Board Chair Casey Anderson nevertheless opined (watch starting at 3:15:00 on the video) that this would be a great project for the City if only SHA would approve the layby.
Community Vision for Takoma (CVT) is taking this opportunity to straighten out some of the confusion, evident at the Board hearing, surrounding the current proposal.
These are the facts:
The layby is not the only problem cited by the City.
The City Council voted on June 23 2021 for a resolution to recommend the Planning Board vote to disapprove the project. In doing so, the City Council cited not only the lack of approval from the SHA, but four other longtime issues NDC has been unwilling or unable to solve: lack of meaningful public space, a problematic rear facade, lack of parking for surrounding businesses, and inadequate stormwater treatment.
The Planning Board may not concern itself with these issues, but the City does, according to their own resolutions and development agreement, and their vote in June. But the City needs to stand firm on these issues, explain them to the Planning Board, and pull out of the project if the Planning Board approves it.
The layby is not the only problem cited by the SHA. They have repeatedly cited the inadequate sight lines for drivers coming from the garage exit ramp driveway (the egress) as a continuing safety problem.
NDC has pushed back by comparing their proposed exit to the current exit from the City lot. In a June 16 2021 letter from NDC to the SHA, NDC asserts, “We note that the same sight line issue exists today from the Intersection…and the entry point to the City’s parking lot on Carroll Avenue.”
However, this is a false comparison.
The proposed development would reduce the sight line by moving the driveway from the current location 40 to 50 feet to the west, closer to the fire station and blind corner. Additionally, the current lot is completely above ground, allowing exiting drivers to have a longer period to observe traffic coming from the west. The proposal, with vehicles exiting from an underground parking garage, limits that observation time. The proposal would also have drivers exiting from a darkened garage at the end of the workday and looking west into the setting sun. This visual adjustment time increases danger to bicycles and pedestrians as well as motorized vehicles in this heavily used area.
There are additional issues regarding the sight line. The September 7 2021 letter from SHA to NDC notes that there are other obstacles to the sight line (fencing, tree, parked cars), so the issue is not just one of absolute distance.
No one should have been surprised by SHA’s repeated rejection of layby designs in 2021. Since the beginning, many concerns have been expressed about the layby.
In 2015 when NDC was chosen by the City Council, Councilmember Seth Grimes wrote that the absence of a layby in NDC’s initial design was one of the reasons he voted to choose NDC for the project. He said a layby would be a “step in the wrong direction,” and that the “Co-op has said this approach would be unworkable.” (NDC switched to a layby design only after winning the project).
In the spring of 2019, County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) reviewers noted that the layby “should be removed” because of safety concerns.
In the spring of 2019, the Chair of the County’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) agreed with a resident who called the layby “an abomination.”
In the spring of 2020, MCDOT again noted multiple reasons why the layby location could not be approved.
So in 2021, the SHA’s four consecutive rejections of layby designs should not have been surprising.
Just because other developments have pickup or loading in front of the building doesn’t mean the Junction layby would be safe.
In public comments at the Board hearing, and as the Board considered the extension, there was discussion of how some other county locations handle loading or pickups, and a suggestion that these should be considered precedents for the approval of the Junction layby. However, none of these other developments have the same specific constraints and conditions of the proposed Junction layby:
Marriott Headquarters (Bethesda) has a circle loop, not a layby.
Avocet Tower (Bethesda) has a smaller pickup and drop-off layby for cars, but would not accommodate large trucks.
Ace Hardware (Takoma Park) has loading by trucks on the street, but was never analyzed by State or County reviewers because it is an informal arrangement.
Key Differences in the Four Projects
Pull-in, pull-out without right-angle turns?
Used for deliveries?
Trucks only (no drop-off/pick-up)?
Used for trash hauling?
Large trucks involved?
Deliveries/trash emphasize food-service?
Use shared by multiple properties?
Unconsolidated deliveries and hauling?
Delivery path conflicts with ADA route?
2-way adjacent traffic?
Adjacent stop line, crosswalk, and signal?
Adjacent bus stop?
Adjacent garage entrance/exit?
Requires crossing dedicated bike lanes?
Located down-block from a fire station?
Area needed for emergency access?
Routes traffic onto residential streets?
Routes traffic through unsignalized intersections?
Along block-long merge and crossing of two State Highway routes?
Visibility issues for approaching traffic?
Adjacent to walking route to school?
Approved by SHA & Planning Board?
The community does not want to work with a company that tried to kick the Co-op off the lot.
The most recent and relevant gauge of community support for this project is not the City election almost a year ago (when all incumbents were re-elected, whether or not they supported the development).
In April, NDC sent a cease and desist order to try to kick the Co-op off the lot, threatening its ability to function as a business. This aggressive action towards the Co-op caused some residents who had supported the development (or were neutral) to oppose it. We know this because of comments on the feedback page set up by the City last spring. Approximately 380 out of 395 comments opposed going forward with NDC and the project, or 96% of responses. Clearly, the City heard this feedback—which is the most recent and direct gauge of community opposition to the plan—before voting to recommend that the Planning Board disapprove the project. The relationship between the City and NDC is unclear at this point, and their weekly meetings on the Junction have stopped.
Takoma Park City Council moves to reject the NDC plan for a development at Takoma Junction.
UPDATE: September 15 2021 The County’s Planning Board votes to give the developer a 90-day extension (their fifth extension), to try to get approval from the SHA for the layby and the egress.
UPDATE: September 3 2021The County’s Planning Board has scheduled a vote on the Takoma Junction plan for Wednesday September 15th (tune in online starting at 11:15am). The County staff has posted a report recommending that the Board vote to deny approval for the project.
UPDATE: August 19 2021SHA “Returns for Revision” the latest NDC proposal. And, apparently, the tentative date for the Planning Board public hearing and vote has been delayed until later in September.
UPDATE: July 14 2021NDC submits yet another revision of their plan for the loading zone, in response to SHA’s rejections. SHA is due to respond by August 19th.
UPDATE: July 2021 The County’s Planning Board has tentatively scheduled their Public Hearing and vote on the NDC plan for September 9th. This is one day after the City Council returns from their six-week summer break. Ten days prior to the hearing, the Planning Board staff will release their report and recommendation to the Board on the vote. NDC’s fourth extension to get approval from the Planning Board will expire on September 16th.
UPDATE: On June 23 2021 The Takoma Park City Council voted unanimously (7-0) for a resolution to disapprove the proposed Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) plan for a development at Takoma Junction. View NDC’s final statement before the vote at minute 18:00, and the City Council discussion before the vote starting at minute 53:45HERE. See links to new statements from the City and NDC in our Junction timeline.
At the City Council work session on Wednesday June 16th 2021, the Council agreed unanimously (7-0) to craft a resolution to disapprove the Neighborhood Development Company (NDC) plan for a development at Takoma Junction. The move to reject the plan was based primarily on the fact that no approved loading zone was submitted by NDC.
You can watch the City Council’s decision on the video at time 3:28:30.
The formal vote will follow a week later, on June 23rd. The draft resolution should be posted on the agenda by this Friday, ahead of the vote.
Just minutes before the Council meeting started, the City posted a letter from the State Highway Administration (SHA) to NDC. In that letter, the SHA rejected the longer layby for a third time, and rejected the shorter layby as even less safe.
(That shorter layby also broke all agreements to accommodate the Co-op, as described in this June 11th letter from the Co-op to the City).
With no approved way to create a loading zone for the development, the City Manager announced in the City Council work session on the Junction resolution that City staff were recommending crafting the resolution for disapproval of the plan. Each Councilmember then agreed to choose the disapproval option for the resolution. All of them cited the fact that there was no approved loading zone. Some also mentioned flaws in the plan related to inadequate public space, and other issues.
Many questions remain about what will happen next. For all the latest news, see our facebook and twitter feed.
The State Highway Administration (SHA) has now rejected the layby (a delivery zone for trucks on Carroll Avenue), three times. And yet, the Neighborhood Development Company (NDC), continues to try to push their Takoma Junction development through. In essence, the footprint of the NDC plan is too big, creating multiple problems, including pushing the delivery zone into the intersection.
In their latest maneuver, NDC has submitted a plan (never seen by the public) for a shorter lay-by, which would exclude the largest trucks and the pallet jacks needed to unload them. This appears to be a violation of all the agreements requiring accommodations to keep the Co-op open. It is unclear whether City staff or Council were aware of, or okayed, the new plan. At the bottom, we post a new letter from Takoma residents who closely follow the Junction process.
But first, a recap of the flurry of events since our last post:
May 18/19 2021. NDC immediately writes back to the SHA, with various accusations and complaints, rebutting the SHA’s findings yet again, and submitting the plan yet again. They include a new plan, reducing the layby length from 140 feet to 85 feet, which would exclude the largest trucks, and the pallet jacks needed to unload them. This new layby plan, never seen by the public, would apparently violate NDC’s Development Agreement with the City, the City’s 2018 Resolution, and NDC’s mediated Cooperation Agreement with the Co-op. All three of these agreements state that any plan must accommodate the Co-op’s deliveries.
May 24 2021. A letter from the SHA to NDC rejects the layby for a third time. But SHA also agrees to review NDC’s new plan for a shorter layby.
May 28 2021. Takoma Park residents write a letter to the SHA, questioning the assertions in NDC’s May 18/19 letter, and questioning NDC’s authority to submit a new layby plan that violates agreements with the City and Co-op.
A lot has happened at the Junction this week. And now, the City must decide between the developer, and the Co-op.
On Thursday night April 15th, a lawyer for the Takoma Junction developer (NDC) sent a “cease and desist” letter to the Co-op, telling them to halt all Co-op deliveries on the City lot immediately. They gave the Co-op 30 days to vacate the lot completely. This would potentially shut down the Co-op. And it would put the parking for all the Junction businesses in peril.
The next day, Friday, residents began arriving at the Junction to make sure the Co-op could receive deliveries. On Saturday and Sunday, those who love the C0-op, support local businesses, and are through with this developer, held protests at the Junction. Some 150 protesters occupied all three Junction sidewalks (both sides of Carroll and BY Morrison Park in the middle). Cars honked support as they drove through.
Even some who had previously supported the development expressed shock at this bullying of the Co-op, a community-owned institution that fed many of us through the pandemic. A flood of comments supporting the Co-op and calling for the end to the deal with NDC came in through the City’s Junction feedback comment form (Please post your comment!). It has become clear that you can no longer say you support the Co-op, and also support this development. Small local businesses and non-profits that had remained quiet, began speaking out. The photos here are a record of some of the signs. The overall message was #DropNDCNow and #SupportLocalBusinesses
The protest was covered by NBC Channel 4 News at six o’clock on Saturday night. Eric Bond was there recording interviews for his WOWD Takoma Radio news show, Talk of Takoma. His audio montage of “person on the street” voices, with the sounds of the protest in the background, was broadcast on Sunday.
On Monday morning, the struggle at the Junction was featured on Joni Eisenberg’s WPFW show, To Heal DC. Eisenberg, an activist who has lived in Takoma Park since 1979, called it a “Shocking situation in Takoma Park.” She connected this struggle to the activism of Sammie Abbott. “This is not just about Takoma Park. It’s not just about a health-food store. It’s about gentrification, and how it’s impacting the entire country,” Eisenberg stated. “We’re going to need to mobilize, together, to fight this developer, and to make sure the City of Takoma Park stands up for what is right for all of us.”
Listen here, starting at 2:30:
At this point, lawyers (presumably for the developer, City, and Co-op) are negotiating, and we have no idea what is happening. The Mayor and Councilmembers stopped giving substantive answers to resident questions, citing the legal proceedings. A series of three closed City Council meetings, with no public comments, began Monday night. All we know is that “fixing” the situation has to mean more than just letting the Co-op back on the lot. We must part ways with this developer.
City staff post some suspiciously unsubstantiated claims about the current Co-op delivery system on the lot being unsafe (and other new and bizarre claims about the development plans).
Co-op and residents challenge the City Manager to provide evidence.
No evidence forthcoming of danger on the lot, used for deliveries for decades.
State Highway Administration (SHA) says NDC’s proposed layby delivery system on Carroll Ave is not safe, cannot be approved.
This is not surprising. Residents and Councilmembers had concerns about the layby going back to 2015, and County and State reviewers expressed concern about it at several previous points in the review.
Without the layby, the developer cannot build something this big, or make as much money.
Then, NDC breaks their agreement with the City and Co-op by sending the Co-op the cease-and-desist letter.
For all the recent correspondence and relevant documents in one place, here is a timeline with links:
Video presentation of Community Vision for Takoma’s analysis of the April 2021 proposed plans for Takoma Junction development.
NEW: State Highway Rejects Layby
The State Highway Administration (SHA) released their finding this week that the proposed layby is not safe, and cannot be approved. This confirms concerns about a Junction layby going back to the beginning of the development process. The City review process is now on hold, while the City and developers figure out how and whether to continue pursuing this plan.
Traffic, Public Space, Stormwater, Trees, High Rents
But the layby is not the only outstanding issue with the current plans. Just before the SHA put out their finding, Community Vision for Takoma (CVT) shared this video of our plan analysis. It was recorded at our Takoma Junction Town Hall on April 9th. Our team of resident experts compared the current plans to the City commitments in the Development Agreement of 2016, and 2018 Resolution.
We found these plans meet almost none of the City Council’s own requirements for the project, nor did they respond to the County staff concerns.
This video presentation documents:
The unsafe layby
Traffic and parking pushed into back streets
Inadequate public space
Inadequate parking and effect of construction on local businesses
A rear facade that looms over Columbia
Inadequate stormwater treatment
Reduction and destabilization of the forest in the back
New stairs making it difficult and unsafe for wheelchairs and strollers
High rents that will drive commercial gentrification
Refusal to recognize the value of open space in the pandemic