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Ward 1 – Peter Kovar

  1. Do you agree with us that more housing, both market rate and subsidized, should be created in Takoma Park? If so, what steps will you take to facilitate creation of new housing?

Currently in Takoma Park there are a large number of expensive single family homes which are tending to become more costly, as well as many apartment units which are kept reasonably affordable because of our rent stabilization law. There’s a danger we’ll increasingly move toward a community that’s bifurcated from a housing perspective. We don’t have as many condos or affordable starter homes, often called the “missing middle.” I’d like to see us focus on creating more home ownership opportunities in this category as well as additional affordable rental units. As outlined in our Housing Strategic Plan, among the approaches we should follow for helping achieve these goals are: continuing to grow our Housing Reserve so we’re well positioned to take advantage of opportunities for housing creation; developing partnerships with outside non-profits, foundations and financial institutions for housing development of all sizes; working at the County level to change zoning requirements to give us more flexibility in where and how housing can be constructed in Takoma Park; promoting expansion of Accessory Dwelling Units consistent with the new County ADU law; focusing on bringing vacant residential structures into active use; taking advantage of tax incentives and other housing creation programs offered at the County, State and Federal levels; coordinating with the Greater Washington Council of Governments on its regional affordable housing goals; and cataloging and marketing open land or older structures in the City that may be available as sites for housing production.

2. Takoma Park has several potential development and revitalization opportunities. Please describe your vision for the following sites. In your opinion, how should they be further developed?

  • Takoma-Langley Crossroads (Purple Line station)

It’s vital that any development in the Crossroads area be centered on affordability: keeping existing housing units affordable to the extent possible, enabling small businesses to be able to stay in operation (during and after Purple Line construction); and ensuring that any new apartment buildings include substantial numbers of affordable units.

  • Takoma Park Recreation Center (New Hampshire Ave.)

I’d like the City to continue the engagement process, working with our outside partner, to explore ideas for the site with residents of the community who live closest to the site and who would be most affected by construction and/or most able to take advantage of any housing and recreation opportunities available once the site is renovated. I think the overall plan of working with an outside partner to develop improved recreation facilities and a mix of affordable and market rate units is a positive vision for the space. But, again, we should only go forward with a specific plan after we’ve heard more from residents in that part of the City.

  • Washington Adventist Hospital campus

The former hospital location has great potential. While there are significant budgetary challenges connected to some of its potential uses, I can imagine it being the site of one or more of the following: a mixed housing development; a retail/commercial center; an elementary school; or a recreation facility, potentially with a pool. If it’s possible to build a large enough school, perhaps the existing Piney Branch Elementary School could be converted into a recreation center. The County Planning Office will be undertaking a review of the master plan for the property with an eye toward changing the zoning there. As part of that process, I look forward to a robust public discussion on how best to utilize the site in the future.

  1. On the long-debated Takoma Junction development process, do you support continuing the existing County and City review process or do you propose restarting the development process, including a new Request for Proposals? If so, how would the City fund this work?

I agree with the idea of developing Takoma Junction, in particular because if we have a well-designed project there, it will help create a more vibrant, walkable community. That said, I’m not supportive of the current version of the site plan. I voted against the site plan when it came before the Council two years ago, primarily because of what I consider to be an inadequate amount of public space, along with what I view as excessive height. Though the plan has been modified to some extent since that vote, those fundamental concerns haven’t been addressed.

Given the acrimony that has surrounded the project, I think it would be healthy for the community to seek a compromise. As review of the plan by the County and City moves forward, I’d like to pursue a version of the project that would have a somewhat smaller overall footprint. This would mean that many of those who have been active in the debate around the project, including me, would have to accept only some of what we want for the project. But I think having a smaller structure is important, as that could make it easier to address some of the objections that have been raised concerning not only public space, but also transportation, pedestrian safety, stormwater, and the overall impact of the project within the neighborhood.

In my view it wouldn’t be beneficial to have continued lengthy delays. I’d like to see us make a decision and then move forward, one way or the other. From my perspective that means working in coordination with the County review process to develop a smaller structure, and coming up with a timetable for when we’d have a final vote.

  1. Would you promote multifamily construction by offering additional relief from rent stabilization for new buildings, as the District and many other jurisdictions do? 

It would depend on the impact such a change would have on housing prices in the area. But my sense is that it would be preferable to take advantage of Federal and other tax incentives and the like as a means of promoting the creation of more rental units. Exempting or partially exempting new construction from rent stabilization will tend to make it harder for lower income residents to afford to live in the City (at a time when we already have too many residents who are housing burdened), and risk further exacerbating our housing affordability challenges.

  1. City public engagement currently over-represents the views of older, white, and home-owning residents. How would you change the process to better engage renters, minorities, immigrants, and young families?

There are many reasons the current engagement approach isn’t working, which means we’ll have to use multiple strategies to get to a point where we hear from a more representative cross section of residents on an ongoing basis. I’d like us to do a deeper dive into the results of the previous resident survey and focus group findings, and consider conducting additional focus groups in multiple languages to help determine new approaches. Meanwhile, we should also explore whether the engagement model being used for the New Hampshire Avenue Recreation Center, as well as the Task Force approach we’ll be following on reimaging public safety, may have valuable applications to broader engagement on municipal matters.

In addition — and some these ideas may make more sense for a post-COVID period — we should think about testing on a pilot basis strategies to encourage participation in Council meetings such as periodically holding meetings in other locations in the City (including potentially houses of worship or apartment buildings); scheduling Council meetings for times other than weeknights; having real-time translation of Council meeting discussions and debates; including more detail on Council meetings in the monthly newsletter; making child care available on a more regular basis during meetings; and offering “door prizes” for attendance at Council meetings. Separate from Council meetings, we should continue our efforts to make the membership of resident committees more representative of the City’s population; heavily publicize the Council’s priority setting retreats perhaps with watch parties in coordination with tenant associations, and have occasional informal Council roundtables (with several Councilmembers from other Wards) in multi-family buildings, houses of worship, businesses, day care centers, etc.

6. Takoma Park, Piney Branch, Rolling Terrace ES, and Montgomery Blair HS are at or over capacity.  Do you support advocating the Montgomery County Public Schools system for a new local school? How else would you work with MCPS to provide sufficient capacity and quality for our growing community?

The Council has weighed in on this topic previously, including during the discussions about the potential renovation of Piney Branch Elementary School, and in the context of the MCPS Site Selection Committee. We need to stay active: I’m very disappointed that there’s been a failure or inability on the part of the County school system to appropriately take into account the important role Takoma Park plays — especially through our rent stabilization law — in providing affordable housing for immigrant and lower income families. When that’s combined with chronic under-projections of student population growth in our area, we end up with insufficient space and over-crowded schools. Particularly now that we have a potential school site at the former Adventist Hospital property, I’d like to see us undertake a coordinated effort to press the school board and our other County elected officials to make siting of a new elementary school in or near the City a high priority.

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