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?
Yes. When I first became Mayor, I convened a community conversation with local and national housing experts and residents to look at steps the City could take to address the affordable housing crisis. After this discussion, I led concrete actions over the last few years, including:
- Adoption of the City’s Housing and Economic Development Plan;
- Creation of a housing reserve fund to support affordable housing efforts;
- Establishment of a homestretch down payment assistance program that assists low-income residents in the purchase of homes inside the city limits; and
- Now, the City is entering into a partnership with Habitat for Humanity to create affordable missing middle housing.
It is critical that we preserve our rent stabilization program, which makes the City one of the most affordable in the area for renters. But we need to do more. The Housing and Economic Development Plan sets forth the City’s plan to preserve existing affordable housing while “increasing the number of units and variety of housing types across the affordability spectrum that are attractive to a diverse demographic and do not result in economically segregated communities or increase economic segregation.” The Plan lays out strategies for achieving these objectives. It also provides direction to City staff, who have developed — and continue to do so — additional implementation steps to move the City forward.
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?
a. Takoma-Langley Crossroads (Purple Line station)
The Takoma-Langley Crossroads area has a rich and culturally diverse range of businesses. The Crossroads Farmers’ Market connects local farmers and small entrepreneurs with community members on a weekly basis in season. We have supported our businesses in the area throughout the COVID-19 crisis and before that to deal with the impact of Purple Line construction. This area has long been underserved by City, County and State governments. Over the last five years I have made it a priority to advocate for the area, bringing county and state officials there so that they understand its needs and opportunities. Specifically, I worked closely with Delegate Wilkins and State Senator Will Smith, who were able to allocate $2 million in the state budget to fund a grant program to help businesses affected by Purple Line Construction last year.
The Purple Line project is currently stalled, but will hopefully restart in the not too distant future. Its completion will create both opportunities and challenges. As the state determines next steps, we are taking advantage of the pause to advocate for better pedestrian and bike access, an improved tree canopy, and additional focus on better managing (and reducing) automobile traffic.
Ultimately, my vision for that area is sustainable mixed-use development that takes advantage of the Purple Line and other public transit options, protects and supports local businesses, enhances walkability, provides needed community facilities, creates a sense of place in the area and fosters greater economic opportunities for local residents and businesses. Any such development should expand and improve the community’s affordable housing and commercial options. The Purple Line will make the area much more accessible for residents who need to travel for work and we need to support creative ways to maintain existing housing and incentivize new affordable housing near the public transportation hub it will create. I support the PLCC Housing Action Plan.
I also recommend that folks take a look at the New Hampshire Avenue Corridor Concept Plan, which sets forth a plan for improving and developing all of New Hampshire Avenue.
b. Takoma Park Recreation Center (New Hampshire Ave.)
The Takoma Park Recreation Center is outdated, small, inefficient and unable to meet the needs of residents, particularly young people. We have been moving forward with plans to replace the Center. In 2019, I led the Council in taking a significant step forward by acquiring the land on which the Center sits from the County, putting the City in control of the development process. Recently, the City engaged in a community input event to get feedback on what residents want and need from the project. And, we will continue to seek input as we move forward. My current goal for the project is use the land for a mixed use project that allows the creation of a new and expanded recreation center and additional high density and affordable housing at no cost to the City. But, as we move forward I remain open to new suggestions and feedback as we continue to reimagine this important community space.
c. Washington Adventist Hospital Campus
I would like to see the WAH Campus used for education, housing, and healthcare. The site is large enough to accommodate a new elementary school with room for early childhood education as well as housing and healthcare services. We must continue to work with County, MCPS, State & Adventist Healthcare leaders to find a way to turn the loss of the Adventist Hospital into an opportunity for positive change in the community.
3. 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?
Over the last six years we have had dozens of discussions and I have written extensively about, spoken, and voted on this project. The last Council vote was in July, 2018. I voted in favor of submitting the draft site plan to the County Planning
Department for technical review. The 2018 Resolution, along with the Development Agreement, requires among other things:
- Storm-water treatment significantly exceeding City requirements;
- Parking for area businesses;
- Dedicated public space;
- No formula retail stores;
- LEED Gold certification or higher;
- Minimization of impacts to neighboring properties;
- Accommodation of Co-op parking and delivery needs;
- Creation of an energy neutral building.
We have an opportunity for a project that will enhance walkability and vitality of the area for neighboring small businesses, improve stormwater treatment (at no City cost) for neighboring streets, eliminate an unsightly and impervious parking lot, align with environmental goals of increased density near existing transit (rail and bus), and provide the City hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue to support other important initiatives, such as affordable housing.
I support continuing the process of technical review and having the project come back to the City Council for discussion and vote before it goes before the County Planning Board. We do not yet know if the next iteration will meet our requirements, but I believe we should continue the process and allow the technical experts at the various State, County, and City agencies the opportunity to conduct a full and thorough review for consideration by the Council.
4) Would you promote multifamily construction by offering additional relief from rent stabilization for new buildings, as the District and many other jurisdictions do?
Rent stabilization is an important tool for the City to maintain affordability in Takoma Park. Rents in the City are lower than elsewhere in Montgomery County because of our willingness to protect renters through rent stabilization and other measures. The City has long provided for organizations to rehabilitate older properties and no longer come under rent stabilization, as long as these projects continue to support our affordable housing goals. For example, landlords who provide affordable housing to low- and moderate-income households under contract with a government agency (like the State of Maryland) may apply for an exemption from rent stabilization. I have been and remain open to considering a variety of housing strategies that would increase the stock of affordable housing in the City while continuing to use rent stabilization and other tools to protect our most vulnerable residents.
5. 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?
I have always made it a priority to listen and to ensure all voices are heard. Often that’s easy in Takoma Park, where many residents are passionate and active. But some groups in the City, such as immigrants, Black and Brown residents, and the young, find it harder to be heard.
During my time in office, Takoma Park became one of the first cities of our size in the country to adopt a racial equity framework for decision-making. This decision has put equity consideration front and center in the work of the city and has made concrete differences in people’s lives. For instance, the City prioritized building the new bus shelter at the corner of New Hampshire Avenue and 410, as opposed to other locations in the City, by using racial equity criteria.
Among the things I have done to better engage under-represented voices:
- Moved some Council Meetings to the Takoma Park Recreation Center to improve access for residents living near New Hampshire Avenue;
- Led efforts to ensure Black and Brown young people’s voices were part of the selection of new Police Chief;
- Held community meetings, lunches, and coffees in apartment buildings, restaurants, and other spaces throughout Takoma Park to hear voices that are often not included in community conversations (and to support economic development throughout the City); and
- Helped establish a Youth Council to ensure the Council receives input from young people in the City.
There is more work to do in this area. Currently, the Council is reexamining how our committees are structured to ensure the inclusion of diverse voices. We are also developing a task force to address police reform and public safety issues so that we can move forward on these issues in a way that centers Black and Brown voices and experiences. I support bringing expertise on this issue into the City government by hiring a chief equity officer who would be responsible for gathering data, operationalizing racial equity framework, and helping the City and Council find new ways to engage residents and under-represented voices
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?
I have and will continue to advocate for a new school in Takoma Park. In 2018, under my leadership, the City adopted a Resolution that calls for MCPS and Montgomery County to:
- Allocate the funds required for the expansion of Piney Branch Elementary School which is necessary to partially accommodate the growing population of school age children;
- Study the feasibility of using the Washington Adventist Hospital campus, which meets the criteria for school site selection, for the location of a new school;
- Develop a process for siting new schools when no available site is identified in a Master Plan;
- Give serious consideration to acquiring privately owned land for schools, especially in dense Downcounty locations, with both the short-term costs of land purchase and the long-term costs of busing students weighed into decisions; and
- Ensure that walkability, sustainability, racial equity, and the development of strong community schools be important factors in decision-making about school sites
The resolution is not nearly enough. We need to continue to work with our colleagues at other levels of government to move forward. I have deep relationships with members of the County Council, MCPS and our state delegation and will continue to make sure that our voices are heard as the County makes decisions about new schools. I appreciate what my fellow elected officials say about this work. As County Councilmember Hucker recently commented:
“The way she advocates really matters as well. Some electeds send us a letter and then they’re done. They phone it in. That’s not Kate’s style. Kate not only sends the letter. She testifies, she testifies in person, she sets up delegation meetings, she comes to Rockville and meets with colleagues individually and lines up the votes to make big things happen.”
While the City of Takoma Park does not control our local schools, I plan to continue advocating to make things happen and to ensure that our residents continue to have access to high quality public schools.