TAKOMA PARK – The Takoma Park City Council went over legislative priorities with the District 20 delegation on Dec. 11 to push its agenda onto the table in Annapolis.
The largest priorities boiled down into three major groups; the impact of the Purple Line light rail on the community, transportation (with an emphasis on New Hampshire Avenue) and the environment. Other priorities included revenue generation options, with interest in the forthcoming report from the Marijuana Legalization Work Group, and school funding for a growing student population.
The Purple Line and its construction have seen heated debate throughout the county. On the one hand, it is seen as a blessing, connecting parts of the state and adding additional public transportation. On the other hand, its construction will impede traffic and may negatively impact local businesses.
Councilmember Talisha Searcy expressed these concerns and asked the delegation for further help supporting housing developments (especially affordable housing), small businesses, providing infrastructure assistance for municipalities affected by the Purple Line and requiring the State Highway Administration to improve infrastructure on roads directly and indirectly impacted by Purple Line construction.
Searcy made a point to emphasize Opportunity Zones, a program that provides “federal tax incentives for investment in distressed communities over the next 10 years,” according to the state. She also expressed the need for more incentives in these zones, based on her experiences.
“One of the things that I’ve learned about the opportunity zone process is that its kind of like a tiramisu; you need incentive on top of incentive on top of incentive on top of incentive to make that whole thing delicious enough for someone to come along and take on the project, and so what we need is more cream,” said Searcy.
New Hampshire Avenue is also part of Takoma Park’s plans for the future, as the council described the street as a “golden opportunity” for economic development. To support this sentiment, the city has already created sector plans, zoning and concept plans for appropriate development as well as cited projects such as the Purple Line and the Ethan Allen Gateway as proof of improvement work.
Takoma Park even put numbers to support the benefit of redeveloping the street.
According to the city, infrastructure work on the street could lead to potential tax revenue of $2.7 million for the state of Maryland, $21 million for counties (with more going towards Montgomery County) and $6.1 million towards Takoma Park.
With transportation, one request that Takoma Park has is to set their own speed limits. The city feels like the state regulations do not fit their needs sufficiently, and Councilmember Kacy Kostiuk noted that a push for this would be ideal, as well as fit in with the county’s Vision Zero plan.
“We’re interested in seeking opportunities that will allow local jurisdictions like Takoma Park to have lower speed limits and to ensure the safety of our residents through setting the best speed limit for the location and not being restricted on what we can do based on state regulations,” said Kostiuk.
The environment is an obvious priority for the city as well, with its history of environmental activism. Councilmember Cindy Dyballa said the environmental priorities centered around legislation that looks at climate change and energy use as well as infrastructure to help the city adapt to a changing world.
“We are also looking at investment in infrastructure, investment in sustainable activities that will help us to adapt, and as someone said earlier, that will take money,” said Dyballa.
David Moon, delegate for District 20, expressed interest in having the city take advantage of the Opportunity Zone Program, but noted that recent enhancements might not work out in the best interest of the city’s needs. The state recently passed about $65 million in Opportunity Zone enhancements, according to Moon.
“The strange thing is if you look around District 20 those areas are White Oak near the FDA campus, almost all of downtown Silver Spring, Long Branch and the Takoma-Langley area. Some of those, I would say, don’t need any help getting cranes out there to help build things, some of them do,” said Moon.
Moon noted that, at the state level, there is more money coming from the state for tax credits if they happen in an opportunity zone; however, these funds are more accessible to people “with lobbyists and the ability to plan 10-year budgets for their business,” according to Moon.
Searcy agreed, saying that the rules as they are written now are great for bringing in new business but not keeping small business owners. It impacts Takoma Park, especially hard because of the immigrant small business owners in the city whose businesses, according to Searcy, may not survive the disruption that the Purple Line will bring without assistance.