At its Monday, February 6, 2023 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss lowering the voting age to 16, permitting non-US citizens to vote, setting term limits, creating representative districts, changing the election year, and changing to ranked-choice voting as well as several issues affecting renters and landlords. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are North Stonestreet Avenue sidewalk improvements and city-wide bus stops improvements, among others. I suspect this will be a loooong meeting with these topics.
There are several major changes to voting and elections under consideration, prompted by recommendations by the Charter Review Commission. The arguments for and against each of these recommendations is too lengthy to even summarize here, so read the report for yourself online. At this meeting, the City Council will hold a Public Hearing to accept comments from residents and will then decide whether to move forward, stop, or send it to the voters for their advice (this last happened in 2013).
The Mayor and Council has decided to move forward with the expansion of City Council from five to seven members (which includes the Mayor) and will be reviewing the changes to the City Code at this meeting. As written, this expansion will occur in this year’s (2023) election (I’m unsure what will happen if the Council decides to change the election year to align with presidential elections).
On other matters, the Council will discuss the Voluntary Rent Guidelines, which includes a recommended maximum rent increase of 5.8 percent (in 2022, it was 0.4 percent). Secondly, they are considering radon testing for basement or ground-contact rentals, which follows Montgomery County’s requirements, and that the City be allowed to inspect rental facilities if they suspect code violations (currently, “property owners are not obligated to allow City inspectors to inspect the inside of the rental facility”).
More details in the 143-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_02062023-6800.
At its Monday, January 30, 2023 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss increasing the number of city councilmembers and annexing 1202 Seven Locks Road. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are the purchase of three dump trucks. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on the Town Center Master Plan.
The City Council will consider the Charter Review Commission’s recommendation to add two new councilmember seats, which would expand from five to seven seats (which includes the Mayor). This meeting will include a Public Hearing to accept comments from the community before proceeding to a Resolution. In 2013, voters were not in favor of a change but the Charter Review Commission included it among their sixteen recommendations in September 2022 with the following commentary:
“Increasing the number of seats on the city council will allow the council to be more engaged with the residents and to learn more about the communities within the city. This could provide more opportunities for people to run for office and to serve their city as well as their communities, especially based on the increased size of the population since 2012. Currently how much does the council know and understand about the history and circumstances of the city they represent? If the number of seats increased from 5 to 7, depending on the outcome of the results from an election, parts of the city that are not represented as well as other parts of the city could be actively involved in city politics by having a seat at the table.
“Expanding the number of seats could have a possible impact on decisions that require a majority vote and could avoid a vote being deadlock because of the size of the council and not enough votes to move forward. Moreover, increasing the number could allow for the members of the council to meet with the residents where they are and not just when decisions are being made about the place where they live, work or go to school. In the past, each council member had a day set aside to meet with the residents who wanted to have conversations outside of public meetings. To continue this practice by having more seats on the council could allow residents to speak freely with council members who they feel understood their community especially when there is a need in the community or an issue that needs to be addressed. Ultimately, this could enhance the importance of consensus-building between the council and the residents.
“Finally, if council members engaged more with the residents outside the community they live in, it could provide more insight about voting on issues that come before them. So, expanding the size of the council can prove to really be effective for the city and its mavor and council.”
More details in the 97-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_01302023-6795.
On Tuesday, January 24 at 7:30 pm at the Twinbrook Community Recreation Center, the Twinbrook Community Association will be holding its regular community meeting—but it will be in person for the first time since 2020! The meeting will include information about Rockville’s Flood Mitigation Assistance Program (how homeowners and renters can reduce the cost of protecting their home from flooding), a discussion on the expansion of the Mayor and Council from five to seven members, and recognizing Melissa and Tony Downs as Twinbrookers of the Year for their extraordinary support of Twinbrook Elementary School PTA and the community.
At its Monday, January 23, 2023 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss if they will move forward with allowing accessory apartments and dwelling units for single family houses. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are elevator modernization for 50 Monroe Street (NTE $470,000); purchasing of Tasers (“electronic control devices”; $213,000), and agreements for two Maryland Bikeway Grants, among others. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on concept designs for the renovation of the outdoor pool at the Swim Center (built 1968, last renovated 1991; 2023 estimated renovation cost $9 million).
The City of Rockville has been exploring accessory dwelling units (ADUs) since 2019 and is now considering whether to move to the next step: developing regulations. ADUs are typically a second small home with a kitchen and bathroom on the same lot as an existing single family home. It allows more flexibility in neighborhoods with single family houses (the zoning that dominates Rockville) to accommodate different living situations more comfortably. For example, a grandparent could move in with their children, yet maintain a separate space (or downsize to a smaller home, allowing their children to move into the main house). Or as teenagers move into adulthood, they could have more privacy and independence while reducing expenses. Or it can allow a separate home office (businesses without employees or customers on site are currently allowed in single family neighborhoods). Secondly, it increases housing in a region that has a housing shortage without creating huge apartment or condo complexes. The homeowner can earn extra revenue, while the renter can obtain a more affordable and usually more comfortable place to live. So far, accessory buildings have gained the support of the Twinbrook Community Association, Lincoln Park Civic Association, East Rockville Civic Association, and West End Citizens Association and Montgomery County currently allows accessory dwelling units.
More details in the 182-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_01232023-6787.
At its Monday, December 12, 2022 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss the FY22 financial report and the FY24 budget priorities. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are a dozen items, including easements, services, grant agreement, and the tenth amendment to the interim management agreement with Morguard for Rockville Town Square, among others. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on priorities with the District 17 Delegation and recommendations from the 2020-22 Charter Review Commission.
The Charter Review Commission has developed recommendations for a wide variety of issues related to the City Charter (its constitution), including expanding the size of the City Council, term limits for councilmembers, alternative voting systems, translation of election materials, the scope and size of the Board of Supervisors of Elections, and increasing voter turnout. After forty meetings and interruptions due to the pandemic, the Commission is recommending that,
“the City maintain the status-quo on several topics (e.g., staggered Council terms and alternative methods of advertising elections), the Commission is also recommending bolder changes to City policy and operations in order to enhance accountability and transparency, increase voter turnout, and advance racial equity and social justice. Notably, the Commission is recommending such reforms as an increase in the size of the Council, implementation of term limits on the Mayor and Council, creation of representative districts, exploring changing the time of the election, and allowing residents who are not United States citizens and those at least 16 years of age to vote in municipal elections.”
More details in the 465-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_12122022-6765.
Heard on the street: things are heating up in the West End neighborhood regarding design guidelines proposed by the West End Citizens Association. I suspect this is related to the 2040 Comprehensive Plan. A website opposed to WECA’s action can be found at PreserveTheWestEnd.com.
At its Monday, November 14, 2022 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss financial management policies, state legislative priorities, and a zoning change to allow self-storage warehouses in the MXE Zone.
The zoning change is prompted by U-Haul Inc., which owns a four-story office building at 1355 Piccard Drive, an industrial/office area between I-270 and King Farm, north of West Gude Drive. This is in a MXE Zone, which was created to generate more jobs by allowing retail, institutional, and residential uses that were not permitted in the former I-3 (Industrial) Zone. City staff calculated that, “with about 153,000 square feet of floor area, the applicant’s building could accommodate about 600 employees at 250 square feet per person. With only the retail and rental shop and self-storage, there would likely be only five or six employees on-site”—which fails to meet the intent of the MXE Zone. Secondly, Ann Mitchell, CEO of Montgomery Hospice, a tenant in the building, stated that the self-storage warehouse was not compatible with existing adjacent uses, including a private school (The Children in the Shoe) and a senior adult day care center.
At its September 6 meeting, the Planning Commission voted 6-1 to deny a zoning change to allow self-storage warehouses in the MXE Zone. Commissioner Sam Pearson, however, supported the change because self-storage warehouses “brought value to the community” and would not “generate traffic issues nor was it unsightly to the surrounding area.” This issue reminds me of the lawsuit by ezStorage that put Mayor Bridget Newton and Councilmember Beryl Feinberg right in the middle of a legal storm. I wonder how they’ll respond to U-Haul when it comes before the City Council.
More details in the 224-page agenda packet are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_11142022-6746.
At its Monday, October 24, 2022 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss creating RHE Scarborough Square (no staff report was available when the agenda was posted). On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) is a license to KBSG to construct a 47-space parking lot at King Farm Farmstead Park, among others. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports from the Board of Supervisors of Elections and the Traffic and Transportation Commission.
The Board of Supervisors of Elections is recommending a “series of amendments to the City Charter and to Chapter 8 of the City Code,” including lowering the voting age to 16 years; increasing the deadline for submitting nominations for candidates to city council from 60 to 90 days prior to the election; prohibit campaigning within 50 feet of a ballot drop box; requiring electronic filing of all campaign finance reports; and limiting campaign committees (“slates”) to one election cycle. Some of these changes will be controversial.
The Traffic and Transportation Commission is requesting its scope of responsibilities be updated from its creation in the 1970s, including two ex-officio, non-voting seats from the Bicycle Advisory Committee and Pedestrian Advocacy Committee; meetings be held quarterly; advise on “opportunities to advance a transportation and mobility network that is safe, equitable, convenient, fiscally resilient, and environmentally sustainable;” “approve the official names of newly constructed or reconstructed bridges” (but why not streets, turnpikes, highways, intersections, bus shelters, and parking lots?); and changing its name to the Transportation and Mobility Commission. So let me get this straight: there are three city commissions responsible for “transportation and mobility” in the city (Traffic and Transportation, Bicycle, and Pedestrian)? Seems like a lot more bureaucracy than needed for such a small city. Can’t they be combined with a balanced representation of all three interests? That might result in better solutions and more efficiency.
More details in the 109-page agenda packet (21 pages of which are devoted to proclamations) are available at https://www.rockvillemd.gov/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/_10242022-6728.
At its Monday, October 17, 2022 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss the FY2024 budget and adoption of a master plan for Red Gate Park. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are agreements with the Rockville Football League and the Road Runners Club, among others. The Mayor and Council will also receive a report from the Financial Advisory Board.
The Financial Advisory Board‘s report found no issues with City finances under its scope of work, however, it also revealed several significant differences between them and the City Council and staff. The Board believes that all recreation and parks programs should recover their full costs in fees, however, the Council wants some programs to be subsidized for specific residents to be affordable. Secondly, the Board disagrees with the staff on the handling of donations. It’s unclear what the staff position is, but the Board seems to be recommending that a written policy be adopted. Finally, there seems to be a disconnect between Council priorities and city department goals. No examples are provided, but the city has hired Raftelis to review performance management practices.Continue reading →
At its Monday, October 3, 2022 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss priorities for federal funding; a $7.5 M renovation for 6 Taft Court (a new facility for Public Works and Recreation and Parks departments); a Town Center “Road Diet” project (narrowing lanes on Washington Street and Middle Lane); FY 2024 budget; and an amendment to the Twinbrook Commons development on Chapman Avenue (adding parking spaces for electric vehicles). On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are approval of easements for King Buick and King Farm Farmstead Parking Lot; authorizing the City Manager to begin electricity supply agreements; awarding a $1.4 M contract for Storm Water Management (SWM) Facilities improvements; closing of an unnamed road adjacent to Twinbrook Quarter, and approving a charter for the zoning ordinance rewrite, among others. The Mayor and Council will also receive reports on performance measurement, make appointments to boards and commissions, and declare October 10 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day to recognize the “conquest, enslavement, displacement, and disease” which decimated the native people in the area.Continue reading →
At its Monday, April 18, 2022 meeting, the Rockville Mayor and Council will discuss an ordinance to establish an education commission, the management agreement with Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRIT) for Rockville Town Square, and once again, the FY 2023 budget and what to do with the remaining ARPA funds. On the Consent Calendar (items approved without discussion) are contracts for tree care ($900,000 annually) and landscape maintenance ($193,000 annually); $250,000 grant agreement for Lincoln Park Community Center improvements; and six proclamations. The Mayor and Council will also receive a report from the Human Rights Commission.Continue reading →