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Ask your Metro funding questions tonight at our live Q&A

Metro is staring down ever-more-serious long and short-term funding challenges. Tonight at 6 pm, regional officials and experts will tackle these challenges, including the prospect of dedicated funding, at a livestreamed forum we're cosponsoring.

Once the event starts, the player above will livestream it. After it's over, we'll swap out the livestream player for a recording when it's available.

The two-hour discussion will kick off with remarks from WMATA Board Chair (and DC Councilmember) Jack Evans and a response from Rob Puentes, the President of the Eno Center for Transportation and fellow at the Brookings Institution. Then, Maryland state delegate Marc Korman (D-16), Kate Mattice of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (the Virginia signatory to the WMATA compact), Emeka Moneme of Federal City Council, and Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth will join them for a panel discussion and one hour of audience Q&A.

The forum is happening at Georgetown University's Urban and Regional Planning program, hosted by the Coalition for Smarter Growth and several partner groups including GGWash. Uwe Brandes, Executive Director of Georgetown's planning program will moderate.

If you have questions during or before the event, you can tweet them to using the hashtag #WMATAchat. During the Q&A portion of the program, we'll pose as many of them as possible.

Public Spaces

A record number of people petitioned for a dog park at the Takoma Rec Center, but it's still not happening

In December 2015, dog owners across Ward 4 submitted the largest petition ever to build a dog park in DC. But a small group of neighbors put up a big fight, and last week the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) made it official: no dog park. Here's what happened.

Image from Wikipedia Commons.

In late 2014, a group of dog owners that live around the Takoma Recreation Center started meeting regularly to let their dogs play together in one of the fields.

It turns out the closest canine closure was at Upshur Park, which is the only dog park in Ward 4, and is about 2.5 miles away from the rec center. With the goal of getting a dog park built closer to them, the neighbors organized into the Northern Ward 4 Dog Park Group. The full list of DC's 13 dog parks can be found here.

Here's how DPR decides whether to build a dog park

The application to build a dog park in DC is a gauntlet of work. It requires the applicant to gather lots of signatures of support from their neighbors; it requires a letter of support from the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC); it also requires applications be posted in DC Register for a 30-day public comment period.

After the public comment period, a Dog Park Application Review Committee reviews the entire application and provides the DPR Director a recommendation, but DPR's regulations give the DPR Director the sole authority to decide whether to approve or reject applications.

The criteria for making that ultimate decision? The preamble for DPR's regulations on dog parks states that flexibility is required when making decisions about where to put them because DC is dense and parkland is scarce.

DPR's regulations also state that dog parks should be placed on under-utilized land where possible, but not in areas specifically designated as playgrounds or children's play areas, including athletic fields and courts.

Neighbors found all kinds of options for a dog park, but they keep getting shot down

In early 2015, the Dog Park Group started talking to DPR and neighbors of the rec center about possible locations for a dog park. If you look at the map below, you'll see the corner of 4th and Whittier Streets, NW marked as Site #1, as that's where the Dog Park Group initially proposed that the park be located.

Satellite view of the proposed sites for a dog park at the Takoma Recreation Center. On this map, north is to the right. Image from Google Maps.

All that sits at that site is an abandoned shuffleboard court and some trees. Across the street, there are a few single-family homes.

Close-up of the Dog Park Group's first proposed site. Image from Google Maps.

I interviewed Michael Cohen, a representative from the Dog Park Group, and he said DPR initially agreed to this site. But, he added, after they gathered almost 300 signatures for their petition, a DPR official told him that a few neighbors that lived across the street objected to the proposed site because it was too close to their homes and DPR advised picking another site.

I asked DPR about this claim, and Communications Director Gwendolyn Crump told me the first site was rejected by the Department of Energy and Environment due to concerns about stormwater runoff.

Cohen told me his group worked with members of the ANC covering the rec center, ANC 4B, to find a better site. As shown in the map below, the second site was not adjacent to any streets or housing, instead bordering the Takoma indoor pool and was just north of Coolidge High School.

Close-up of the Dog Park Group's second proposed site. Image from Google Maps.

Cohen told me DPR again initially supported the site location, so the group again began conducting outreach and collecting signatures. But, again, prior to making a formal application to DPR, he claims that DPR told them that the principal for Coolidge High School objected to the location.

I also asked Crump about this, and she said that a nearby church objected to the site over noise concerns.

Cohen said the Dog Park Group was disappointed but again worked with ANC 4B to find another alternative site. As shown on the map below, the third chosen site was near the intersection of Underwood and 3rd Streets NW, wedged between a baseball/soccer field and a parking lot.

Close-up of the Dog Park Group's third proposed site. Image from Google Maps.

Again, DPR initially supported this location for a dog park, so the Dog Park Group began to conduct outreach to their neighbors. The group collected 563 signatures in favor of building at this site—the largest dog park petition ever recorded by DPR.

The people petitioning for a dog park made a strong case for one

The group's December 2015 application made a pretty clear case for why northern Ward 4 should have a dog park. The zip code of the Takoma Rec Center, 20011, has the second-highest number of registered dogs in DC; DPR's own master plan, Play DC, designated a future dog park around the rec center; and finally, the rec center has more than six acres of unutilized land.

Also in December 2015, the group managed to secure a written endorsement of support from ANC 4B. As required, the application was published in the DC register from February 26 - May 1, 2016 (even though DPR's regulations only require 30-days of public comment).

DPR was not required but held community meetings in July 2015, October 2015, March 2016 and April 2016. The Dog Park Group is opposed primarily by a small, opaque organization known as the "Friends of the Takoma Recreation Center". That group is one of many community advisory groups created under Mayor Anthony Williams to help DPR manage its facilities.

The Dog Park Group made repeated attempts to work with the Friends of the Rec Center toward a compromise. I attended a public Friends meeting in March of this year to observe the discussion and wrote about it on my blog, but here's what they put in writing to the Dog Park Group as their bottom line:

Our mission is to support a clean, safe and fun environment at our park. The Friends' focus is and has always been programs and activities for children. We hope you find a community that is interested in supporting your cause.

Despite opposition, on September 12, 2016, the Dog Park Application Review Committee voted 5-3 in favor of the third chosen site.

Map showing some of the addresses of the Petitioners seeking a Dog Park at the Takoma Rec Center. Image from Google Maps.

This month, the dog park effort received a formal "no"

On October 16, 2016, DPR Director Keith Anderson formally denied the Dog Park Group's application. Mr. Anderson noted that he considered the application, community meetings, the public comments and various letters and emails in support and opposition. Despite a positive endorsement from the DPARC, Mr. Anderson's denial rested on three reasons:

  1. Its too-close proximity to nearby residences' front porches
  2. Its failure to streamline with the existing use of the open space where adults and children play, walk, and rest
  3. Its location between two heavily used athletic fields
Mr. Anderson ended his denial letter with the following statement:
Please note, however, this does not foreclose the possibility of a dog park being located in an alternative site within the community. DPR is committed to collaborating with the community to ensure the needs of dog enthusiasts are met.
Dog owners need a place to let their dogs play

I have reviewed Mr. Anderson's stated reasons for denying the Dog Park Group's application and find them to be curious when you consider that DC's other dog parks are mostly on DPR parks and adjacent to housing and athletic fields. The larger issue, however, is that DPR completely ignored the preamble to its own regulations, which requires flexibility and compromise. Playgrounds can and already do co-exist for both kids and dogs.

According to some reports, there are now more households with dogs (43 million) than with kids (38 million), and urban dog parks are the fastest growing. That's because urban dog owners usually lack the outside space needed to let their dogs exercise and play with other canines.

Image from Wikipedia Commons.

The Dog Park Group proposed using unutilized land at the Takoma Rec Center to let their dogs exercise and socialize. They followed all of DPR's rules, made multiple attempts to find a site that DPR would support, conducted extensive outreach with the opposition group and received a positive recommendation from the review committee. What more could they have done?

Where do we go from here?

I contacted Keith Anderson and posed a few questions to better understand his denial letter. DPR's communications director politely responded to some of my questions, although I was told to submit a Freedom Of Information Act request to answer others.

My final question to DPR was "is Director Anderson willing to reconsider his decision?" DPR responded basically no, but that they have already contacted Mr. Cohen and plan to collaborate "to find an area within Takoma that is best situated to handle a dog park while not impacting use of the park by those without dogs."

I confirmed that DPR did indeed contact Cohen to discuss an alternative site. But the entire experience is ponderous - why is building this dog park on unused land so controversial? Could the Dog Park Group have done more to alleviate concerns by the Friends group?

If you think DPR's director should support the Dog Park Group application, you can let him know by sending an e-mail to and copy Mr. Cohen ( If you live in Ward 4, please copy your e-mail to Councilmember Brandon Todd at (I contacted Brandon Todd to get a comment for this post and he did not respond).

Full disclosure: The author lives in Maryland and has no "dog" in this fight, but has a dog that loves to play with other dogs.

Cross-posted at Takoma Talk.


Prince George's County leaders join the chorus to keep late-night rail service

The WMATA Board of Directors is considering a proposal to permanently end late-night rail service. Many elected officials from Montgomery County have spoken up to oppose the cuts, as has the public. Now, Prince George's leaders are doing the same.

Photo by James Jackson on Flickr.

Metro staff is proposing that cuts to late-night rail service, which are currently in effect as part of SafeTrack, become permanent so that there's more time for much-needed system maintenence. As of now, if this plan moves forward, Metro customers would have to turn to paltry bus service for public transportation late at night.

WMATA staff has asked the Board to make one of these sets of hours of operation official. Image from WMATA.

Many Greater Greater Washington contributors have called the idea terrible from the start, describing how it'd leave Metro with the most limited hours of any major transit system in the US and saying Metro has provided far too little evidence for why such a drastic move is actually necessary.

Last month, 40 Maryland elected officials, mostly from Montgomery County, sent a letter to WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld saying they, too, think this is a bad idea (though Montgomery County Council Transportation Committee chair Roger Berliner and County Executive Ike Leggett were notably absent from the letter). But when September's letter went out, there was a key contingent missing from the group of signatures: most leaders from Prince George's County, including the whole county council, were never given the opportunity to sign on—or not.

As an elected official in Prince George's, I volunteered to help set the record straight. Over 50 elected leaders, including seven members of the state legislature and three county council members from Prince George's County, have joined me to send a letter (which you can read in full here) to hammer home the following points:

  • No proposal put before the public has explained why permanently closing every line of the Metrorail system during the pre-SafeTrack late-night hours is necessary on a continuing basis.
  • The economic future of our region depends on achieving a jobs-housing balance through transit-oriented development, including in mixed urban-suburban jurisdictions like Prince George's County. A transit system that supports live-work-play hours, not just white-collar work hours, is an essential foundation and a social justice issue.
  • We ask that the WMATA Board provide a more transparent study of the equity and ridership impacts of this proposed change as well as consider alternatives to improve maintenance before making a decision.
I thank my council colleague Jesse Christopherson and County Councilmember Deni Taveras for their invaluable help in circulating this letter for consideration. Every county council member, along with County Executive Rushern Baker, had the chance to sign on. As in Montgomery County, I'm struck by how many local leaders do not seem to realize the significance of what is at stake for Metrorail.

The overwhelming response from many local municipal leaders, who are closest to the people who will be most impacted by this proposal, and many of whom are personally, professionally, and politically invested in Metrorail speaks volumes. But it is clear to me that we will all need to engage more as advocates to help our county and state decision makers understand what WMATA needs, and how vital WMATA is to our communities.

So...what's next?

Before the board makes any decision, WMATA staff will analyze whether the proposed service change would violate the civil rights of minorities and low-income people (this is called a Title 6 analysis). I spoke to Malcolm Augustine, Prince George's County alternate representative to the WMATA Board, who asserted "that analysis and the a part of the information that goes into any kind of position that the board will eventually take."

Augustine also emphasized that SafeTrack alone is not sufficient to clear a maintenance backlog that took decades to accumulate, and that more track access at night means more continuous hours for maintenance.

Maintenence doesn't have to mean permanent closures

Will suspending late-night service for some length of time create enough of a window for WMATA to clear the maintenance backlog? Will the board consider weekend closures on a line-by-line basis? There are very basic questions still to be answered before this proposed change in service can be thoughtfully considered. I hope the WMATA Board will ask these questions, and not just react to the proposal that is in front of them.

We all understand the imperative to improve safety and reliability in the system. Otherwise, the downward spiral ridership is in will only accelerate. However, to pose a strict dichotomy between safety and service is a false and harmful framing.

WMATA needs to transparently document all the achievements and outcomes related to improved maintenance and reliability beyond increased track access, especially the corrective action items still pending from last year's FTA review, many of which concern WMATA's troubled Rail-Operations Control Center. The bottom line is that transit is far and away the safest mode of transportation, and reducing access to the safest mode in the name of safety cannot be a permanent solution.

Permanent is not reasonable. So the question for WMATA is, what about one year? 18 months? With measurable conditions that the board can revisit on a specified timeframe? SafeTrack has enjoyed wide support because of its transparency and widespread understanding of it's necessity, but also because so many share the goal of seeing Metrorail be a safe, reliable, world-class transit system. Let's be specific and transparent about a plan to get there.


Our endorsements for ANC in Ward 4

A series of hilly neighborhoods at the top of the District, both in terms of geography and elevation, comprises Ward 4. Residents here are from Petworth, Manor Park, Brightwood, 16th Street Heights, and Takoma, among other places. We found five candidates running in contested Ward 4 races for Advisory Neighborhood Commission to endorse, and we hope you go vote for them.

Map created with Mapbox, data from OpenStreetMap.


What are ANCs, and why should I care?

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs, are neighborhood councils of unpaid, elected representatives who meet monthly and weigh in with the government about important issues to the community. ANCs are very important on housing and transportation. An ANC's opposition to new housing, retail, a bike lane, bus improvements, etc. can stymie or significantly delay valuable projects. On the other hand, proactive and positive-thinking ANCs give the government suggestions for ways to improve the neighborhood and rally resident support.

Each ANC is divided into a number of Single Member Districts (SMDs), averaging about 2,000 voters. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes; Your vote—every vote—really counts.

Not sure which SMD you live in? Find out here.

Here are our endorsements

After reviewing the candidate responses from each competitive race in Ward 4, we chose five candidates to endorse. You can read their positions for yourself here, along with responses of many unopposed candidates.

Brightwood. Photo by las.photographs on Flickr.

In ANC 4A, we endorse Patience Singleton

ANC 4A is a long, narrow area that runs along 16th Street from the top corner of DC to Piney Branch Parkway. It's a place with a mix of churches, single family homes, parkland, and some apartment buildings, and one lots of people pass through as they commute down 16th Street from Maryland.

Transportation and the heavy commuter traffic are primary concerns for many neighbors here. Better bus service, both along 16th Street and nearby 14th Street, could make a huge difference to the area, but some proposed changes (for example, dedicated bus lanes) could require residents to sacrifice some on-street parking. We hope commissioners in this area will work through this situation with tact, but a clear preference for improving bus infrastructure and service.

One candidate in this area earned our endorsement: incumbent Patience Singleton. Singleton is running to keep her seat in 4A04, a small district on the eastern border of the ANC between Van Buren and Rittenhouse Streets.

Right away, Singleton was clear that "[a]s a commuter who uses the 16th Street bus lines most work days, [she] would support a dedicated bus lane along 16th Street" even if it meant removing some on-street parking. Similarly, she "strongly support[s] express bus options for the 14th Street corridor," and has worked closely with District agencies during her tenure to improve street and pedestrian safety around her SMD.

On housing, Singleton is positive and forward-thinking, something we wish we saw more of across DC:

ANC 4A will definitely add more market rate and affordable housing over the next decade; much of it will be placed on or near the Walter Reed complex. Additional housing will likely be available through the conversion and renovation of multifamily housing within our ANC. I am committed to ensuring the availability of various types of housing in ANC 4A.
Challenger Michael Bethea seems less amenable to change. When asked about his vision for the neighborhood in the next 20 years, he wrote: "I truly would like my neighborhood to look very similar to the way it looks now." Bethea avoided taking strong stances on many of the issues we asked about, and thought that the area has "sufficient" bike lanes and sidewalks. To us, giving Singleton a second term is the best option here.

Takoma Metro Station. Photo by RealVirginian on Flickr.

In ANC 4B, we endorse Natalee Snider and James Gaston III

To the east lies ANC 4B, a triangle formed by the DC/Maryland border to the east, Missouri Avenue and Riggs Road to the south, and Georgia Avenue to the west.

One long-standing and key issue for these neighborhoods has been the redevelopment saga at the Takoma Metro station. After years of back and forth, some in the community still are pushing to preserve the under-used parking lots there rather than build housing or encourage more neighborhood retail.

Nearly all of the races in 4B are contested, but we only found two candidates that clearly deserved our endorsement and hopefully your vote.

The first is Natalee Snider for ANC 4B06, covering the neighborhoods surrounding the Blair Road/Kansas Avenue intersection and nearby Fort Slocum Park.

As someone who frequently uses Takoma Metro station, Snider is cautiously in favor of redevelopment there, seeing "the benefit to both residents, commuters and local businesses [of] developing housing on an under utilized parking lot." She also had very specific recommendations for where housing could be added throughout the neighborhood to better accommodate new residents.

Snider is a self-proclaimed "strong proponent of a 'walkable/bikeable' neighborhood," and would advocate for the extension of both bike lanes and the Metropolitan Branch Trail within the ANC. Overall her responses were energetic, informed, and positive. As one reader wrote: "Thoughtful, responsive answers to the questions and she understands that increased density, more transit options and balance are all important if Ward 4 is to thrive."

Incumbent and current ANC chair Ron Austin has voted in opposition to many of the plans at the Takoma Metro stop over the years, citing traffic concerns and the needs to protect green space. We strongly encourage you to vote for Natalee Snider here.

Another candidate who earned our endorsement in 4B was James Gaston III, in the race for 4B07, along the DC/Maryland border. On the Takoma Metro station controversy, Gaston is clearly hesitant to take a firm side but says that the project proposal "has true merit" and later advocates for "more development near the Metro station."

Gaston's opponent, current commissioner Judi Jones, also responded to our survey but didn't reveal much in her short answers. In the end, we have a better idea of what Gaston's ANC term would look like and are willing to give him our support.

Petworth. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

In ANC 4C, we endorse Charlotte Nugent

If you live in Petworth or 16th Street Heights, you probably live in ANC 4C. Along the border of this ANC lies the Old Hebrew Home, which has long sparked debate over what to build there. A plan for redeveloping it is currently under review by the District government, and the new proposal could include large amounts of affordable housing.

Other issues for these neighborhoods include the previously mentioned proposals for express bus service on 14th street and the ongoing debate about condo redevelopments and "pop-ups" throughout the area.

Out of the ten seats in this ANC, only one has two candidates in the race: 4C01, near the intersection of Georgia and Colorado Avenues. Both candidates in this race are good, but in the end we decided Charlotte Nugent was the strongest choice.

Nugent's responses were thorough and at times incredibly in sync with Greater Greater Washington values (she is a long-time reader). She explains that she supports "100% affordable housing" at Hebrew Home because she believes there is a current unbalance in market-rate and affordable housing development in the neighborhood, and "we urgently need to build more affordable housing in the Petworth area to keep residents with average or lower incomes from being pushed out."

Her answer on the spread of often unpopular "pop-ups" is worth quoting in its entirety, as it deftly navigates the issue to highlight solid arguments for increased housing at multiple affordability levels, multi-income neighborhoods, and smarter transit-oriented growth:

The greater Petworth area has seen many condo and "pop-up" developments in recent years that cater to residents with higher incomes. While we welcome these residents to our neighborhood, there has not been an equal increase in units of affordable housing. In order to keep residents from being pushed out of our neighborhood, we must build more housing to accommodate all who desire to live here. At the same time, business corridors such as Georgia Avenue and upper 14th Street have not seen as much development, while businesses on these streets sometimes struggle to gain customers and traction.

We are in this situation because the DC government has not focused on encouraging development in the locations where it is most needed. Instead of waiting for condos and pop-ups to appear haphazardly, we should encourage development on corridors such as Georgia Avenue and 14th Street, and in areas where zoning already allows taller buildings."


Nugent's answers on transportation issues are similarly balanced and thoughtful; she is a strong supporter of bus improvements and bike lanes, being that her immediate neighborhood is not closely situated to Metro stations.

Opponent Sean Wieland is a good contender. He wants to advocate for both retail and housing at the Old Hebrew Home, including a percentage being affordable, and hopes the same style of development can happen along Georgia Avenue. Wieland also has clear ideas for bike lane improvements, though he is slightly skeptical of the proposal to add express bus service to 14th street.

In the end, it's great this SMD has such good candidates to choose from. This term, we think Charlotte Nugent is the one who should get a chance to serve.

Brightwood. Photo by thebrightwoodian on Flickr.

In ANC 4D, we endorse Amy Hemingway

Directly north of ANC 4C is 4D, including Rock Creek Cemetery and the neighborhood of Brightwood. One particularly salient topic for this area is the concentration of vacant buildings there, an issue current commissioner David Sheon (running unopposed this year) took on this summer on our blog.

What is more, the area has seen a spike in crime recently that demands the attention of ANC commissioners, and neighbors are anxious to see the continued revitalization of Georgia Avenue as a place for businesses to thrive.

Amy Hemingway caught our attention for 4D06, a district west of Sherman Circle. Hemingway believes "all of us should be aware of... if not concerned" about the issue of vacant housing, and supports current legislation that grew out of the ANC's work on this issue.

She also proclaims that "local economic development is a passion of [hers]," and that she will work hard to encourage smart development and support businesses along Georgia Avenue, including the production of more housing along the corridor.

Hemingway's opponent is incumbent Bill Quirk, who did not reveal much about his positions in his short responses to our survey. When asked about the biggest controversy in the neighborhood, he responded: "Whether or not to have benches in Sherman Circle has previously been a contentious issue. While previously I've opposed them, there has been one placed there recently and it hasn't had a negative impact. It might be time to revisit the issue."

Oh, ANCs, the place where neighbors tackle everything from affordable housing and crime to... benches. Unless you're a single-issue voter and your issue is benches, we suggest voting for Hemingway.

Want to read the responses of all of the Ward 4 ANC candidates who responded to our questionnaire and judge for yourself? Check out the full PDF for Ward 4. You can also see responses and our endorsements for all 8 wards on our 2016 ANC Endorsements Page, and we'll publish our rationale for those in upcoming posts.

These are official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington. To determine this year's endorsements, we sent a reader-generated candidate questionnaire to all ANC candidates. We then published candidate responses and collected feedback. Staff evaluated all candidate responses and feedback for contested races and presented endorsements to our volunteer editorial board, which then made the final decision.


Breakfast links: Looks like it's time to move

Photo by TheMuuj on Flickr.
Blacked out and neglected: Residents at a Prince George's condo building, many of them low-income renters, just had their utilities shut off because their management company hasn't paid bills in years. In DC, attorney general Karl Racine is suing a Bethesda developer for the 2nd time this year, alleging a "pattern of neglect" at one of their Ward 8 properties after over 120 housing code violations. (NBC, WCP)

Nursing home purchase is a go: A DC judge cleared the way for the Sidwell Friends School, which wants to expand its DC campus, to buy a nearby nursing home. Tenants usually get the first right of refusal, but not in this situation. (WBJ)

WMATA budget solutions: To close the agency's $275 million budget gap, WMATA GM Paul Wiedefeld will likely ask for fare hikes, service cuts, and more money from local governments. DC leaders say higher fares are not an option, though. (WAMU)

Ready for the future?: Our region is forecasted to have a million new residents by 2040. The Transportation Planning Board says that while many will still drive, new transit projects should lead to more people using transit, walking, and biking. (TPB)

Bad decision for education?: A Maryland State Board of Education member says Governor Hogan's decision to keep schools closed until after Labor Day harms students and the independence of the board, and has resigned because of it. (Post)

Unhappy family: DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Mayor Bowser are clashing over a family leave bill, with Mendelson wanting to fund 3 months of paid leave with an employer tax and Bowser worrying that'd be bad for business. (Post)

Experience down, injuries up: Metro doesn't have enough experienced crews to work on its tracks, so important info, even if Metro has it, sometimes goes overlooked. Also, there were more injuries to riders and workers this summer than in summer 2015. (WTOP)

And...: Here's a quick primer on the details of DC's vote for statehood (WAMU)...Uber is bringing flu shots right to your door (DCist)... This search engine lets you compare poverty rates, utility usage, and more across counties in the US (Route Fifty)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.


Proponents of term limits in Montgomery hope they'd mean more Republicans and less development. Both are unlikely.

A broad coalition of people who are frustrated with Montgomery County government have thrown their support behind giving elected officials term limits, which will be on the ballot next month. The people behind the effort tend to be conservative and anti-development, but Montgomery is unlikely to become those things even if term limits happen.

Photo by Thomas Hawk on Flickr.

Earlier this year, local activist Robin Ficker successfully collected the 10,000 signatures needed to have a vote on whether the county council and county executive should be limited to three terms, known as Question B. The cause has attracted a wide variety of supporters, from Republicans unhappy with the county's openness to immigrants to civic groups who oppose new development in the county. These groups hope that they can get rid of sitting councilmembers and, in 2018, vote in ones who agree with them.

Robin Ficker after I interviewed him at a McDonalds in 2009. Photo by the author.

Montgomery County Democrats seem worried that this will actually happen. They have dubbed term limits an "attack on progressive government," as all nine County Councilmembers are Democrats. The campaign to stop Question B is mostly funded by sitting councilmembers, even though four of the five who would lose their seats probably aren't going to run for reelection anyway.

But much to the disappointment of supporters (and the relief of opponents), Question B's success won't change who Montgomery County's voters are.

Term limits aren't going to turn Montgomery red

For starters, two-thirds of Montgomery voters are Democrats, and as political strategist Adam Pagnucco notes, Question B is anticipated to pass due to their support. And the county Republican Party has fielded some pretty weak candidates who don't seem to know they're running in a majority-minority jurisdiction.

In 2014, the county GOP had to pull support from County Council hopeful Jim Kirkland after he made anti-Semitic statements. Current school board candidate (and former congressional candidate) Brandon Rippeon is a birther. Republican Dan Cox, currently running for Congress in District 8, sprayed his own campaign signs with smelly liquids so people wouldn't steal them. (Of course, it doesn't help that the Republican Party's standard-bearer this year is basically a white supremacist.)

Term limits aren't going to stop growth, either

Term limits don't bode well for the anti-growth faction, either. Development simply isn't a wedge issue the way it used to be, as Montgomery County is growing more slowly than it was in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Civic Federation, which is sometimes anti-development and endorsed term limits, is losing members. And a Silver Spring resident who may be angry at the County Council for allowing townhouses to be built in her neighborhood, won't convince someone in Germantown to vote for term limits because of it.

In fact, many neighbors actually want more development in town centers like Wheaton. That's why elected officials who won on slow-growth platforms 10 years ago, like county executive Ike Leggett and councilmember Roger Berliner have championed the redevelopment of White Flint or building bus rapid transit. Marc Elrich has remained the lone anti-development voice on the council, even after a strong (but unsuccessful) council campaign from Beth Daly in 2014.

Voters have other reasons for supporting term limits

That's not to say that Montgomery County voters aren't upset. Voters may choose term limits because they're unhappy about taxes or school overcrowding or traffic or Metro delays or liquor control, or all of those things. They might feel that Question B, which would limit elected officials to twelve years, gives politicians an ample amount of time to do what they promise.

If term limits pass, several seats on the County Council will open up (which may happen anyway, even if if term limits don't come to be). And in 2018, a bunch of progressive, generally pro-growth Democrats will run, and some of them will get elected. The risk is that those new councilmembers will be less experienced than their predecessors, and may be more prone to influence from lobbyists.

But one thing won't change: the voters who put them into office. If you want to see a dramatic change in the direction Montgomery County is going, you'll have to get rid of them, not the politicians.


Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 93

It's time for the ninety-third installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of 5 stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun.

Please have your answers submitted by noon on Thursday. Good luck!

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at


Peter Shapiro is nominated for a seat on the powerful DC Zoning Commission

Mayor Muriel Bowser has nominated Peter Shapiro, a resident of the Chevy Chase neighborhood of DC, to the board that decides DC's zoning and rules on many large development projects.

Image from Prince George's County.

Shapiro would replace Marcie Cohen, a former affordable housing and community development professional. Cohen has been a strong advocate for zoning that allows more overall housing in DC, speaking about the need for more housing many times.

Shapiro's day job is head of the Prince George's County Revenue Authority, an entity which acquires and helps develop land in the county to boost its economy. He used to live in the Prince George's town of Brentwood, where he served on the town council for two years and then the county council for six.

He helped bring community members, developers, businesses, and others together around a vision for the Route 1 corridor just east of DC, which ultimately led to the Gateway Arts District spanning four towns (and including Bird Kitchen, the site of our extremely successful recent happy hour with County Executive Rushern Baker).

Left to right: Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker, Chief of Staff Glenda Wilson, Communications Manager Barry Hudson, and Revenue Authority Executive Director Peter Shapiro. Photo by the author.

Shapiro later moved back to DC where he ran unsuccessfully for DC Council against Vincent Orange four years ago, winning our endorsement but splitting the anti-Orange vote with Sekou Biddle. (Our endorsed candidate Robert White beat Orange this year.)

He has long been a proponent of better transit and transit-oriented development. Way back in 2001, he endorsed the Purple Line and supported running it through existing communities with people who need to get to jobs, such as the area he represented.

He served on a Maryland "Special Task Force for Transit-Oriented Development (TOD)" in 2000, chaired the regional Transportation Planning Board in 2003, co-chairs the Urban Land Institute's Regionalism Initiative Council, and is part of a joint ULI Washington and Baltimore TOD Product Council. He is an elected member of his neighborhood's the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, but says he would resign that seat if confirmed to the Zoning Commission because both are very time-consuming, volunteer jobs.

Nomination, take two

Mayor Bowser initially nominated developer David Franco for the seat, but DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson refused to hold a hearing.

Mendelson told the Washington Blade that he's concerned about having developers on the commission. Franco is very civic-minded and more supportive of affordable housing than most developers, but according to the Blade, Mendelson opposed confirming any developers, period.

Shapiro does not have the potential conflicts of interest that a developer would, but as someone with long experience with how well-designed development can enhance communities and boost the economy, he would be a valuable member of the Zoning Commission. Mendelson will hold a hearing on Shapiro's nomination at 1 pm on Thursday, November 10.

What is the Zoning Commission?

The Zoning Commission is far more powerful than planning boards in other jurisdictions. When DC got home rule, Congress did not want to give the local legislature full authority over land use. Instead, the Zoning Commission has the final say (other than potential court appeals) over zoning and development decisions in DC.

The DC Council can guide the future direction of growth through the Comprehensive Plan and smaller plans, which the Zoning Commission is required to follow. But when it comes to changing zoning rules or approving particular developments, it has no authority; all councilmembers can do is write letters expressing an opinion.

There are actually two zoning boards in DC, the Board of Zoning Adjustment and the Zoning Commission. Mainly, the BZA handles smaller individual projects; it grants variances and special exceptions to zoning rules for unusual circumstances. The Zoning Commission makes bigger-picture policy, like changing a neighborhood's zoning or a citywide zoning rule. It also reviews Planned Unit Developments, generally big development projects which need more flexibility and also provide more community benefit. The BZA is somewhat more legalistic, while the Zoning Commission focuses more on policy.

The Zoning Commission has three members nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the council, as well as two federal members, one from the National Park Service and one from the Architect of the Capitol. This makes DC's three appointees even more crucial.

While the federal representatives serve as part of their jobs, locally-appointed Zoning Commissioners are not paid for their service. Yet, they have to attend two (often long) meetings most weeks and also sit on some meetings of the BZA, which has a seat for a rotating Zoning Commission member.

This makes it tricky to find someone with experience and knowledge who is not also a developer. The city would be lucky to get Shapiro, with his regional perspective, experience with development, and positive vision for DC.


This map illustrates DC's new zoning rules

Zoning is the legal framework that shapes just what can be built where in most cities, and DC just enacted a new zoning code. It's pretty detailed, but we're in luck: the the District's Office of Zoning made this interactive map to illustrate where different zones are, what they mean, and why they're organized it that way.

Click to explore DC's new zoning map, including its quick descriptions of each zone.

The map is one of many the zoning office has published to explain the changeover. If you click the image above, you'll see a sidebar that shows the eight categories that define how land in DC can be used: Residential; Residential Flat; Residential Apartment; Neighborhood Mixed Use; Mixed Use; Downtown; Production, Distribution and Repair; and Special Purpose.

Clicking on the individual colored areas will bring up will bring up the specific "zone district," one of the three parts of zoning that regulate the use and shape of a building. The others are the rules that apply everywhere in the city and processes that give the regulations flexibility, like Planned Unit Developments. But zone districts are the rules that shape specific neighborhoods, and it's usually what people are talking about when they mention zoning.

Residential Flat (RF) is one of three types of Residential zones. Below, you can see examples of the others. Photo from DC's Office of Zoning.

By breaking down the official map into the big categories and color coding them, you can see patterns. For example, the yellow and orange shapes show areas where only houses, flats, or apartment buildings can be built. At a glance, over half of DC's residential land is zoned exclusively for detached single-family housesthat's conservative, since most other zones also allow single-family houses.

Image from DC's Office of Zoning.

The new code organizes zone districts for residential use by building type: single family houses (R), flats in small apartment buildings and subdivided rowhouses (RF), and large apartment buildings (RA).

Residential Apartment (RA). Photo from DC's Office of Zoning.

Residential (R). Photo from DC's Office of Zoning.

Zooming in on Historic Anacostia, the map below shows the denser RA and RF areas closer to Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave. SE, with the area uphill restricted to townhouse, duplex or detached houses by their R-3 zone designation.

It might also look like there's a lot of land across the city that's zoned RA. But looking closer, a lot of this land is for campuses like those of American University, the Armed Forces Retirement Home, or built out with low-rise garden apartments in areas like McLean Gardens and Congress Heights.

Commercial zones saw a bigger change

The new code has no purely commercial zones. The downtown zone districts (D), meant for the dense core at the center of the city, don't exclude apartments. Some even incentivize residential buildings by letting apartments be denser.

Downtown (D). Photo from DC's Office of Zoning.

Farther out, medium-density commercial areas are now called Mixed Use (MU), to reflect that the code encourages both commercial and residential in those areas. That's not new, but the name of old districts like "C-2-A" suggested otherwise.

Mixed Use (MU). Photo from DC's Office of Zoning.

A good example can be found around Mount Vernon Triangle and Northwest One: it's mostly zoned D and MU, and many of the new residences built there are not in residential zone districts.

H Street NE was one of several areas used to have "overlays" added to modify the standard zone districts in a geographic area. Sometimes those modifications were the same across commercial and residential properties, but often they laid out custom rules for every single zone district the overlay touched. To figure out what was allowed on a given property, you'd first look in one chapter of the code for the "base zoning," then flip to another chapter for the overlay.

H Street's old zoning.

Now, each of the existing combination of zones has been given its own subsection. Small commercial strips like H Street fall into distinct moderate-density neighborhood mixed use (NC) zones, meant to create a special character for individual neighborhood main streets, like Georgia Avenue and Carroll Street in Takoma.

Neighborhood Mixed Use (NC). Photo from DC's Office of Zoning.

Now, the overlay and base zoning information is all in one place, from the statement of purpose to technical restrictions. The same is true for the Special Purpose customized zones, used meant to give big areas like Uptown Arts on U and 14th Streets (ARTS), or at Walter Reed (WR) unique characteristics.

H Street's zoning under the new code.

Zoom in on the map and click on a parcel, and the map will show a quick description of the site's zoning. This little chunk of Howard University's campus is one of the few remaining industrial (PDR, short for Production Distribution & Repair) zones in DC's northwest quadrant.

Production, Distribution and Repair (PDR). Photo from DC's Office of Planning.

None of these have industrial uses anymore; this lots is a development called Wonder Plaza, with fast-food eateries and no heavy machinery.

Perhaps this PDR designation was just kept by inertia; I'm not sure I would have noticed that without this map.

For me, the new organization of the code and the Office of Zoning's map help with understanding not only what someone could build on some plot of land, but also how earlier planners shaped the the city and what might need to change. What does this map help you see?

Correction: An earlier version of this post said that over half of DC's residential land is zoned exclusively for detached single-family houses. That isn't the case; over half the land is zoned exclusively for single-family houses, but not detached single-family houses.


Breakfast links: Homeless, again

Photo by jGregor on Flickr.
Fire at DC General: Over 30 families had to leave DC General after a fire broke out on an unoccupied floor on Saturday. The dilapidated building will close when a handful of new homeless shelters open in coming years. (CityPaper)

Another delay for FBI HQ: Will the new FBI headquarters go to Greenbelt, Landover, or Springfield? Now the decision won't be announced until early March. (Post)

Gridlock begets gridlock: Mayor Bowser says DC "cannot grow with gridlock." DC needs a better Metro system to avoid traffic congestion, but the system struggles to get the funding it needs because it relies on multiple legislatures for decision making. (CityLab)

Congestion will only get worse: Traffic congestion in the Washington region will get 66% worse by 2040 if nothing is done. Could Seattle's efforts to quickly respond to roadway crashes be a partial solution for our region too? (WTOP)

Don't regulate me, says Airbnb: Airbnb is fighting back against New York regulations with a lawsuit. Airbnb say the regulations harm their business, but the state worries that short-term rentals take affordable housing off the market. (UrbanTurf)

How do you solve a problem like sprawl?: As the global population explodes, urban planners are figuring out how to meet the infrastructural needs of growing cities. It's an especially intense struggle in already densely populated cities in Asia. (CityLab)

And...: Be on the lookout for the blue Capital Bikeshare bike encouraging riders to vote. The system will have free one-way fares on election day. ... Lyft is piloting a $29 per month service for unlimited shared rides. (DCist) ... A new bench outside the Eastern Market Metro station has free WiFi and USB charging ports. (Capitol Hill Corner)

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