Zoning Tools Can Help Takoma Park Shape Local Development

The City of Takoma Park has a variety of tools at its disposal, when it comes to guiding development within city limits.

Montgomery County zoning code, enacted by the County Council, applies in Takoma Park. Zoning is administered by the county’s Planning Department and governed by the five-member Planning Board. Yet the city does have a say in zoning linked decision. I’ll attempt to explain how Takoma Park can shape local development, reposting a write-up I sent to constituents as part of a neighborhood discussion.

The Takoma Park Historic District

Beyond base zoning code, a number of artifacts carry weight. They include (area) master plans, sector plans, and design guidelines. We also have — and can seek modification of — overlay zones that refine the base zoning for a defined area. This is all in addition to the Historic District protections. Finally, prospective developers are often required to submit site plans for Planning Board approval, and the city can and does weigh in on these.

I’ll give examples and also explain a provision on state law that gives Takoma Park special say in zoning matters within the city. Residents with more expertise than I have (including Frances Phipps and Faroll Hamer) and others can add to, correct, or clarify all this.

Planning Documents

  • Much of Takoma Park is within the Takoma Park/East Silver Silver Spring Commercial Revitalization (TPESS) overlay zone, which was created a number of years ago and modified during the 2013 county-wide zoning rewrite.
  • I am advocating that the city discuss creation of an overlay zone for Takoma-Langley Crossroads and the full extent of New Hampshire Avenue in and bordering Takoma Park.

  • The Takoma Park Master Plan is available online.
  • It’s possible to seek a “minor master plan amendment” in order to make adjustments.

    Other county master plans are functional, covering uses rather than specific geographic areas. Montgomery County’s recently-adopted Bikeways Master Plan is an example.

  • You can also find the Takoma Langley Crossroads Sector Plan online.
  • For New Hampshire Avenue, we’ve created a Corridor Concept Plan and Streetscape Standards.

    I realize that these docs wouldn’t cover residential tear-down situations, if the county were to alter residential zoning. I don’t see much risk of that happening any time soon, but certainly we could discuss using the tools available to create new protections for Takoma Park residential neighborhoods outside the Historic District, within the county’s zoning framework.

    A Special Supermajority Provision

    State code § 24-202 says, “A two-thirds majority vote of both the district council and the county planning board is required to take any action relating to zoning within the City of Takoma Park that is contrary to a resolution of the Mayor and City Council.”

    Many Montgomery County zoning text amendments (ZTAs) — including the now-withdrawn ZTA 15-04 — would apply within the City of Takoma Park. Therefore a vote on such a matter, whether on a Planning Board resolution recommending alterations or an ordinance of the County Council (sitting as the district council) to enact a ZTA, is an “action relating to zoning within the City of Takoma Park.”

    A Planning Board 3-2 vote would not advance a matter the City of Takoma Park opposes. A Montgomery County Council 5-4 vote would not advance such a matter.

    A Montgomery County legislative attorney I consulted agrees with this reading, as does a Montgomery County planning official. The real test, however, would come when we actually § 24-202. Takoma Park City Attorney Sue Silber said that she hasn’t yet found any case law indicating a deviation from the plain reading of § 24-202.

    Do these references help in your understanding of tools Takoma Park can use to shape local development? Please do post comments or send me corrections.

    Relationships Count

    Do note that all I’ve described is tools. There is no substitute for forming relationships with the city’s property owners, regional developments, county planning and elected officials, and state and Prince George’s County officials. We need both tools and relationships if we are to successfully advance our own Takoma Park vision of locally appropriate, environmentally sound, transit friendly development that creates amenities and economic opportunity for all community stakeholders.

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