Final votes on expanding entertainment, pocket parks, maritime fee

This blog post is getting out later than usual due to my son’s birthday as well as all of the Annapolis Songwriters Festival activities. I hope you were able to enjoy some music over the past few days.

Tomorrow we will be holding final votes on expanding entertainment opportunities in the B1 district, designating two pocket parks in West Annapolis, condemning the destruction of the Greenbury Point conservation area, setting up a task force to review our municipal code governing our elections, and creating a new fee for maritime zones. If you have any thoughts on any of these, please let me know.

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Community meeting re: Griscom Square development

This Wednesday at 6pm we will be having a virtual community meeting (this is NOT a town hall event) regarding the Griscom Square development, at the corner of Bay Ridge Ave and Tyler Ave. This may especially be of interest to those of you who live on Tyler Ave, in Bethany Court, or Cedar Ridge. I've contacted the developer, John Pilli (previously of Annapolis), and he has agreed to join us for a community meeting so that everyone can be briefed on what this project is, and so that the community can voice any questions or concerns they may have. On the plus side, John is a local developer who I think will be sensitive to the community's concerns. 

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Damage to Quiet Waters, cannabis vote, Griscom Sq, Carrs beach

Here are some community updates as well as information on our Monday Council meeting. 

Parkeside Preserve – damage in Quiet Waters - emergency action AGAIN

As you may recall, around 6 months ago we had issues at this property with mud and sediment (pollution) illegally running off into Quiet Waters Park. Thanks to the watchful eye from our Ward 7 residents in Beechwood Hill, we were able to document this and get things mostly resolved. The site was mostly in compliance, the Council passed a Resolution with new inspection and enforcement procedures (based on current law), and the Department of Public Works (DPW) created new inspection schedules, protocols, and got a commitment from the developer to hire a 3rd party inspector.

Fast-forward to June, and after receiving more photographs of off-site pollution I decided to visit the site myself. I noticed upwards of 18 violations to our code, despite all of these “improvements” being made by DPW. When I dug into things at the last Environmental Matters Committee meeting (which I Chair), it was discovered that DPW had actually inspected the site the morning before I sent them my list of violations. DPW found ZERO violations and said everything was in order, where again, I found 18. DPW unfortunately had no answer for this, and were dead silent when I asked them what they were going to do to correct the issue with the poor City inspections. Mysteriously, after initially finding zero violations, DPW went out a few days after I sent my report and then found around half a dozen violations. So clearly I wasn’t wrong with my assertions. This has also since been confirmed by MDE, who visited the site and essentially verified everything I was alleging. What’s worse, I had discovered that the previous Resolution the Council passed in February was utterly ignored by DPW, partially due to the previous Director resigning from his position. Yes, you read that right, DPW ignored the will of the Council. I walked through most of the provisions of this Resolution and showed them how it was being ignored. I’m still working on getting them to comply with this Resolution and will be speaking with the new City manager and DPW director next month about it.  

Fast-forward to this past week, and I put together another emergency Resolution. When I went out to the site in June, I also noticed that the volume of water being discharged from this project has been causing damage to the receiving stream in Quiet Waters Park, which is illegal per our Code. I have pictures of this stream from back in 2011, and back then it was an ephemeral stream that had standing water and in some areas only blackened leaves indicating where the water flowed. So back then, there wasn’t enough force/volume of water to even move the leaves, which is why they became blackened. But now there is such volume of water leaving this project site that it has washed all of the leaves away, washed away the topsoil, created large debris jams, and is causing active erosion in the stream bed. As a 20+ year professional in stream restoration and erosion control, I can say with certainty that this stream is now unraveling and will become an eroded gully in a few years if this is not addressed (such erosion runs counter to our Code purposes). Hence this Resolution. I organized a walkthru of the stream with City and County staff, as well as the developer and County Councilwoman Lisa Rodvien (who was incredibly helpful), to review the problems. After that, I finished drafting the Resolution. What the Resolution does is resolve that the Council wants immediate action taken to stabilize and protect this stream and to reduce the volume of runoff during construction, that DPW review the final stormwater permit and plans to determine if more water quantity needs to be managed post-construction, and that the $4 million bond be held for at least 2 years post-construction in case any work needs to be done after this project is built-out. We had an emergency Council session on Thursday to get this introduced, and final vote will be on Monday. If you support this I encourage you to come out and testify or submit public testimony!

Griscom Square – development at Tyler & Bay Ridge

The development at Tyler and Bay Ridge has started clearing the forest. This will be a 12-unit single family home development behind the existing homes on Tyler, between Tyler and Bethany Court and Cedar Ridge Court. This is, unfortunately, one of the “zombie” permits that lives on (see Rick Hutzell's article on this topic), despite having 2006 approval (along with the Rocky Gorge project off Aris T. Allen Blvd) that should have expired long ago. Unfortunately, Planning & Zoning decided to utilize their discretion over the years to grant extension after extension, and even cancel a cancellation of their permits oddly enough (when it comes to Rocky Gorge), which means these projects are being built to our 2006 standards rather than the most recent laws. This is rather frustrating, considering that we have worked incredibly hard to update our Forest Conservation, Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) program, adequate public facilities requirements, and our stormwater code, just to name a few. The Council feels ignored and bypassed by City staff. Over the next few months I’ll be introducing legislation to address/correct this underlying issue and speaking with the new City Manager.

But back to Griscom Square, I’ve secured a commitment from P&Z staff to reassess the property to determine if the forest has changed since their 2015 forest approvals, undertake a review of permit approvals and extensions, and they have committed to work with me to setup a community meeting with the developer. The purpose of this meeting will be to ensure everyone is aware of what this project entails, and to give you an opportunity to express any concerns or requests to the developer (a former local named John Pilli). I have spoken with Mr. Pilli and he is willing to meet. Once we have agreed upon a date and time I will let you know. I’m not yet sure if this will be virtual or in-person. If you have a preference, please let me know.

Carrs beach vote

We will be voting on SA-4-23, which authorizes the use of some of our Capital Reserve funds to help pay for the closing costs for acquiring the Carrs Beach property, which is a forested lot with wetlands next to BayWoods. This is the historic property that used to be an African American beach that had many famous musicians that would visit back in the day.

Police accountability board update on nominee

Our last nominee to the County Police Accountability Board ended up withdrawing his name from consideration, so we had to find a new candidate, which is now Ms. Sharron Elliott, who has an extensive background in criminal justice. I’m inclined to support her nomination, pending any comments from you.

August recess

FYI, the Council is in recess for the month of August. We will be having no meetings, which means I likely will not be sending out any email updates, unless something comes up that I feel you might want to be informed about. I’ll be trying to take a break myself, but I do have a lot of legislation to work on in between getting time with my family.  

Stay healthy and stay safe,

Rob

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Comptroller endorsement, Arts, Police Accountability Board nomination

This Monday’s Council meeting looks a bit light. There are a number of things up for public hearings but nothing controversial or monumental, with the exception of the nomination below.

Annapolis appointment to County Police Accountability Board

We will be voting on recommending the appointment of Mr. Luke Griffin to serve as the Annapolis representative on the County Police Accountability Board. You can view his resume or letter. After hearing Mr. Griffin speak at the last Council meeting, I’m inclined to support his nomination, pending any comments from you.

Brooke Lierman for Comptroller

I’m proud to endorse Brooke Lierman for MD Comptroller. I got to know Brooke because we were both pushing for legislation to ban styrofoam and reduce plastic bag usage. She was doing so as State Delegate in the General Assembly and I was doing so for the City. This has earned her the coveted Sierra Club endorsement. She is one of the most grounded politicians I’ve had the pleasure to meet, with a desire and proven ability to stand up for her constituents and do what is right. She will be an excellent Comptroller.

 

Stay healthy and stay safe,

Rob

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Ratify union agreements?, arts, Mayor’s boat, Mon Council meeting

At this Monday’s Council meeting, we will be voting on whether or not to ratify the Union agreements. I will likely be voting no, in light of the Financial Advisory Commission’s comments and recommendations (see below under R-35-22). Without corresponding cuts or a new revenue stream, we simply can’t afford this. While we can pay for this in the short term with COVID relief funds, in 2 or so years we will be in a bind without action taken because those one-time-use funds will be expended. This agreement sets us up for failure. One of the reasons it is so high is because of a 20% increase in police salaries to boost recruitment and retention. While I support that effort given that our existing officers are working double shifts, we need to find a dedicated funding source and also need to look at reimagining policing so that we can determine if we need so many armed officers and to see if we can reduce crime by spending on social services instead.

We will also be voting on deputizing the Mayor’s boat, and have a public hearing on a Resolution impacting arts funding.

Passing of two prominent Ward 7 residents

David Barker

David was a long-time Ward 7 resident who had a 40-year career in international development, touching numerous lives along the way. He and his wife, Lisa Borre, sailed throughout the world, writing a sailing guide together for the Black Sea. Locally, he was incredibly active advocating for the environment, was a founding member of the Back Creek Conservancy (now merged with the Severn River Association), and was the driving force behind getting Annapolis waters designated as a No Discharge Zone. He will be missed.

Retired Rear Admiral Guy Shaffer

We lost our dear Guy Shaffer, a Bay Woods resident, last month. He was a retired 2-star Rear Admiral, who started his military career specializing in Nuclear Power Submarines and was the Deputy Director of the Trident Missile Development and Director of Operations at the Defense Nuclear Agency. Besides his professional accomplishments, he was incredibly active in the Ward, advocating for Bay Woods, improvements at the Annapolis Maritime Museum Moyer Park campus, finding CRAB a home on Bembe Beach Road, and for protecting the Carrs Beach property next to Bay Woods. He will be missed.

Ward 7 budget enhancements passed

I’m happy to report that all 6 of the budget amendments I proposed have passed and are currently included in the final budget, which we are set to take a final vote on tomorrow night. This includes money for the new crosswalk on Edgewood Rd near Yachtsman Way and tallwood Rd, enhancing the sidewalk through the Annapolis Maritime Museum’s Moyer Park campus, installing a new sidewalk on Bay Ridge Rd adjacent to the Shell gas station and running down the street past the nearby church towards Eastport, the elimination of PFAS chemicals from the fire Department (protecting the health of our firefighters and residents), and funding for a consultant to draft a city-wide electric mobility plan.

Stay healthy and stay safe,

 Rob

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Budget feedback: tax increase? Police recruitment, Impacts to Ward 7

I have some budget-related questions for you that involve a potential tax rate increase, an effort to hire more police officers, our use of COVID relief money, and a summary of budget items impacting Ward 7.

Budget Schedule

First of all, regarding the schedule, this Monday we are holding a special Council meeting starting at 10AM, rather than our usual 7pm. This is so we can ensure we have adequate time (and alertness!) to go through each of the proposed budget amendments. Once we vote on all of the amendments, the budget will then likely be put up for another public hearing on Friday the 10th (another unusual meeting time with our meeting starting at 5pm, this is because of a conflict we have on the following Monday), before we hold our final vote at either that meeting or on the 27th. So, you will have ample opportunity to comment on the amended budget prior to passage.

Ward 7 budget enhancements

I’ll first start with the amendments that would impact Ward 7. I am proposing around a dozen amendments, and the key ones are the following:

  1. Creating a special project to install a crosswalk on Edgewood Rd near Yachtsman Way and Tallwood Rd.
  2. Enhancing the sidewalk through the Annapolis Maritime Museum’s Moyer Park campus. The existing path is an oyster shell path without any lights. I’ve heard a number of requests to make the path easier to walk on and to install lights. So what I’ve requested is to create a roughly half a million dollar capital improvement project (funded through bonds) to install a smooth surface (ideally permeable) sidewalk in the same location, but then extending it through the parking lot, and to install solar powered lights along the route.
  3. Install a new sidewalk on Bay Ridge Rd adjacent to the Shell gas station and running down the street past the nearby church towards Eastport. Currently there is no sidewalk on that side of the road.
  4. Secure funding for the Truxtun Park Penguin swim team
  5. Eliminating PFAS chemicals from the fire department, protecting the health of our fire-fighters and residents.
  6. Provide funding for a consultant to draft an electric mobility plan for the City’s operations, including transit, as well as other infrastructure needed for residents and visitors.

Tax increase? – Structural deficit – Police recruitment enhancements

The other amendment I want to get your thoughts on involves a proposal to increase the tax rate in order to fund police recruitment enhancements. As you may be aware, we have been having difficulty recruiting enough police officers. I know that some don’t want more armed officers, and I myself am wary of this, but the fact is that our current officers are working double shifts to cover for the vacant positions, which is impactful on their ability to do their jobs and our ability to in turn retain officers. What was negotiated with the Police Union, and recommended by the Police Department, is a 20% increase in police salaries to boost recruitment. I support this enhancement as we need to boost recruitment. However, this 20% increase has a significant cost attached to it: $2 million. Keep in mind we have a current and projected budget structural deficit where our expenditures (primarily staff costs) exceed our revenue. The chart below shows how the red expenditure are greater than the green revenue. Currently, this 20% increase is NOT funded through a tax rate increase.

The plan is to balance our budget and pay for the police enhancement without a tax increase, and instead utilize COVID relief money, and the budget proposes to do this until FY25, at which time that money runs out and we will have to make one of two choices: 1. Cut staff/services to reduce expenditures, or 2. figure out how to generate more revenue by either raising taxes or convincing the State to give us a portion of the sales tax collected in Annapolis.

Regarding #1, I’ve been on the Council long enough to know that we’ve already cut most of the easy things that are available, such as contract services, supplies, and training. The only things left to cut are staff, which also means a reduction in services. We could also look at merging our transit system with the County, and/or merging our police and fire departments with the County. These would take time to analyze and determine feasibility.

Regarding #2, raising taxes, we could increase taxes by 3 cents per $100 of assessed value, which would bring in roughly $2,000,000 in revenue and cost the average taxpayer an additional $110 on their annual tax bill. The downsides of this are obvious, but the upsides are that it would cover the police enhancement and help to address our targeted deficit. If we enhance police recruitment without a way to pay for it, it will catch up with us in two years. We saw this happen years ago when we utilized a federal grant to hire half a dozen new firefighters, and then were left holding the ball when the grant ran out in a few years; hence the 6cent tax increase we passed back in I think 2018.

Regarding the sales tax, I’ve already requested a Resolution asking the State to consider giving Annapolis a portion of the sales tax collected in the City.

So my questions are:

  1. Should we just use the COVID money to balance our budget and pay for this police recruitment enhancement, WITHOUT any tax increase? The good part would be that this gives us two years to try to figure out how to ultimately fund this and fix the deficit with the options I mentioned earlier: cuts or tax increase. The bad part is it kicks the can down the road as far as solving the underlying problems.
  2. Or should we institute a modest tax increase now? The benefit to this is we would then raise the money to fund the police enhancement in a way that doesn't compound and perpetuate the structural deficit. The downside is, well, it's a tax increase and it would cost on average $100 per tax bill. 

I’m asking for your feedback because I have not yet decided what to do. I do have an amendment handy that would increase the tax rate to pay for this police increase. Not because I’m sold on the idea, but because we as a Council, and community, need to have a discussion about this. The Financial Advisory Commission also stated that we need to address this deficit. We need a plan to do so and a plan to pay for the police enhancements long-term. These are the things that we need to address and start discussing, which is why I’m contemplating this amendment.

Stay healthy and stay safe,

Rob

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Public hearing on cannabis & other community happenings

I want to give a big thank you to those of you who helped with flyering for the Town Hall meeting. We had a good turnout with some new faces.

There are a few pieces of legislation up for a public hearing tomorrow: one being the budget and the other being an Ordinance that would change our zoning to allow cannibus stores to be opened in the City (pending state law changes to allow more permits). 

Also of note is that the Annapolis Neck Peninsula Federation is hosting a community meeting at the library to discuss the County’s proposed PAL park expansion. The adjacent and downstream community have a few concerns they would like addressed. The community meeting will be on May 31st at 7pm.

Lastly, I wanted to let you know about a fundraiser supporting the re-election of County Executive Steuart Pittman that will be held in Ward 7, at Caliente Grill on June 7th at 7pm. This fundraiser is being hosted by former Ward 5 Alderman Jared Littman and our former Ward 7 Alderman Ian Pfieffer. I am proud to support and endorse Pittman for re-election. He has proven more than capable to bring us through COVID, and also lived up to his campaign promises to address over-development in the County. He has absolutely been the best County Executive for the environment since I’ve lived here (in the past 22 years).

Stay healthy and stay safe,

Rob

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Ward 7: Town Hall Tues, hearing on Budget Mon

First of all, I’d like to invite you to our Tuesday Ward 7 Town Hall meeting. This will be held at 7pm at the Eastport-Annapolis Neck Library. The first half of the meeting be a discussion with our Annapolis Police Chief, Edward Jackson, who will be joined by the City Council’s Chair of our Public Safety Committee, Alderwoman Rhonda Pindell-Charles. During the latter half of the meeting, I will give an update on Ward 7 issues, including details on our proposed budget, before being joined by our County Councilwoman Lisa Rodvien. We will then both take questions in an open forum. I hope to see you then! And a big thank you to everyone who has helped with distributing flyers in your neighborhood!

As for our Monday Council meeting, this will be your first opportunity to provide public comments on the budget. I’ve provided details and links below. Other than that, we don’t have much going on at this particular meeting.  

Stay healthy and stay safe,

Rob

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Ward 7 Town Hall Meeting - May 10th

Town Hall meeting May 10th 7-8:30pm at the Annapolis-Neck Library

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outdoor dining revisited, details on Mon meeting

Happy Earth Day! Looks to be a beautiful weekend. I hope you find some time to be outside and take a hike in one of our City Parks.

We don’t have any legislation up for a public hearing at Monday’s Council meeting, but feel free to send me your thoughts on anything listed that’s up for a final vote.

Ward 7 Town Hall meeting!!

After a long pandemic-induced hiatus, I’ve scheduled a Ward 7 Town Hall meeting. Please mark your calendar for May 10th, 7-8:30pm at the Eastport-Annapolis Neck Library. As usual, I could use help distributing flyers. If you can help with this in your neighborhood, please let me know as this would be a huge help.

Stay healthy and stay safe,

Rob

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