Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Former Manasquan borough attorney honored for decades of service

At Monday evening’s borough council meeting, Mayor George Dempsey named former Manasquan borough attorney Kenneth Fitzsimmons as an honorary citizen of the town he served for 32 years.

Fitzsimmons retired as Manasquan’s borough attorney in 2008 to accept a full-time position in Toms River, N.J. During his tenure, Fitzsimmons negotiated public contracts and fought for the preservation of countless local landmarks, Dempsey said. He is credited with conserving Fisherman’s Cove and restoring the Algonquin Arts Theatre when the Main Street landmark was in disrepair. Fitzsimmons was also instrumental in securing Manasquan beach’s “historic” Coast Guard station and in organizing the town’s 1987 centennial program, according to the proclamation.

The public meeting began at 8 p.m. in the Borough Hall Council Chambers immediately following the council’s closed-door work session. In addition to honoring Fitzsimmons, the council appointed relief snow plow drivers, an appointment usually carried out in early January.

“It was just something that slid through the cracks,” Mayor Dempsey responded to a question of the two month delay. The appointment comes one week after a major storm dumped six to 12 inches of snow across the Garden State.

Although it was not on the agenda, local sports were a hot topic at Monday’s meeting. The mayor, in particular, was caught up with the real time scores of the boy’s high school basketball game then in progress. At one point, Dempsey informed the council of the blue and grey’s victory over Middlesex, making them Central Jersey II State Champions. He detailed the 59-36 win, claiming it was “mental telepathy.”

After public orders were dealt with, Fitzsimmons entered the chamber and Squan’s mayor and council praised their long-time colleague for his “expert negotiating skills” and “exemplary legal service.” The mayor went on to bestow the title of borough attorney emeritus upon Fitzsimmons, a resident of neighboring Point Pleasant. Dempsey’s proclamation declared March 9, 2009 Kenneth B. Fitzsimmons Recognition Day.

“You’ve only got a couple hours so live it up,” Dempsey said as he glanced at the clock. The proclamation’s reading contained no shortage of clever side remarks by a mayor known for his quick, impromptu quips. The council repeatedly erupted in laughter as the mayor and former borough attorney continued to take one friendly jab after another.

Before presenting Fitzsimmons with a plaque, Dempsey said the attorney was “a tremendous asset who served the borough with devotion, honor and dedication.” The entire council then gave their former colleague a standing ovation.

“Ken, you’ve been awesome,” Councilman Jeff Lee said.

Fitzsimmons accepted the plaque with a gracious smile and his wife, Judy, by his side. “You can hang [the plaque] in your office in Toms River and tell little stories about everybody here,” Dempsey said.

Dempsey and Fitzsimmons hugged as tears began to roll down Fitzsimmons’ face. “It’s been a real pleasure,” he said. “I don’t know whether to regard you as friends or colleagues.”
Mayor Dempsey and the council agreed that the honor was well deserved.

Fitzsimmons noted some of the parallels between Manasquan and his new employer, Toms River. The attorney said it was a “big little town” that was just as passionate about football and athletics. He also noted the towns have the same warrior Indian mascot. “I think that Indian has rights or something,” Fitzsimmons said with a chuckle. “He’s collecting from a lot of towns.” The mayor and council smiled and laughed with Fitzsimmons who wiped a tear from his cheek. He became emotional while thanking his friends, colleagues and wife.

“When you’re around this town for 32 years,” said Fitzsimmons, “you can’t help but bleed blue.”

Friday, March 13, 2009

Chevy Chase ANC Votes to Support D.C. Voting Rights

The Chevy Chase Advisory Neighborhood Commission unanimously passed a resolution supporting D.C. voting rights at their bimonthly meeting Monday night.

Chair Gary Thompson proposed resubmitting the resolution from 2007 to Congress that asked for full representation in Congress. “Nothing is more important than the right to vote,” said Thompson.

Thompson said that ANCs are allowed to present any view to any government agency they wish to. He said that he did not see a reason why the Chevy Chase ANC, which represents Ward 3 and part of Ward 4, should not take a stance on D.C. receiving voting rights in Congress. Commissioners Henry Griffin, Jim McCarthy, Carolyn Cook and Allen Beach all agreed that the commission should make their voices heard in Congress.

Individuals attending the meeting questioned the wording of the proposal and thought that it should be border and be closer to the proposed bill in Congress. The original wording of the resolution indicated that the ANC supported having full representation, meaning two senators. Individuals at the meeting thought that the ANC should take a stance that only demanded partial rights because they said that full rights are out of the picture.

“Do we take it a little bit at a time or demand justice?” said Thompson. The ANC compromised and decided to send the resolution with the changed wording of “up to two senators,” instead of “two senators.”

Former Chair Jerry Levine asked the commission to take a strong stance on a certain aspect of the voting rights bill to get Congress to take the ANC’s proposal seriously. He suggested that the commission look at the gun amendment to the bill that restores second amendment right to D.C. and abolishes all gun laws in the District. However, the commission decided not to take a strong position on the gun amendment because they did not want to be controversial and simply want Congress to know that they believe D.C. should have representation.

Before discussing the D.C. Voting Rights Bill, the commission announced that they are accepting applications for their Spring Grant Program and will review applications during their next meeting on April 13. The commission gives grants to individuals and community groups twice a year (fall and spring) for amounts up to $1,000. Individuals and groups that receive that grants must use the money on something that will benefit the Chevy Chase community or the children of Chevy Chase. Commissioner Beach said that this will be the first year the council requires grant receivers to submit a statement of purpose.

The ANC heard a presentation from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs concerning vacant properties and the importance in making sure they are registered with the D.C. government. The D.C. government believes that vacant properties not only affect the property values of neighborhood properties, but also the welfare of families that live near the vacant property.

At the beginning of the meeting, students from the Higher Achievement program, who were invited by the ANC, performed their poems. Higher Achievement is a program that targets children during their middle school years to direct their energy into positive activities. The program helps students after school with homework and also holds a poetry contest every year. The two students who performed their poems where finalists from their school and performed their poems about love. The Higher Achievement program asked the ANC if they would be willing to write and letter of recommendation and work with the program in the future. The ANC agreed to both requests and commended the students on their poems and calm presentation.

The commission voted 5-0 to sign a letter asking the D.C. government to pay for sign language interrupters, at the end of the meeting. ANCs are responsible for finding and paying for sign language interrupters who can translate their meetings for deaf community members. Thompson stressed that is it very important for individuals to have full and equal representation in ANC meetings. He said that without sign language interrupters this is not possible. The letter asked the D.C. government to either find and pay for interrupters or let ANC’s find and pay for interrupters and be reimbursed by the D.C. government.

Commissioner Beach reported on a meeting he had attended by the Alcohol Beverage Control Board. “Alcohol is not a problem for the ANC, the problem is a behavior problem,” said Beach. He said that there is some concern over clubs that close late in other parts of D.C. that release rowdy patrons at early morning hours. Beach said that when restaurants with liquor licenses in the Chevy Chase Area come due, the ANC will definitely be active in how those licenses are renewed.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Chevy Chase Looking To Quell Water Drainage Problem

Chevy Chase’s residents are frustrated by the costs and annoyances created by the town’s water drainage ordinance.

In an effort to assist residents, the town’s environment committee met Thursday night to evaluate the ordinance and develop recommendations that will help clarify certain rules.

According to the committee, there are several issues surrounding the ordinance. Among these issues are applicability of county requirements, permeable surfaces as infiltration devices, coordination of Water Plan with Tree Protection Plan, and the Maintenance agreement property owners have had difficulty with.

In terms of Chevy Chase’s requirements, the town’s ordinance calls for water drainage plans to conform to specifications found in the design manual of the state’s Department of Environment.

This has caused some controversy in town about whether the State or County rules are appropriate for small residential lots. To the townspeople, the rules are often applied to commercial lots or large residential developments.

According to Rick Brush, Director of Montgomery County Permitting Services, the County specifications adhere closely to the State’s. Mr. Brush told the committee that state and county rules are applicable to small residential lots as well as larger lots.

He added that the State recently revised the manual and believes it contains additional provisions applicable to the small lots making it more relevant.

The environment committee is recommending the town to adhere to State specifications. If a property owner and/or the town engineer think the State requirement isn’t fitting for the property, the town engineer would be encouraged to discuss with the Maryland Department of Environment to come up with a better solution.

For instance, Chevy Chase is known to be hilly in some places and some of its soil doesn’t easily accept water. Maryland doesn’t allow water infiltration systems on slopes greater than 15% unless the system does not alter the slope in any way. To the committee, this state rule, if applied, would protect residents from being burdened by the lots of nearby neighbors.

One town resident the committee recently interviewed said it wasn’t fair when water from several developed lots drain into her backyard. It doesn’t make it easier when some residents have several lots. Her unfortunate experiences occurred before the ordinance became effective.

Developer Patrick Keating told the committee that when soil on a lot accepts water, water retention equipment and installation costs are very expensive, typically costing around $12,000 and $15,000. In an area as rocky as Chevy Chase, Mr. Keating indicated the cost possibly being significantly more. He told the Town Council to be aware that by adopting the ordinance, development projects could be very expensive or even impossible.

What about Permeable surfaces? Maybe they could reduce expenses by treating them as infiltration devices.

According to the environment committee, permeable surfaces frankly wouldn’t work. Permeable surfaces can only absorb a minimal amount of water runoff. Unless the permeable driveway or surface is repeatedly maintained properly, it could become impermeable due to objects like leaves.

“It would exacerbate flooding in the future,” said Joan Shorett, an environment committee member. “Also, our Town engineer said he doesn’t know any way he can test the permeability of a driveway.”

Thus, with the Town engineer unable to evaluate whether an owner properly maintains a surface and a general assumption that owners won’t maintain the surfaces, the committee decided to discourage the use of these surfaces.

Then arrived the issue of the coordination of two plans. The problem had to do with whether infiltration devices should be placed within the drip line of a canopy tree.
Don MacGlashan, longtime resident of Chevy Chase, noted that houses often are approved before either the water issue or tree issue is brought up. He added that the houses should all be conditioned.

The committee ended up stating that the issue could be addressed as part of a property owner’s tree protection plan related to any new development. The committee encourages residents to get the Town engineer and Town arborist together in these situations.

Lastly, some residents have had difficulty in getting mortgage lenders to sign the consent of Trustees/Lender included in the Water Drainage Plan Inspection and Maintenance Agreement. According to the agreement, a property owner must get a mortgage lender to sign consent to that the lender is responsible for maintaining the water retention system in case there is a foreclosure.

One property owner building a new house told the committee that he had to pay several thousand dollars in unnecessary closing costs because he couldn’t get a hold of his original lender. The money was for refinancing his existing mortgage with a different lender.

Town attorney David Podolsky suggested simply eliminating the consent of Trustees/Lender section from the Agreement. Lenders that foreclose wouldn’t need to maintain the retention system and new owners would be obligated to do so under the maintenance agreement.

The environment agreed with Podolsky stating that because most properties containing water retention systems would be highly valued, lenders would likely try to maintain the systems to make the homes attractive to potential buyers.
Furthermore, the risk of a lender not being able to sell in a reasonable time frame is outweighed by the difficulty Town residents have had in obtaining lenders’ consent.

The environment committee plans to continue reviewing the water ordinance and hold its next meeting on April 2nd.

In other action, the committee:

· Reminded members that the Town Council will hold a public hearing on the noise control initiative on March 11th. It has asked the Council to establish noise control as a priority and to work with residents and contractors to ensure that the County’s residential noise standards are the norm in the town.

· Gave informal approval to a proposal by Common Cents Solar to begin solar energy projects that can benefit the community. Common Cents Solar wants to minimize costs by providing wholesale purchasing and encouraging residents to invest in clean renewable energy production in tax-deductible ways.


Jean Shorett

Don MacGlashan

Vicky Taplan, Chair - 301-215-9406

Friday, March 6, 2009

Chevy Chase Town Meeting

Water and Noise problems become main environmental issues in Chevy Chase

The Chevy Chase Environmental Committee held its monthly meeting yesterday at Town Hall to discuss issues involving the newly implemented Water Drainage Ordinance as well as the proposal for a noise control policy that would affect local residents.
The 10 members of the Environmental Committee who were present cited four main problems that residents are having with the Water Drainage Ordinance, and proposed valid solutions to the local government policy.

The Water Drainage Ordinance was created in 2005 as a result of resident complaints about increasing storm water management problems throughout Chevy Chase. The ordinance currently states that if a homeowner expands a home or places an impermeable surface that is bigger than 700 feet over the soil, the owner must build a water retention system which has the ability to hold water on the property, preventing it from flowing onto neighboring properties.

Flaws in the ordinance included the applicability of county requirements, the use of permeable surfaces as infiltration devices, the coordination of the water plan with the tree protection plan, and the maintenance agreement of the water drainage ordinance, according to committee member Joan Rood, who headed the discussion on the topic.

“The pressure is all on the town, and its employed engineers to make sure the ordinance are being carried out,” said Environmental Committee member Sally Kelly.

Chevy Chase residents are concerned with the design of the drainage systems that are being used, according to Coralee Hoffman, who said that the standards set up by the ordinance are not being implemented, and the county codes, as well as the state codes are being ignored, as homes in clear violation of the Water Drainage Ordinance are being approved by the Water Board.

“It’s a broader policy issue,” said committee member Ruth Fort, “our county is using this new found legislation to do things below the level that the ordinance has established and only since the towns have gotten more authority have they gained more flexible instead of being stringent.”

Additionally, the question of who should be accountable for damage done to neighboring homes when a drainage system failure occurs was posed. One solution would be to make the maintenance of the water systems the responsibility of the home owners by having it be inspected by an engineer annually and filing the results with the county. This solution would save the town the cost of hiring more engineers to perform the inspections, but would place the cost and responsibility of filing on the residents.

Residents also encountered problems with the maintenance agreement clause of the Water Drainage Ordinance, which states that a financial lender needs to sign the agreement, making them responsible for drainage system maintenance in an instance of foreclosure. Multiple local residents have been denied financing or have had to refinance their mortgages in order to keep to the agreement. According to Council liaison Rob Enelow, there is a proposal going to the Town Council in April that would strike this agreement from the ordinance.

The Environmental Committee also addressed fundamental concerns with a proposed noise restriction policy. A proposal that would limit the amount of noise from commercial sources, such as construction sites and lawn services was brought to the people of Chevy Chase at an information session last month. There was a low attendance and few write-ins at the session, which can be interpreted as a lack of general interest on behalf of local residents to prohibit noise, according to Hoffman.

Some of the committee members, including Hoffman voiced concern over the strict proposed standard, of having to be fewer than 65 decibels, which translates to being able to carry on a conversation, without shouting, with the noise in the background.

“You couldn’t even run a leaf blower under the county standards,” Hoffman said jokingly.
It is important to remember that the purpose of the proposal is to prevent the intrusion of noise onto someone else’s property as the committee stressed the need for the people’s voices to be heard so the issue is not overlooked, according to Fort.

Technology is evolving even in the small residential area of Chevy Chase as concerned committee members were excited about the existence of newer, quieter leaf blowers, which would be preferred in the use of lawn services.

“I would gladly promote a [lawn service] company that used these quiet leaf blowers and tell everyone in the neighborhood to use them,” said Kelly, who believes that lawn services can gain an advantage by using the improved technology.

The Environment Committee’s mission statement is to help the town promote a healthier environment for all town residents and the group meets on the first Thursday of every month. The next scheduled meeting is April 2, 2009, where a presentation on solar panels and wind generators will be brought to the committee.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Community Lacks Info on Library Expansion

Comm 320 Contributing Writer

Washington-There is not enough information to decide the future of Ward 1’s Mount Pleasant Library, was the common consensus at the Mount Pleasant Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting Tuesday.

Facilitated by D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham, (D-Ward 1) concerned Ward citizens and representatives of numerous local organizations attended the open to the public meeting at La Casa community center on Mount Pleasant Street to discuss the library’s future. Scheduled for expansion, Graham recently asked for a 30 day pause in the planning process after significant concern was raised among the community, Mount Pleasant Chief Librarian Jenny Cooper agreed. This was the first in what will likely be several meetings during what Graham described as ‘the pause.’ Ultimately, those in attendance were not the decision makers, Graham said.

“The Mount Pleasant community has come together in a fairly solidified way…to say we don’t want to rush forward with this (the expansion) right now,” Graham said.

The expansion plan dates back to 2000, said ANC Commissioner Gregg Edwards. With an $8.5 million total construction budget, current designs call for extending the library on both sides and enlarging the bathrooms to meet code requirements.

Graham outlined the issues earlier meetings had identified as central to concern over the library’s future. “Does this community embrace the expansion?” he said. If the answer to that question is yes, then in what ways do people want to see the library expand? If the answer is no, if people feel that the library’s current configuration is sufficient, then how much would it cost to rehabilitate the library’s current configuration so that it is up to modern code and is able to suit the community’s needs? Once those questions have been answered, Graham hoped the community would determine if it makes sense “to have library resources elsewhere in Ward One?”

Only about half the attendees raised their hands when Graham asked for a show of who had made their mind up on the issues concerning the library.

Graham hoped to use the meeting to raise “some very basic issues,” he said. He’d noticed in previous meetings that there was a need to cover the issues in order to make an informed decision.

The Mount Pleasant Library Planning commission has taken a “top down approach,” Edwards said, complaining that the community has been left out of the loop in planning the library’s future. Edwards argued that a survey used to ascertain public opinion had asked questions that made many assumptions contrary to common perceptions of libraries and that research conducted by the commission into the expansion was contrary to standard, smart procedure.

Graham said he was uncomfortable with the lack of analysis on what was actually needed in terms of library expansion and what services should be provided and what kind of facilities would be required to provide them where they were needed most. “We just don’t know enough about what future concerns are,” he said.

Edwards argued that an outside group needs to be found to perform a needs analysis on the library’s expansion and “get the facts for us,” he said. “We don’t have credible information about what our needs are.”

The ANC is opposed to expansion only “in this way,” Edwards said. Edwards argued that the construction budget could be better used in helping people throughout Ward One, that the necessary expansion could be accomplished with only part of the budget while the rest could be employed to expand library services throughout the ward.
Mount Pleasant ANC member Jack McKay saw the pause as a potential opportunity, one where the needs of Ward One residents might be better served. People in the Mount Pleasant area don’t need key library services as badly as in other areas of Ward One, particularly in the east, he said.

At this point, the public library is performing only 20 percent of services needed, Edwards said. He has heard from many who complain to the ANC that “they don’t see the programs that they need,” he said.

There was some speculation among those gathered that space the library currently has might be better used, limiting the need for expansion and new facilities. While there is unused space, a library representative in attendance explained that some 20,000 people use the library each month, numbers it is not equipped to handle. During peak hours, “we don’t have a space for everyone to sit in the library,” he said.

Amos Tevelow of the Mount Pleasant Condominium Association was among the meeting’s most vocal advocates against expansion as is. Mount Pleasant Condominiums is the library’s direct next door neighbor. According to Tevelow, the designs call for the library to almost completely breach the gap between the two buildings, eliminating a driveway that is currently there, potentially inhibiting fire egress. Tevelow also claimed that the library in its planned form would obstruct condominium windows, lowering the quality of life for residents and damaging property values. Not opposed to the idea of the expansion in general, just the current design, “we’re open to a lot of creative solutions,” Tevelow said.

Students not represented at local meetings

The Advisory Neighborhood Committee meeting for Ward 3D focused on neighborhood safety and community growth Wednesday night, but failed to involve American University students in the discussion.

The monthly meeting began with a police report, which mostly focused on the safety of valuables. However when it came time for public and committee questions, the tone of the briefing changed. Committee member Stuart Ross stated that he had complaints of students being drunk walking down the street on Friday nights.

“I have gotten a lot of calls the last couple of weeks that on Friday nights there have been a number of students, excuse me, younger people walking really drunk,” Ross stated. “It is an annoyance and there is also concern about the kids getting hurt.”
The officer then instructed the Ross to tell neighborhood residents to call 911. He stated that it was a crime and that they could have officers take care of the problem. It is a fair assessment but there is also no one from the University student body to address the claims.

With the University being a large portion of the Ward they should have a seat allotted to them because it makes up one district. When asked about whether or not there is AU representation at the committee hearings the committee responded saying there is a liaison from the University in the audience. The committee then went on to say that there is an extra seat on the committee that hasn’t been filled and should be reserved for a student.

“AU has its own district of 2,000 residents,” Ross said. “We have tried to get a student elected but there is a problem with the board of elections preventing that from happening.”

The members of the ANC would not state what the problem was. Upon further investigation though there seems to be no major problems that would prevent a student from being elected. The District of Columbia web site had only three rules for who can run for the committee as a write in candidate.

The first qualification was for the candidate to live in the Single Member District for at least 60 days prior to the election. To be eligible for the 2008 election a candidate must have moved to the Ward by September 5. Fall classes started August 25 in 2008.

The second requirement is for the candidate to be a registered voter in the District of Columbia. Any person above the age of 18 is able to change where they are registered to vote and college students are allowed to register in the area where there college resides.

The final qualification is that the form for the write in candidacy must be turned in. Even though a student meets all of these requirements there was no announcement about the election. The ANC members and the District of Columbia government could not be reached for comment on why a student could not be elected.

Along with the discussion of American University the meeting also talked about the neighborhood community. The Community Council for the Homeless talked about how to help get the homeless off of the streets. Along with that the People’s Property Campaign asked the ANC to support their movement to save public property in the District of Columbia.

The Marine Corps. Marathon was the final topic discussed. Part of the route goes through a three mile stretch of Ward 3D. As a result the marathon had to come get approval from the Committee to disrupt traffic for two hours.

ANC’s are set up by the local government to consider and address policies and issues that affect their neighborhoods. The issues include traffic, parking, recreation, street improvements, liquor licenses, economic development, police protection, sanitation and trash collection. They meet once a month to discuss these issues with input from residents.

The Committee’s purpose is to allow citizens directly affected by government action to express their opinion. The ANC’s present their findings and recommendations to various District government agencies, the Executive Branch and the City Council. Mandated by law they may also present their positions to Federal agencies.

ANC 3D meets on the first Wednesday of every month. Meetings are held in the Ernst Auditorium at Sibley hospital. They start at 7 pm and run for one to two hours. The head of the Committee is Elizabeth Sandza and Tom Smith runs the meetings. They are open to the public and anyone is allowed to voice their opinion on any issue.