Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Council, planners work on proposed zoning ordinance

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The City Council met with the city Planning Commission Monday in their first worksession on the citywide draft zoning ordinance.

The discussion, which lasted about three hours, went into details of sections on home-based businesses, mixed-use zones, parking and zoning on Stonestreet Avenue. And that was only one-third of the night’s agenda.

‘‘A lot of good things came out of it,” such as understanding the process the Planning Commission went through to make its decisions, Councilman John B. Britton said Tuesday.

Britton identified regulations on public use space and mixed-use zones in the Rockville Pike corridor among the issues he expects would be discussed in later worksessions.

The current draft zoning ordinance would require a developer to set aside 20 percent of the site for public use; 10 percent must be on site and 10 percent could be fulfilled by paying a fee.

Councilman Piotr Gajewski questioned the regulation that he said would make it more expensive for a developer to build in Rockville.

‘‘It worries me that forcing some uses may have unintended effects,” Gajewski said.

Planning Commissioner Kate Ostell countered his argument, saying that increased development would add more users to the city’s parks, which means the city and taxpayers would spend more on those parks.

Councilwoman Anne M. Robbins said she felt the worksession was ‘‘worthwhile” and hopes to have further discussions on the grandfathering clause, home-based businesses and mansionization. She would also like to discuss adding more environmental requirements to the zoning ordinance.

‘‘I don’t think we’ve done much on that at all,” Robbins said. ‘‘We talked about it and the intentions are good, but would like to get into that.”

Councilwoman Phyllis R. Marcuccio said she was concerned about the abundant use of new mixed-use zones throughout the city.

‘‘I don’t think that it’s the best thing for every part of the city,” Marcuccio said Tuesday. ‘‘I’m concerned about its place as it relates to neighborhoods. I’m not convinced we have to take away small strip malls and replace them with a tenement kind of arrangement.”

Another worksession is set for 7 p.m. today at City Hall, 111 Maryland Ave.

Rockville sets conditionsfor court construction

Rockville officials met with representatives from the state’s Department of General Services last month to review the city’s concerns as the state prepares to construct the new District Courthouse in downtown Rockville.

Demolition of the old library at 99 Maryland Ave. is tentatively scheduled between November and February, according to a letter from City Manager Scott Ullery to the Department of General Services that summarized the June 11 meeting. Construction of the new courthouse is tentatively scheduled between March of next year and October 2010.

In the letter, Ullery outlined the conditions, including parking, traffic and sidewalk accessibility.

Ullery said the contractor needs to create a parking plan for construction employees so as to prevent parking in nearby residential streets.

Construction vehicles are prohibited from using South Washington Street and Maryland Avenue between Interstate 270 and Vinson Street, Ullery stated. The city requests that construction vehicles avoid the West Montgomery Avenue exit off Interstate 270 ‘‘because Shady Grove Road, [Route] 355 and Wootton Parkway are the preferred routes to downtown Rockville.”

City officials are also requiring that Vinson Street, adjacent to Maryland Avenue, is kept open at all times for access to City Hall’s main entrance and on-street parking and sidewalks.

Construction work is expected to take place 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

City begins single-stream recycling

The City of Rockville is rolling out single-stream recycling earlier than anticipated, officials said, allowing residents who are served by the city to put all recyclables in one bin for collection.

The city recently finalized a contract with Waste Management Recycle America for recyclable services, including hauling recyclables from the Montgomery County Transfer Station to the single-stream recycling facility in Elkridge in Howard County.

‘‘The economics suggest that it’s more cost-effective to do it, plus it’s easier for residents,” Craig Simoneau, Rockville’s director of public works, said.The city expects to receive $235,000 in revenue in fiscal 2009.

The city expects to transition the new semi-automated weekly garbage collection program in four phases throughout Rockville’s neighborhoods beginning in October. The phase-in is expected to be complete within a year.

New refuse and recycling carts will be provided in different sizes, depending on residents’ needs.

Council introduces hotel⁄motel tax into law

The City Council on Monday introduced an ordinance to impose a new state-mandated hotel rental tax that would charge a 2 percent tax on hotel rentals within Rockville city limits.

State legislators passed a bill this year to impose the tax on municipalities in Montgomery and Somerset counties.

But hotels in Rockville are not pleased with the new law.

Christopher Zindash, general manager of the Sleep Inn and Crown Plaza hotels in Rockville, told council members Monday that the tax on municipality hotels is ‘‘unfair” and ‘‘creates competition within our own community.”

Zindash also questioned the revenue the city estimated for each hotel, saying his hotels’ revenues were ‘‘grossly overstated.”

But the city got the information directly from the hotels, said Gavin Cohen, Rockville’s finance director.

Hotels in Rockville will charge their customers 15 percent in taxes: a 7 percent county sleeping accommodations tax, a 6 percent sales tax and the new 2 percent tax.

The city expects to collect $600,000 in revenue for nine months in fiscal 2009, after 3.5 percent of taxes collected are given to the Conference and Visitors Bureau of Montgomery County, as mandated by the new law.

The City Council is expected to adopt the ordinance next week and the tax will go into effect Oct. 1.