At the Sept. 28 Candidates Forum, some of the usual suspects showed up.
Questions about Wilton Drive, parking and redevelopment dominated much of the discussion as moderator Naomi Cobb, a longtime resident and commission candidate in 2014, asked the candidates to choose a position on the issues.
Related: Mayoral Candidate Questions Budget, Salaries, Wrongly Accuses Commission of Passing Budget in Empty Room
This November, voters will be asked to choose between four candidates for two commission seats and two candidates for the mayoral race. Mayor Gary Resnick is facing a challenge from Boyd Corbin and Commissioner Julie Carson and Commissioner Tom Green are running against challengers Celeste Ellich and Paul Rolli. Organized by the city’s neighborhood associations, not all candidates were given the same questions.
On Wilton Drive, the incumbents, Resnick, Carson and Green, kept up their support for reducing the road from four to two lanes. Rolli joined with them in support but he expressed some concerns over the impact it would have on traffic. A reduction in accidents and fatalities involving pedestrians has been the main reason given for support of the project.
Corbin, the project’s most outspoken opponent, kept up his opposition. “We can’t just narrow all lanes and add hundreds of new condos and expect everything to be OK.” He suggested more police officers on duty, assisting people, and more crosswalks would improve safety.
Resnick responded to Corbin, saying his opposition to the lane reduction was based on “incorrect information . . . it’s not costing us anything.”
City and MPO officials say the project will cost $2.8 million and that none of the money will come from the city. Corbin said a previous study of narrowing the road estimated the cost at $3.5 million. Asked about that estimate, City Manager Leigh Ann Henderson said the cost is less because it’s based on a new design. Henderson said the city is looking to add more landscaping and trees to the project but will pay for those with grant money, not tax dollars.
Resnick also attacked one of Corbin’s oft-repeated lines: that he has knocked on many doors and the overwhelming majority of residents he talks to don’t want Wilton Drive altered.
“I think only 10 people opened the door,” said Resnick whose line drew applause and laughter by some in the audience. “Civility” responded Corbin.
Ellich, who had previously said she was still studying the issue, came out against the proposal and suggested that the road be temporarily reduced to study the impact before a permanent change is made. Carson said some cars would avoid Wilton Drive by driving through neighborhoods, but that’s something that already occurs on many streets.
On the proposed redevelopment of the former Center for Spiritual Living site at Northeast 26 Street and Northeast 15 Avenue, Cobb asked if the candidates would approve a 100-unit residential complex. The project has not yet gone before the commission but will in the near future.
Everyone except Resnick said they would vote against the project if it had 100 units. Resnick said he needed more information before committing to a vote. But he did express support for redeveloping the site. “The [Center for Spiritual Living] needs to be turned around.”
On parking, Corbin, Ellich and Rolli said the city should build a parking garage at city hall instead of the multiple lots the city has purchased and developed over the last few years. Rolli said the small lots were disruptive to the neighborhoods and inefficient. He added that the city should more closely study the parking situation during peak hours before it spends more money on the problem. Green, who has voted in favor of the small lots, supports building a mixed-use garage with commercial or residential space.
Ellich said a garage is needed to accommodate the surge in parking during festivals, such as Stonewall. She said it would also be easier to get developers to invest in helping the city build a garage. Previously, the city has unsuccessfully tried to get developers to form a public/private partnership with the city. The hope was that the city would provide the land for the garage and the developer would spend the money to build it.
Resnick came out against building a garage in favor of encouraging the use of ride-sharing apps, such as Uber and Lyft. Carson also talked about ride-sharing.
Asked about diversity and if marketing the city as an LGBT destination was exclusionary, Resnick said reaching out to residents was “constantly a struggle” and that “we can do a better job.”
Corbin said the city could do better at reaching out to seniors and other segments of the city. “The boards are almost exclusively gay,” Corbin said.
In an interview with The Gazette, Cobb said she didn’t think either mayoral candidate answered the question. “I think the answers were an avoidance,” she said.
The one issue every candidate seemed to agree on was that the city needs to attract new businesses and investors. But getting there is where each candidate differs.
Carson said she’d like to see a higher diversity of businesses, not just bars and restaurants. She suggested a possible limit on the number of bars and restaurants allowed.
Rolli said the city needs to take a look at every major corridor and create a new business model with the help of experts. Ellich said the city should improve communication with business owners and fill its now vacant city planner position so that person can assist with development and business growth. Green said rezoning certain streets, including Andrews Avenue, would set the city up to attract the right kind of new business.