|Posted by Anne Siren on October 26, 2012 at 3:30 PM|
By Judy Vik
Wilton Manors – Two incumbents and two challengers the Wilton Manors City Commission faced off in a candidate forum Tuesday at Hagen Park Community Center.
Candidates with the most votes on Nov. 6 will be elected.
Incumbent Vice Mayor Tom Green is completing four years on the commission where he has emphasized environmental and transportation issues. He helped Wilton Manors establish the first green building codes for the city.
Green, 69, is a retired professor at Broward College. Serving on the commission is his full-time job.
Julie Carson is completing her first two-year term.She says her biggest focus has been bridging gaps and building open access to officials.
Carson, 51, is a senior paralegal for a real estate investment company. She helped the city find waty to reduce legal fees.
Challenger Salvatore Torre, 50, is a marketing associate for Sysco Foods. He values community service and has served on the city’s budget review committee and Wilton Drive Task Force.
Torre says the election is about “smart development.”
Kimber White, 53, is the owner of a mortgage company. He serves on the Wilton Manors economic development task force.
Pelican staff reporter, Mike d’Oliveira, moderated the debate.
Q. The city is considering the formation of a public/private partnership with a developer. The plan is to develop the Hagen Park/City Hall parking lot. Ideas include commercial space and a boutique hotel. If the city enters into a partnership, a 400-space parking garage would be attached to whatever is built. Should the city go forward with this project and if so, what do you think would be the best use of the remaining land?
Carson said this may not be the best location for a garage and building. She added that she would wait for developer ideas for the recent Requests for Proposals [RFPs] sent out by the city.
Torre said the project should have had more public input before the RFPs went out. He added that the city has the ability to float a revenue bond for a parking structure and could then expand the park.
Green said no decision has been made on what will be built. The area is zoned as a Planned Unit Development which requires a minimum of 25 percent of the area to be open space.
“Now it’s asphalt. I want it developed, so we will have some green space in it,” Green said. “I will insist on open space and meeting space.”
Green said there will be plenty of time for the public to have input.
“We need to make sure we’re enhancing the quality of life and not just building a parking structure,” White said.
White didn’t think floating bonds was a great idea. Carson agreed.
Q. What three areas or streets would you most like to focus on?
Green said the city has to keep working on Wilton Drive. “That’s our bread and butter. We can’t ignore it.” But he said a mix of businesses is needed, and parking should no longer be required for retail businesses.
The city recently received a $1 million grant for improvements to Dixie Highway and possibly a railway station, an idea Green liked.
“If you want to guess where an incredible place will be in eight or nine years, it’s Dixie Highway,” Green said.
White said the city needs to create a small business incubator on Andrews Avenue. “[Andrews] looks horrible,” he said White added that lighting on Powerline is important.
“We spend a lot of time talking about the corridors. Now we have to refocus our energy on the neighborhoods,” Carson said. “Some are feeling neglected. All the corridors will continue to be important,” she said, but so are the neighborhoods.”
Asked if the city should take over Wilton Drive from the state and turn it into a two-lane road, the candidates all agreed the takeover would be too costly.
White said the city could look at improving crosswalks and at providing shuttles.
Q. An audience member asked if the candidates favor or oppose WiltonManors Police merging with the Broward Sheriff’s Office.
Green said, “Everyone I talk to wants to keep our own police force. The police force wants to be part of BSO. They haven’t gotten enough raises.” Green said he prefers a local force sensitive to the uniqueness of the city.
Torre said it would be neglectful not to seek proposals for fire, police and EMS. Carson said she favors a hometown, village police. “I like it, and the residents like it.” She said it’s disappointing the police may not want to be here. “But it’s not fiscally responsible to move to BSO.”
White said, “When the majority of the police union doesn’t want to be here, there’s an issue.”
Q. Many east neighborhood residents near the Center for Spiritual Living property are worried that a proposed 81-unit apartment development on the four-acre site will have a negative impact on their area because the project is too dense. How can this work?
Carson said there will be traffic flow and noise issues. She said the city is doing more to reach out to developers, and they have to rely on neighborhood associations and others. “But because someone is very vocal doesn’t mean everyone feels the same way. “It’s important to balance the very loud voices with those more reserved so we find common ground,” she said.
Because of this one piece of property there’s been an attempt to not improve PUD zoning, Green said. “If we do nothing, a mausoleum could be built there. One resident told me that would be good, it would be quiet and no traffic.”
Packing a large number of people at the site doesn’t make sense, Green said.
All candidates supported local festivals like Stonewall and Wicked Manors.
“The events have international impact and help market the city abroad and tout it as a vacation destination and then a place where you may want to live and raise your children,” Carson said.
She added the city needs to talk about other events, such as business expos and art shows. Green would like a St. Patrick’s Day event. White suggested an art walk or crafts fair.
Q. Does the city need to cap the amount of pension money a new employee receives and would you reduce or eliminate the annual $2,400 stipend former employees receive once they start receiving Medicare?
White said he would be willing to make changes.
Carson said both are options that need to be considered.
With the city’s pension obligations growing at $260,000 annually, Torre said there has to be some give and take.
Green said the typical city employee doesn’t make a great deal of money. “If we take something away, we have to replace it with something just as good,” he said. The state retirement system is solvent, he said “We’re not in a terrible situation now.”