Wilmington City Council candidates address growth, crime, economy

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Port City Daily has sent an identical questionnaire to each candidate running for Wilmington City Council.

There are eight candidates vying for three open seats. Each voter can choose up to three candidates, and the top three overall vote getters will win seats on city council.

Candidates are listed in alphabetical order, and their responses are unedited. Two candidates, incumbent Neil Anderson and MLK, Jr. Celebration Committee member Hollis Briggs, Jr., did not respond to our questionnaire.

The election takes place Tuesday, Nov. 3.

 

The city council meets in Wilmington City Hall, 102 N. Third St. Photo by Jonathan Spiers.
The city council meets in Wilmington City Hall, 102 N. Third St. Photo by Jonathan Spiers.

Margaret Haynes

Incumbent and current Mayor Pro-tem; first appointed to City Council in 2009, elected to a four-year term in 2011

The City of Wilmington expects 60,000 additional residents over the next 25 years. How do you see the city accommodating this growth? Please be specific and include your thoughts on how the city will meet transportation needs that arise from more residents.

We are already actively engaged in a long-range planning process.  The Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan, with extensive citizen input, is looking at the issues of economic development, environment and recreation, land use, diversity and community, arts and culture, housing, and transportation.  It’s an open and transparent process that’s looking 25 years into the future.

Specifically on transportation:  I support re-locating the rail corridor to the other side of the river and re-purposing the tracks for some kind of muni transit system.  Also, we need to address our heavy traffic intersections such as S. College and Oleander and resolve the Independence extension to MLK Parkway.  Finally, we need to find an affordable solution to an additional Cape Fear River crossing.

Do you think the city is making an effective effort to reduce crime? What is the council’s role in making sure the city is a safer place?

We need to continue to expand and improve our community policing programs that build partnerships with various community groups.  Community policing is not a new concept.  For years, the city has been promoting organizational strategies and problem-solving techniques to address the conditions that give rise to public safety issues such as crime, social disorder and fear.  Working with the County Sheriff’s Department and the Wilmington Housing Authority, we need to build on programs like Saturday and Sunday Night Hoops Program, the Gun Violence Reduction Program for Kids, and U-Turn, a re-entry program to promote positive choices.  The Mayor and Council consider public safety the top priority of city government.

Economic development has been a hot topic as the city competes with other regions for businesses to relocate. What is the city’s role in attracting business to Wilmington and how would you go about executing this plan if elected?

The City of Wilmington is now the center of a three county region including Brunswick and Pender counties in addition to New Hanover County.  We need to be the driving force behind this regional economic development partnership and make it more efficient and effective.  We need better cooperation in infrastructure development and more consistent regulations in zoning and land use ordinances.  Working together, we can grow our existing businesses, support our entrepreneurial sector and attract new clean industries that the diversified job opportunities of the future. But we need to develop a regional plan with Wilmington at the center.

If you were to receive a city council seat, what is your top priority for your time on the council? What is your strategy for getting results for that priority?

My top priority is managing our growth as we build a safer and more livable city. Growth always provides both opportunities and challenges, and with the city now pressing against its geographic boundaries, it will involve compromise.  We need to preserve our historic heritage and our fragile coastal environment, but we also need smart growth to provide opportunity for the future.  There’s no easy answer.  It requires an open and transparent planning process and the full engagement of the City Council.

Deb Hays

Realtor; currently serves on the steering committee for the City of Wilmington Comprehensive Plan, Chair of the Wilmington Planning Commission and as a current commissioner and past chair of the Wilmington Housing Authority

The City of Wilmington expects 60,000 additional residents over the next 25 years. How do you see the city accommodating this growth? Please be specific and include your thoughts on how the city will meet transportation needs that arise from more residents.

As Chair of the Wilmington Planning Commission, I have been diligently working with elected officials to build and maintain better roads, while looking for alternative transportation options to reduce traffic.

Traffic and transportation issues will always be at the forefront of our city’s agenda. With water on both sides of Wilmington, we have unique challenges in traversing our area. Since road building is a city and state responsibility, I plan to work closely with our local delegation in Raleigh to be sure Wilmington is a top priority in the state legislature.  I believe we can improve how traffic is directed through our city with assistance from our traffic engineers and properly programing advanced signaling software. We must also be creative in looking for future opportunities to reduce vehicle usage; making our city walkable, multi-facet transportation options, and maximizing connectivity correctly throughout our city.  In the short term, we have the ability to establish park and ride areas to offload traffic during peak hours; using our existing trolley system and enhancing our bus routes with smaller buses running more direct routes at peak times. Long term plans must be incorporated into all future developments via implementing the new City Comprehensive Plan.

Higher density development and infill can be incorporated into existing neighborhoods while maintaining current character.  There are many neighborhoods where increased density makes sense and can add to that neighborhood’s character and property values. There are many neighborhoods where it does not make sense and we must preserve those and the essence that is Wilmington. Density does not mean just an apartment complex.  It can be transitional, from a large acre development to a medium acreage development to smaller acreage – all single family homes, or combination of detached and attached homes (the new cottage style development is a prime example). Another example of incorporating density and facilitating traffic is the neighborhood node. This idea incorporates all the amenities needed and wanted by residents within a neighborhood; having walking/biking access to grocery stores, banks, drug stores, churches, schools, etc… within or along the perimeter of a residential neighborhood so the residents do not have to access major roadways for their daily needs/amenities. This provides green space, outdoor activity, and lessens traffic on roadways. If we act reasonably and responsibly looking for development trends and ideas that add beauty and character to Wilmington, we will have done our jobs. We must think creatively!

Do you think the city is making an effective effort to reduce crime? What is the council’s role in making sure the city is a safer place?

We must plan for ways to keep our communities and neighborhoods safe. We have very effective law enforcement but it will be challenged by the growth that is coming. As past Chair and current Commissioner of the Wilmington Housing Authority, we instituted a joint task force with Wilmington Police Department (WPD) and the New Hanover County Sherriff (NHCS) to provide Community Policing on all our sites.  This task force has been overwhelmingly successful due to the community policing aspect.  The same officers are assigned to the same neighborhoods; they become familiar with the residents, they know who lives where and who is not supposed to be in the developments.  This has proven hugely successful with a year to date reduction in crime of nearly 60%.  In addition, the Officers have engaged the youth in the community, regularly playing with them in the afternoons, and taking them on field trips to sporting events, etc…

In speaking with Chief Evangelous, he feels that we can implement city-wide community policing over a period of time, without impact to the city budget.  Having seen first-hand the great success of this program, I would definitely be in favor of a city-wide community policing program.

In addition, the community needs to engage; establishing neighborhood watch programs, neighborhood associations, etc… to augment and assist the police in preventing crimes and to accurately and expediently report it when crimes do take place.  Our Law Enforcement Officers will work with any and all city neighborhoods to establish and train the citizens for effective neighborhood programs.

Economic development has been a hot topic as the city competes with other regions for businesses to relocate. What is the city’s role in attracting business to Wilmington and how would you go about executing this plan if elected?

We need to bring good paying, long-term jobs to Wilmington.  We will do this by encouraging existing businesses and recruiting new ones; establishing partnerships with contractual obligations to hire locally.  We need to have both short term and long term plans to adequately address economic development.

To facilitate a business friendly environment in the short term, I will look for ways to streamline the various permitting processes without sacrificing public safety and concerns; fast tracking through the permitting process if the developer meets with certain criteria – to build in specific locations and to hire locally, for example.  This saves the developer money while addressing our concerns.  These are not just construction jobs but developing commercial areas that bring solid long term investment businesses to our area, again hiring locally.

In addition, we must work regionally and in conjunction with the State to competitively attract major businesses to our area.  I will work diligently with our local, regional, and state officials to keep Wilmington at the forefront of economic development.

For the long term, we must implement the new Comprehensive Plan for the City and redesign the Land Development Code (LDC).  Our LDC is woefully outdated and constrains the City’s Planning Staff, the Planning Commission and the City Council’s efforts to adequately and properly plan for future growth. This is a critical component to our City’s future success in attracting, recruiting, and retaining major businesses that will invest in our City by hiring locally and improving an existing commercial property or building a new facility.

If you were to receive a city council seat, what is your top priority for your time on the council? What is your strategy for getting results for that priority?

City Staff and Community Volunteers have spent the past two years working on a Comprehensive Plan for the City.  Through tireless effort and hundreds of hours of citizen input and involvement, this plan is now in final draft form. This extensive document set would be the basis for a complete revision of our Land Development Code and a fluid roadmap for future Leaders to follow.  The plan, presented to Council for review, will need to be approved and thoroughly implemented.  I have served on this committee and believe that this is our plan for the future and necessary for proper growth, for addressing transportation, for bringing jobs…for Wilmington!

Paul Lawler

Former accountant, auditor and chief financial officer; active with his neighborhood association and represented them on the Downtown Parking Advisory Committee

The City of Wilmington expects 60,000 additional residents over the next 25 years. How do you see the city accommodating this growth? Please be specific and include your thoughts on how the city will meet transportation needs that arise from more residents.

Growth is THE challenge facing Wilmington. Not only will Wilmington need to deal with growth in the City but it will also have to deal with the growth in the rest of the County and in neighboring counties. Those folks come to Wilmington to work, shop and be entertained. Wilmington must think carefully about its growth patterns so that the additional traffic is near the larger streets that can handle the traffic and so that people can find their destinations closer to home. We must improve Wave Transit so that it handles as much of the transit load as is possible.  We must improve signalization. We must be sure that our sidewalks are suitable to serve our walking needs. And we must be clear about our needs with the NC DOT.

Do you think the city is making an effective effort to reduce crime? What is the council’s role in making sure the city is a safer place?

First we must support our law enforcement. Wilmington can do more to prevent crime including helping our troubled youth find a more positive path. Simple steps such as community policing, street lights, more neighborhood watch groups, and weekend alternatives for young people can all help. We also need to engage our churches and nonprofits to reach out where the government representatives cannot reach. Wilmington needs to help people realize that they can aim higher.

Economic development has been a hot topic as the city competes with other regions for businesses to relocate. What is the city’s role in attracting business to Wilmington and how would you go about executing this plan if elected?

Closely connected to public safety and to quality of life is economic opportunity. Too many people cannot find good paying jobs. We can do better. Wilmington has an opportunity to bring in more history tourists and others who have more money to spend during their tourist visit. More success for related businesses leads to more money for staff. Wilmington also has an opportunity in the ‘knowledge’ sector. We should encourage more businesses such as PPD, Next Glass, Live Oak Bank and other clean businesses.  Those companies can locate anywhere. Places like Wilmington with a high quality of life have a natural advantage. We should take advantage of that. The Wilmington area may also have a real business opportunity meeting the needs for organic and boutique foods which have become popular as people care more about what we eat.

If you were to receive a city council seat, what is your top priority for your time on the council? What is your strategy for getting results for that priority?

Wilmington needs to aim higher. We have a great place here but we can’t afford to settle for ‘good enough.’ Let’s aim for the best delivery of government services, the safest streets, the strongest economy and the best ability to handle the growth coming to SE NC.

Frank Madonna

Worked as a senior manager in both the public and private sector and 10 years in New York City government; Navy veteran who serves on CFCC Foundation and Landfall COA boards

The City of Wilmington expects 60,000 additional residents over the next 25 years. How do you see the city accommodating this growth? Please be specific and include your thoughts on how the city will meet transportation needs that arise from more residents.

Build a higher rise downtown to concentrate tax value there. Comprehensively zone underdeveloped areas of the City while protecting neighborhoods.

Transportation needs will be accommodated by an upgrade in roads, a stronger bus service and, perhaps, at a later date, light rail.

Planning is the key. Understanding neighborhood needs and wants is essential. Governing by district model is one way to preserve neighborhoods and their character.

Planning the growth of each district with local input also provides balance. Are we creating green space around our development projects? Are we designing housing for the elderly?

We need to build “up” with a concern for retirees who want too stay here and downsize to condos.

Do you think the city is making an effective effort to reduce crime? What is the council’s role in making sure the city is a safer place?

The Council should take a KEY role in preventing crime. Here’s my suggestions.

Install the best technology available for the police to stay safe and deter crime. Increase the staffing at the expense of other programs to make sure there’s enough feet on the street

Develop after school programs to get our younger children off the streets and away from bad influences and establish community watch groups and a communication system to alert and support the prevention of crime.

Economic development has been a hot topic as the city competes with other regions for businesses to relocate. What is the city’s role in attracting business to Wilmington and how would you go about executing this plan if elected?

The City should join with the counties on this initiative. It doesn’t do anyone any good to go at this alone. You all wind up competing for the same companies.

I think a great deal more can be done in this area. I suggest developing a small professional group of talented people experienced in this line of work. Pay them a competitive wage for a specific amount of time. Perhaps a one year contract. Evaluate and monitor performance on a weekly basis to determine progress. If progress is being made, continue the contract.

This subject really needs a business like approach to be successful.

If you were to receive a city council seat, what is your top priority for your time on the council? What is your strategy for getting results for that priority?

This is a very interesting question. I believe new voices and fresh ideas are now needed on the council. Several of the Council members have been in office a long time.

There is a tendency to get stale and stuck in your ways. It’s human nature and with this election there’s an obvious play by the incumbents to “circle the wagons”.

The Mayor’s comments about new voices is worrisome. He thinks one person can change the dynamic and points to Brian Berger ( a controversial person with obvious personal problems) as an example of that change.

The obvious implication is that a new voice might cause the same problems. This is exactly the reason we need new voices. Change is not necessarily disruptive.

My strategy would be to get the Council out of the herd mentality on real estate development projects and pay more attention to ALL the people in ALL parts of the City.

My attention would be on crime, economic development, transportation and neighborhood preservation.

Building strip malls, grocery stores, fast food outlets, and box like rentals is not on my agenda. This does not represent progress it represents a limited view of what we can accomplish.

John Presswood

Realtor; currently serves on the City of Wilmington’s Board of Adjustment

The City of Wilmington expects 60,000 additional residents over the next 25 years. How do you see the city accommodating this growth? Please be specific and include your thoughts on how the city will meet transportation needs that arise from more residents.

The City of Wilmington should push for the completion of the Wilmington Bypass and Independence Boulevard Extension to add another North-South roadway, revise the zoning code to allow for higher density land use with row houses and mixed use development to reduce urban sprawl and revitalize the downtown area. This would keep more commuters off the roadways.  I would work with the Pender, Brunswick, and Onslow County leaders to reconnect the rail lines between Wilmington and Raleigh so we can reconnect passenger and freight rail transportation to the state capitol. This would also allow tourists from the entire east coast to reach Wilmington and enhance our tourist industry. Passenger rail service could be provided by Amtrak that leases CSX and Norfolk Southern rail lines across the country. Wilmington City Council needs to put more focus on the 1-25 year time frame by utilizing our existing rail line as an alternative method of transportation. This could be done by recruiting a historic/antique style commuter rail provider that leases the existing CSX rail lines. This system could be really helpful when we have large events such as the Azalea Festival and Riverfest downtown. The idea of moving the rail lines out of Wilmington is a possible long term goal that may happen 30-40 years from now and then a trolley system could be added. However, city council needs to put more focus on the next 1-25 years. The plan of recruiting passenger and commuter rail providers to Wilmington, would be a more cost effective use of local tax payer money. There is existing rail line infrastructure in place that is being underutilized. We also need work with NCDOT and CSX to make sure all of our rail road crossings have crossing gates. If crossing gates were located on all the railroad crossings within the city limits, then trains could go at a higher speed. This would also reduce the amount of time that sleeping residents hear the whistle warnings when the train passes through each rail crossing.

Do you think the city is making an effective effort to reduce crime? What is the council’s role in making sure the city is a safer place?

The key to reducing the crime rate is to give people opportunities to improve themselves by having access to good paying jobs. The citizens of Wilmington need good paying jobs to provide their own housing, food and financial security. The city could do a better job to reduce crime in Wilmington. The council needs to put more effort into recruiting light (clean) manufacturing employers so that young men and women have a place to find a job that will sustain them. The Wilmington City Council needs to work with the New Hanover County Government to implement vocational training for technology, manufacturing, automotive, and construction work skills to be taught in the school system. This needs to happen before young people turn 18, so that they graduate high school with work skills. The council also needs to promote more police bike-walk patrols, better city street lighting, and improve code enforcement for abandoned houses. The city council needs to partner with the New Hanover County officials to utilize (county owned) activity buses for transporting at-risk youth to nonprofit youth centers and city recreational facilities.

Economic development has been a hot topic as the city competes with other regions for businesses to relocate. What is the city’s role in attracting business to Wilmington and how would you go about executing this plan if elected?

Wilmington needs an innovation “hub” building in the downtown area in order to recruit high tech and research-development jobs. This could lead to other high tech branch-off businesses locating around the central building.  These would be clean industry and higher paying jobs that would serve to support surrounding businesses in the Wilmington area. Council would need to find a corporate partner to deliver gigabyte internet speed to the innovation building and the surrounding downtown area.  This would serve to facilitate an economic catalyst for bringing new higher paying jobs to Wilmington. The focus of a council member should be to leverage state and federal money for projects that revitalize our economy. This is a big project and would require a public-private partnership in order to accomplish it. This same innovation project has been accomplished in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which served to create a big increase in high tech and other corporations relocating to that city.

If you were to receive a city council seat, what is your top priority for your time on the council? What is your strategy for getting results for that priority?

My top priority as a Wilmington City Council Member  would be to bring better paying jobs to Wilmington. Financial security is key to resolving the crime, adequate housing and prosperous future for city residents. This is beautiful place to live and work. This area has so many things to offer with our historic district, parks, beaches, waterways and ocean areas that need to be preserved. Corporations will see this when deciding whether to relocate here. However, the transportation network is designed for a smaller town rather than the growing city Wilmington has become. This will make this city a less appealing location choice. The best strategy to correct this infrastructure problem is to support the completion of the (state funded) Independence Boulevard Extension that would provide a second North-South road artery. The next 1-25 years should be the focus of a city council member. The existing rail network needs to be utilized as an alternative mode of transportation. A commuter rail provider that leases the existing CSX rail bridge and line across the Cape Fear River should be recruited to provide a park and ride system.  This would alleviate the frequent traffic jams that occur on a Leland-Wilmington commute. The rail line between Wilmington and Raleigh needs to be reconnected. I would work with surrounding county leaders to lobby for state and federal funding for this project. We also need to have passenger rail service from Wilmington to Raleigh and Charlotte. It is time to spark our local economy in Wilmington. I am the youngest candidate at 44 years old and it is time for us to have new and younger members on Wilmington City Council.  I want to protect our natural, historic and cultural environment, while allowing the citizens of Wilmington to prosper. If you want Wilmington to have better jobs, traffic and crime solutions then please vote and bring a friend to vote. It is time for us to get good paying jobs moving here and our cars moving better through Wilmington. Local government directly impacts your life. Vote Presswood to “Move Wilmington Forward”.

Alvin Rogers

Local small business owner; lifelong Wilmington resident

The City of Wilmington expects 60,000 additional residents over the next 25 years. How do you see the city accommodating this growth? Please be specific and include your thoughts on how the city will meet transportation needs that arise from more residents.

I became acquainted with city politics over 30 years ago, while fighting to keep commercial encroachment out of my neighborhood. Seeing that other residents were having similar concerns in their neighborhoods led me to seek a seat on the city’s planning commission and subdivision review board. I believe many homeowners buy in their particular neighborhoods with certain expectations. For most people, their home is their greatest investment. I have concerns about changing the densities in neighborhoods. That being said, there are people that are not interested in maintaining yards or homes. I believe if we expand on “Mayfaire Main Street” type concepts throughout existing commercial areas in the city this would absorb a great number of people. Imagine Independence Mall and other businesses all over the city having apartments above stores. This is a more efficient use of existing land and in some areas it will not generate as much extra traffic.

With regard to extra traffic, Glenn Harbeck’s proposal to move CSX rail traffic across the river and then access directly to the state ports is an excellent idea. This would free up the railroad tracks to be used for a light rail trolley system circling the city. A bridge from I-140 to Independence Blvd. would give us easier access to Brunswick County and could redirect truck traffic from the state ports directly out of town.

Do you think the city is making an effective effort to reduce crime? What is the council’s role in making sure the city is a safer place?

If there was an easy solution to crime someone would have eradicated it before now. I believe staff should look at specific types of crime i.e. drugs, break-ins, assaults, etc. and see if any other areas, anywhere, have lower crime rates, how they control it, and how it would best work for us here in Wilmington.

 I also believe the police chief and the sheriff working together is having a positive effect on crime in some areas. Their cooperative efforts along with more community policing should be expanded.

Economic development has been a hot topic as the city competes with other regions for businesses to relocate. What is the city’s role in attracting business to Wilmington and how would you go about executing this plan if elected?

Tourism is a “clean” industry and should be encouraged. I believe a city trolley system would encourage this. I feel the city should do more to encourage small businesses.

If you were to receive a city council seat, what is your top priority for your time on the council? What is your strategy for getting results for that priority?

Road and traffic improvements are the main reason I’m running for city council. For over 20 years the DOT has “tinkered” with what to do with the Oleander and South College Rd. intersection.  They appear to be focused on having an overpass down South College Rd. that would cross over Wrightsville Ave. and Oleander Dr. This would ruin all the businesses along South College Rd. in the Winter Park area and would do nothing to address Kerr Avenue’s impact as well. The DOT wants to widen Kerr Ave. to at least 5 lanes all the way down to Oleander Dr. with a right turn in and right turn out.  This would only add to the congestion in this area.

My proposal for a less that 10 block area along South College Rd. and Kerr Ave. is to make them a one way pair from Lake Ave. up to the Wilshire /Fountain Dr. area. This would solve both roads problems with one money, be cheaper than an overpass, and would allow the remaining businesses to thrive. With fewer directions at signalized intersections the time allowed per direction would be lengthened and the entire one way lanes will move more traffic more efficiently. I have drawings of this plan at my business for anyone to review at Rogers Appliance which is located at 4715 Oleander Dr.