Westwood mayoral candidates on the issues: What area of the city needs attention?

Westwood will be looking to solidify a community master plan in the coming months.

Our coverage of the Westwood election contest for mayor continues today with our third question for the candidates. Today’s question is:

Woodside Village, the 47th Street corridor and the Entercom area extending over to the former church all have been topics of discussion in recent months. What other area of the city needs attention and why?

Jim Donovan
Jim Donovan

James Donovan
Westwood’s first challenge is the church property.  The current administration purchased the property and has not yet communicated why it did so or what it has planned for the property.  As a result Westwood is currently paying $17,000 per year in interest only and several hundred dollars a month in utilities to own a building that sits idle.  Factor in a balloon payment of $425,000 coming due February 2017 and it is clear why this must be addressed in our next budget.

Secondly, my administration will recognize that we have street, curb and sidewalk needs.  In 2010 the city engineer developed a maintenance plan and the city treasurer factored in expenses through 2020.  The current administration has delayed many of those projects and provided no justification for doing so.  My administration will return to the practice of using our city engineer and city treasurer to identify needs and costs and then work collaboratively with the council to address them.

Next, if the Entercom/school/church/park area has substantive development then storm water runoff will be an issue.  The storm water drains in this area are currently at or near capacity and in part terminate in an easement under the rear yard of the church (thus making development above those drains impossible).  My administration will work with necessary professionals to identify needs and develop options to finance those needs.

Finally, my administration would use our city treasurer to conduct a financial cost/benefit analysis on all development in the city.  Whether a Tax Increment Financing or Community Improvement District proposal or simply changing ownership to a tax-exempt entity, our residents deserve to know the financial impact of decisions that are being made.  (For example, the current administration is considering a request to renegotiate the Woodside Phase 2 TIF from $31 million to $62 million while reestablishing the start date and giving the land to the developer.  Further, Entercom currently pays a Westwood property tax of almost $7,900 per year while the school district would be tax exempt.)

As Mayor, I would consider it my priority to work with our city treasurer and city engineer to determine our needs and then present them to the governing body for prioritization.  My administration will also welcome development proposals, including Woodside and the school district/Entercom, and cooperatively work to address mutual needs and desires.

John Yé
John Yé

John Yé
Although this question centers on “development” there are many other areas of the City that require attention. We need to address all the areas not just those with development themes. Infrastructure and storm water improvements; narrow streets that may require on-street parking and streets without curbs or sidewalks need to be addressed as well.

We still have streets that don’t have sidewalks. In order to truly adopt a walkable presence throughout the City we should incorporate planning for all areas. Some old streets don’t have curbs cuts which can also create storm water issues.  There could be a storm water issue for any development on the Entercom site. On Monday night the SMSD approved purchasing the radio station and the district intends to remove the towers at some point.  Whether a new school or new homes the storm water issues based on the typography of the land will have to be addressed.

We also need to confront aging structures like City Hall. We have aged equipment such as multiple 20+ year old AC units and a roof that repeatedly leaks.  The public restrooms are in need of repair and remodeling.  We have begun an equipment reserve fund in our budgeting and that will help but we need to be proactive about planning for upgrades.

Along the development themes, Joe D. Dennis Park certainly needs attention. The tennis court, once conceived as a winter ice skate rink is routinely damaged by water and ice melt.  The park is not ADA (American w/Disabilities Act) compliant and the playground equipment is dated.  There are also no public restrooms unless the neighboring Church is unlocked. Our comprehensive planning should yield guidance on what the public wants from their green space.

Rainbow should also be addressed. We need to engage the property owners and make sure we are doing what we can to continually bolster Rainbow for businesses that benefit the entire area.  At one point the property owner was discussing giving the Westwood strip mall a facelift and addressing upgrading the parking lot. These types of upgrades can increase the surrounding residential values as well as invite first rate businesses that can help bolster sales tax that pay for services.

Our attention need not only confront development themes but also our aging streets, storm water and City owned property.  These along with the Rainbow corridor and the Park are certain to be priorities for the next Council.

Tomorrow’s question: How do you expect the mayor to be called upon to lead over the next four years and describe your vision for that leadership.

Monday’s question: Building on inclusion
Tuesday’s question: The impact of Woodside Village