Last Thursday night, a final candidate forum was held at Fish Tale Marina where Al Durrett, Hank Zuba and Dan Parker facilitated a meeting between the seven people running for Town Council and some 90 residents and business owners who gathered in one of the boat barns to hear what they had to say.
Zuba opened the forum by asking each candidate to describe their ‘passion’ as it applies to why they’d like to serve on Council.
Suzanne Katt replied, ‘to find a solution to every problem we have on the beach within the next three years’. Dennis Boback said he feels that the Town is ‘going in the wrong direction’ and needs common sense. Bruce Butcher said ‘safety, affordability, amenities and Estero Boulevard’. Dan Andre said he first became involved with the Town because he is an environmentalist and now would like to move towards ‘keeping the island funky but clean up the edges’. Jack Green said he doesn’t agree that the Town is moving in the wrong direction, but perhaps it needs a ‘course correction’. Tracey Gore said she doesn’t want to lose the sense of community that she’s grown up with and Ber Stevenson replied that ‘the construction needs to stop’.
Zuba then had specific questions for specific candidates. To Katt, he commented on how she’d been walking around the island meeting residents and asked what she’d heard.
“In the beginning, everyone was concerned about stormwater, then it was the Grand Resorts project, then water quality and now it’s traffic,” she replied.
To Gore, Zuba asked why she is advocating for the county to review the Town’s codes when it was the county who allowed DiamondHead to be built (something many claim to be what finally caused incorporation to pass).
“We used to outsource Community Development to the county, and they interpreted our codes better than we do,” she said. “It was the county who said we can’t have elevated pools and that the new building where Top O Mast is shouldn’t have been allowed to be built.”
Hank asked Boback if there was anything in the budget he’d like to see cut.
“Not at this time, though I do think we should look at the Public Service Tax we added a couple of years ago,” he said. “We need to look at each department, and I don’t believe we saved much money bringing Beach And Street Enforcement (BASE) in-house.”
Ray Murphy, who served on the first Council that created the Town’s Land Development Code (LDC) and Comprehensive Plan, said that, while he’s proud of the two documents, they were ‘never meant to be set in stone’.
“They are living, fluid documents and were meant to change,” he said. “Time Square and the downtown area are meant to be maintained as livable and walkable. Considering that the (proposed Grand Resorts’) Coastal Protection System (CPS) would protect the walkability at ground level, how do those of you that are opposed to it justify that opposition when the alternative is to build 17 feet into the air?”
Tracey replied that she believes it’s possible to ‘be innovative’ and still adhere to FEMA flood elevation standards.
“Look at the Cottage and the Lani Kai – you need to walk up steps to get to those, and the Square is protected by the retaining wall in front of PierSide,” she said. Boback said that even if downtown does have to be built up, there ‘are plenty of things that can be done to stay walkable’.
A downtown business owner put Murphy’s question a different way – saying that – to him – the CPS is an insurance policy against a large hurricane.
“How can we rebuild under the current comp plan and code?” he asked.
Andre once again stated that people are getting too concerned too early about anything proposed by Grand Resorts.
“The CPS is interesting and merits having an open mind,” he said. “I’d like to see the science on this from both sides.”
Gore said the CPS benefits ‘retail only’, and Boback pointed out that it would only protect the island in a few places.
Grand Resorts developer Tom Torgerson, himself a resident of Palermo Street, asked the candidates a simple yes or no question.
“No one has seen the application yet, or the science, but will you keep an open mind to this or are you adamantly opposed?” he asked.
Butcher, Katt and Andre immediately said they would. Green said he’s ‘looking forward to seeing it, and Boback said he couldn’t answer the question until he’s seen something. Tracey said she would look at it, though she’s opposed to what she’s seen so far, and Ber said he’s totally opposed and would not change his mind.
Keri Hendry Weeg