Crime, taxes, sector plan among topics at candidates' forum
Council, mayoral candidates outline goals at hour-long event
Fixing the Route 1 Sector Plan, strengthening neighborhood watch groups and not raising taxes were the main platform issues for the eight candidates at the City Council and mayoral candidates' forum held Oct. 8 in College Park.
The forum, hosted by the North College Park Citizens Association, featured candidates from Districts 1 and 2 and the city's lone mayoral candidate, Andrew Fellows. The forum excluded candidates from District 3, the lone district that does not include North College Park. District 4 candidates were scheduled to appear, but instead attended an emergency meeting regarding the potential closure of the College Park Woods swimming pool.
Incumbent Patrick Wojahn (Dist. 1) was joined by challengers Larry Bleau, Fazlul Kabir and Christine Nagle. From District 2, council members Robert Catlin and Jack Perry and challenger Robert Weber also participated. District 1 challenger J. Seth Gomoljak, who said he had a prior engagement, did not attend.
The council candidates were each asked three questions by moderator and former City Councilman John Krouse, who served on the council from 2003 to 2007. Most said they would get residents more involved in urban planning, crime prevention and work to draw new businesses along Route 1 without making the city a more expensive place to live.
"Even if we don't cut [taxes], let's just keep it the way it is," Weber said. "A lot of us are in hard times."
One of the city's most hotly debated topics is the sector plan, which calls for mixed use development and road expansions in the city during the next 30 years. North College Park residents have strongly objected to the plan, which they said would bring traffic and noise to their neighborhoods.
"If we don't fix the transportation issue, it's like putting the cart before the horse," Kabir said, who opposed the plan's proposal to use Autoville Drive as a major road parallel to Route 1.
Most candidates agreed that the sector plan developed by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission is riddled with holes, including unfeasible traffic patterns. Nagle called the plan "a recipe for chaos in our community."
Candidates agreed that the development has the potential to improve the city's atmosphere and tax base, but said that potential can only be realized through constant suggestions and fine-tuning from residents.
"The sector plan is increasingly efficient in some respects but it needs help on a lot of the details," Wojahn said. "We need to make sure that what happens in North College Park is what we want to happen."
Attracting businesses to Route 1 was a top priority for several candidates, including Catlin, who said a more vibrant Route 1 would be a two-fold benefit by attracting new residents as well as tax-paying business owners.
"Route 1 is pretty much a wasteland," Catlin said. "If we want low taxes, we shouldn't be happy that we have abandoned businesses that litter the city."
Fellows, who left his District 1 council seat in 2007, said he would seek to improve education and involve citizens associations more in citywide politics.
When asked, he said he would also be less vocal during meetings than current Mayor Stephen Brayman in an effort to encourage dialogue and speed up proceedings.
"One thing that really helps is speaking less and letting the council speak a little more," Fellows said.