Five candidates are seeking one of three available at-large Gahanna City Council seats in the Nov. 5 election.
Incumbents Karen J. Angelou of Cannonade Court and Nancy R. McGregor of Academy Court are being challenged by Merisa Bowers of Higley Court, John M. Hicks of Helmbright Drive and Michael Hroncich of Gulf Stream Court.
Incumbent Brian Metzbower isn't running for reelection.
ThisWeek Rocky Fork Enterprise posed three questions to each candidate regarding city issues, asking that responses be limited 200 words.
What do you see as the top priority in Gahanna and what do you propose to fix it?
Angelou: Local government exists to provide services citizens cannot do individually. Safety is always No. 1, as a community can only excel if citizens feel safe. I have always supported our PD and the needed equipment to protect officers so they can protect us. I am honored to have the FOP Capital Lodge 9 endorsement. The tax increase provides dedicated funds to hire needed additional officers including school-resource officers to protect our schools. Infrastructure on top and below the ground is a safety component. Our road repair program must be doubled with new dedicated funding to make up for several years of delay when I was not on council. This can help to lower accidents, vehicle repairs, raise the values of homes and improve quality of life. Safety components are key indicators for businesses looking to relocate. The expansion of road repair, monitoring underground infrastructure and increased PD presence creates an atmosphere ripe for economic development. Council will monitor the use of the 1% Issue 12 dedicated funds to ensure the voters they are being used as indicated. It is important to fill vacated jobs. It is imperative that council works with our new mayor and city attorney to move Gahanna forward.
Bowers: Our region is predicted to continue to grow dramatically over the next couple decades, as Gahanna has already seen in the last 30 years. We need to be thoughtful and intentional in planning for this continuing regional growth and how it impacts Gahanna. We must advocate for how we want our city to grow both commercially and residentially, and resist negative and unsustainable sprawl such as the conversion of residential property into low-quality commercial development. This is important to protect our most valuable assets -- our children and our environment. We need to do this through sustainable practices, setting policies that protect our environment, and insisting on development that will weather economic ups and downs. Continuing to protect our residents and neighbors must be the top priority. This specifically includes keeping people physically safe on our roads -- drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. As a city council member, I will support new infrastructure to keep people safe, including sidewalks in business districts to keep workers and customers safe, and on routes to schools to keep students and their caregivers safe.
Hicks: There are always opportunities to improve upon the policies and practices of city governance, but I don't believe that anything needs "fixed." As a member of council, I will work to improve the flow of information to the public. We need to make the process more effective and more efficient. We can accomplish this by planning and implementing a centralized reporting and communication platform where interested parties can go to obtain timely and relevant information. This plan would leverage technology to its fullest extent. Also, we are a community with flat population growth, less than 1% per year. With a tax base that is not growing, we need to bolster confidence that money is being spent prudently and encourage responsible and appropriate economic development. As an accounting and tax expert, I will help ensure the fiscally conservative spending of resources and accurate reporting of financial information.
Hroncich: There is a "Trust Gap" in our community that public officials don't recognize is a problem, let alone are offering any solutions to. The way to bridge that gap is through greater transparency. Every meeting I go to, and every vote I place, I will send out an email about it, and put it on social media. This way every resident that wants to know what's going on, will know what's going on, every step of the way.
McGregor: Now that Issue 12 has passed, Gahanna will have additional funds to begin to catch up on long deferred street, park and building maintenance and repair. Gahanna will have the funds to restore police and recreation programming levels and enhance those programs as needed. Gahanna voters were very generous in passing Issue 12 and city council and the mayor will work together to plan the budget for next year and the next few years. Gahanna has a bright future ahead. My husband and I have been involved in Gahanna through work and volunteerism for 42 years. We have seven grandchildren in the Gahanna-Jefferson school district. I will continue to work to keep Gahanna a clean, green community where people want to live and raise families. With each council decision, I consider what is best for Gahanna now and best for Gahanna in the future.
A developer has proposed a $25 million, 128-unit apartment development, consisting of two buildings, in the Creekside District that is currently being considered by Gahanna City Council and will eventually go before the planning commission. Do you favor a new, 5-story apartment building by a private property owner at Creekside? Explain.
Angelou: A Gahanna citizen, the property owner, has brought for consideration a $25 million, 128-unit apartment development. For the record, I was not on council during the Creekside approval or build. I have heard numerous times since returning, Creekside could flourish if there was increased foot traffic in the area. We know that the city owns the land, the urban park area and underground parking, but does not control the apartments, businesses or rental cost. What we do know is the current apartments are close to filled, there are restaurants and businesses, and some spaces are vacant. Across the street are longtime businesses, an arts center and the Herb Education Center. The Creekside District Alliance is working to have daily events to bring foot traffic. This private project will bring foot traffic and perhaps new commercial options to Creekside. However, we are only at the very beginning of a process. The planning commission will thoroughly study every detail concerning the project, as will council. Outside counsel reviewed the draft development agreement and discussed it with council on Sept. 23. Only three candidates attended. At this point in the process it is entirely too early to say "approve" or "disapprove."
Bowers: My interests in architecture and urban planning coupled with my legal training will be an asset to city council and our residents. I am prepared to think critically about proposals such as this one, examining these through various lenses and communicating these ideas as well as my own visions to our residents. This particular project, like any, has its pros and cons. While increasing residency in our central entertainment district will benefit businesses located in the Creekside District, the infrastructure is not currently suited to handle the increase in traffic. Further, this particular project, given its location and the developer's request for significant taxpayer subsidies, should not be 100% residential and should contain business use to justify the tax abatement. To keep in mind for future development, this council failed to act when it had the opportunity to restrict the blanket tax abatement. Gahanna should not have any "pre-1994" CRAs (Community Reinvestment Areas) at this time. The city gives away a negotiating chip by failing to control the amount and duration of any potential abatements. Our elected officials should have a strong grasp of what they can do to guide positive and sustainable development. As a city council member, I will put Gahanna's residents first.
Hicks: I am in favor of development in Gahanna's downtown district. This area has the lowest consumer spending but also has the least number of residents. As such, there are great opportunities for retail and residential development. As of the writing of this response, no application has been presented to the planning commission. The footprint, design and appearance of the proposed development are in draft form and are subject to change. As such, it is premature to comment on the specifics of the proposed development. As the chair of the planning commission, when an application is presented, I will encourage, support and advocate for public input at our scheduled meetings and workshops. As a member of council, I will leverage my experience on the planning commission and knowledge of our code to ensure that appropriate, responsible development occurs that meets our development standards and keeps with our land use character.
Hroncich: Based on the information presented so far, it's hard for me to say whether I'm in favor of the project or not. Right now, I have more questions than answers. Here are some questions I need answered before I will say whether I favor the project or not: 1. What will the infrastructure costs be to Gahanna taxpayers? 2. What's the return on investment for this project? 3. What sensitivity analysis has been done to gauge the economic impact? 4. How much revenue will the 15-year tax abatement cost our schools? 5. How many children are projected to be added to our school system? 6. How long will the project take to complete? 7. How will traffic be impacted during construction and upon completion?
McGregor: While Creekside apartments are virtually full, the retail segment struggles. There are reasons why the businesses struggle but more people patronizing these shops and restaurants will help. New residences would provide more foot traffic to support the businesses in the area. Whether this is the right proposal, I am not sure yet. We are in the early stages of looking at the developer's agreement that is between the city and the developer. The project is a private property owner proposing a $25 million development on his land. However, the developer is also asking the city to pay for a number of the public improvements as well as vacating a short segment of North Street. City council and the mayor are carefully looking at the proposal. We hired an attorney to look at the agreement and give us an opinion on the terms the developer is asking of the city. We are also looking at the financial costs and benefits to the city. I do not yet have enough information to form an opinion on this project. There is much information to be gathered.
The relationship between the city of Gahanna and Jefferson Township has been challenging at best during the last few years as a result of land possibly being annexed by Gahanna from the township. The latest conflict involves an easement for a path that connects a new Jefferson Township development to Hannah Park. How important is it for Gahanna to work collaboratively with the township? Explain.
Angelou: Annexations 101: Cities do not initiate annexations, property owners do. One annexation initiated was the Kitzmiller property, which ultimately remained in Jefferson Township. The development if annexed would have been empty nester housing with a Hannah Park pathway and access with $150,000 to Gahanna. The issue, now resolved, never was with Jefferson Township or with any of the homeowners in Weldon. The issue was with the developer who decided to build the pathway, pay $150,000 with no annexation and no approval from council. It is unbelievable for anyone to think that could ever be done. No annexation means no change to the Gahanna border. I believe in collaboration and building relationships with our neighbors. We have excellent relations with our neighbors north, south and Mifflin Township to the west. I would love to build a relationship with Jefferson Township. I personally have reached out to a trustee friend in hopes to establish better relationships. The problems between Jefferson Township and Gahanna go back to the 1970s, when Gahanna chose to have only one township rather than two. Mifflin Township was chosen. Relations have not been the same since. That doesn't mean relationships cannot change, if you believe they can.
Bowers: "A rising tide raises all ships." Simply put, the residents of Jefferson Township are our neighbors, friends and family members. Our kids go to school and play sports together, we work, play and attend church together. Our successes and our resources are multiplied when we collaborate -- this isn't a zero-sum game. With regional growth and continued pressure from predatory developers who see our land and our people as resources to be exploited, we must be allied. Petty quibbles resulting from disorganization and poor communication are to the detriment of this relationship. I intend to work with township trustees, our school board members, and other regional leaders to build bridges that support all of us, and especially the residents of Gahanna.
Hicks: It is important for the city of Gahanna to effectively collaborate with each of the two municipalities and two unincorporated townships that border us. We are landlocked and do not have large tracts of vacant land available to develop. Collaboration becomes imperative when our neighbors approve developments that harm our economic development landscape, burden our infrastructure and negatively impact our schools. The relationship with Jefferson Township is strained and is not improving. I personally attend meetings of both Gahanna City Council and meetings of the trustees of Jefferson Township and hear firsthand the acrimonious language. This is more important than neighbors just needing to get along. These are two separate bodies politic that need to practice diplomacy in their words and actions. As a representative of city council, I will be fair and reasonable in all dealings with our neighboring entities, but I will be an advocate for our city and its residents first and foremost. Corporate knowledge is helpful, but I will not let the past prevent us from collaborating in the future.
Hroncich: It's my understanding that the relationship between Jefferson Township and Gahanna has been fractured for decades. I don't know who started it, and frankly, I don't care. What I care about is working together, side-by-side with our neighbors from Jefferson Township. Shortly after I'm elected, I will reach out to every trustee in Jefferson Township. I want to have a better understanding of our common goals, our common interests and our common values, so that we can do what's in the best interests for our communities, together.
McGregor: Jefferson Township residents are our neighbors. We share a school system. We go to church and temple together, we volunteer together. Gahanna cannot annex land from Jefferson Township without the landowners asking for annexation. If property owners ask and Gahanna can provide them services then we welcome new lands into the city. Regarding the path issue, the argument was never with the township or the residents, it was with MI homes. When MI was going to annex into Gahanna, a path to Hannah Park was planned. When the developers decided to stay in the township, the path remained part of the plan. They over-stepped and trespassed. I am happy to say that the issue with MI has been resolved. MI has agreed to pay $150,000 to the taxpayers of Gahanna and maintain the path into the future. The path will allow Weldon residents access to Hannah Park as well as Gahanna residents access to walk/bike in and through the Weldon area. In the past, city officials and township trustees have worked together to protect their fire department and on mutually beneficial development issues. We will continue to work together in the future.