Questions for Candidates: Beacon Council

In anticipation of the Nov. 5 election, we asked candidates for the Beacon City Council a series of questions by email. Their written responses appear below, presented in alphabetical order by last name.

Beacon Ward 1

Terry Nelson

Terry Nelson, the incumbent Democrat in Ward 1, is running unopposed for his second term.

Aside from development, what is the biggest issue facing Beacon in 2020 and what can the City Council do to address it?

It’s hard to place one above the other, but I’ll go with traffic and parking. We have to do a comprehensive citywide traffic study. We would also need the help of the state to fix the constant logjam going westbound onto Interstate 84. That may include adding another lane when turning onto the highway.

Tell us what makes you a better candidate.

I voted to limit height on new developments on Main Street. We also are continuously working on re-zoning and protecting historic landmarks. During my first term, I initiated efforts to get more protection for Beacon renters and holding landlords accountable for the conditions of their properties. The voters should re-elect me because I have proven to be a fierce advocate for my constituents. I make it a point to always answer calls or emails to the best of my ability. In my next term, I have every intention of getting the council to take the next steps toward opting into the Emergency Tenants Protection Act.

Beacon’s second building moratorium in two years is due to expire in March. What should be the city’s next step in managing ongoing development?

We have to figure out what we want our city to look like in the next five to 10 years. I’ve learned in my first term that decisions made in the past can have a lasting effect. The decisions made today need to be carefully and thoughtfully deliberated. Things that may work well today may have adverse consequences down the road.

Beacon Ward 2

Air Rhodes

Air Rhodes, the Democratic candidate, is running unopposed. Rhodes will succeed John Rembert, a Democrat who did not seek re-election to a second term.

Aside from development, what is the biggest issue facing Beacon in 2020 and what can the City Council do to address it?

Affordability: I can hardly afford to live here anymore, and I know many people are feeling almost priced out, too. The most important thing the City Council can do regarding affordability is to prioritize Beaconites’ perspectives. I will put the needs of Beacon residents first, especially those who are working-class or poor, elderly, and/or people of color, above the interests of anyone who just sees our city as a place to make a profit for themselves. Nothing helps make a place more affordable than having a better paycheck. Once I’m elected, I’m going to work to bring more jobs to Beacon, and will look into getting incentives for businesses to hire locals. Rather than building more residences, we need more employers moving to town who can offer quality roles at good wages. I am also eager to join the council’s efforts to advocate with state and Dutchess County to protect renters from unreasonable increases. For the many things we need to get done as a city which will cost money, I will work on City Council to look to the significant state and federal grant funds for which we are eligible, rather than raising taxes on residents.

Tell us what makes you a better candidate.

As a new candidate, I don’t have a voting record but I have a history of involvement in this community that shows how I will lead. As a member of the Conservation Advisory Committee for five years, I advocated for Beacon to become a Climate Smart Community (which it is becoming), represented natural interests in the city’s extensive and detailed new comprehensive plan, contributed significantly to the Natural Resources Inventory, and worked to protect our city’s remaining green spaces. As director of development and assistant executive director of Hudson Valley Seed, I have helped this Beacon-based nonprofit grow its resources and diversify its funding sources — which the City of Beacon needs to do, as well. As a concerned citizen, I have been one of the key leaders in our Hudson Valley resistance to the proposed Danskammer gas power plant. I am not afraid to speak out in defense of our city against those who would harm Beacon for the sake of their own profit. I am at root a very hard worker. I apply my extensive and meticulous research, writing, advocacy, coalition-building and communications expertise to all my successes, and I look forward to bringing these skills to the City Council.

Beacon’s second building moratorium in two years is due to expire in March. What should be the city’s next step in managing ongoing development?

We don’t yet know what the real impacts will be on our traffic, water, schools and other infrastructure and community resources once the units that are under construction or approved are fully occupied. We need to extend the moratorium until the building boom’s impacts are realized, and then we need to set a cap on the number of residential units (for example, 200) that can be approved within any given year, or establish an equivalent mechanism as a permanent solution to slow down how much can be built here at any given time. We also need to focus on redeveloping failed and abandoned properties, rather than building new. About 6 percent of the residences in town are vacant (not including newly built ones) — my own house sat empty for years before I started fixing it up last year — and we still have unused storefronts on Main Street. Priority should be given to projects that bring life back to the buildings that are already here.

Beacon Ward 3

The first-term Democrat, Jodi McCredo, is being challenged by Republican Andrew Gauzza, a Manhattan College student who lost to McCredo in 2017.

Gauzza, McCredo

Aside from development, what’s the biggest issue facing Beacon in 2020 and what can the City Council do to address it?

■ Gauzza: Infrastructure. Our council has been content with simply repaving roads, which is a start, but we must do more. I would propose a plan for our sewage and water systems to be overhauled, as well. An equally pressing issue is the production of jobs. We export large numbers of jobs to New York City and the surrounding areas. The council has a responsibility to work on fixing these issues in a bipartisan manner and to create solutions which will boost the living conditions of every person who lives in Beacon.
■ McCredo: I have seen Beacon, like the rest of the country, become more divided. Social media has played a major role, and it’s something we need to change. When my husband and I chose Beacon as the place to purchase our home and raise our children, it was because of the warmth and sense of community we felt. Over the past two years, many of us have held events, such as ward meetings and meet and greets, that were poorly attended. I am determined to work harder to not only schedule events for members of this community to get together, but to make sure that everyone knows about it, everyone who needs a ride gets one, and everyone feels welcome. Our commonalities are stronger than our differences, and we need to get out from behind our screens to remember that.

Tell us what makes you a better candidate.

■ Gauzza: I am young, I know how to work through problems and I am a person who can take initiative on issues. I am 21 and have lived in Beacon the majority of my life and I have seen Beacon at its finest and at its not-so-finest. I believe there can be solutions to the issues we face, especially development, but if nobody takes the initiative, we will continue to see the status quo. I have seen numerous projects come to fruition, namely the reformation of the Manhattan College Knights of Columbus Council and the formation of the Manhattan College Young Americans for Liberty Chapter. I have also shown leadership as an assistant coach for the Our Lady of Lourdes fencing team. All of these things have taught me to be a leader and how to interact with people who have legitimate concerns. If I am elected, I will not only work for the solutions that the people of Beacon deserve, but I will answer any question honestly and I will always be accessible.
■ McCredo: My most important role is representing all of the people in this community. Soon after I was sworn in, I was asked to vote on a new chief of police, and while I feel confident that we made the right decision, I later received some negative feedback about the process. Community members told me they felt their voices should have been heard on such an important decision, and I agree. I then put forth a resolution, which passed unanimously, that all key appointments, hires and promotions would be made public a week prior to our vote, giving the public an opportunity to weigh in. With development being such a huge issue, I voted against the Edgewater project and for the “steep slopes” law put forth by Lee Kyriacou that prohibited maximum build-out on properties containing steep slopes and wetlands. I have a deep respect for my fellow council members, but we don’t always agree. I have and will always vote for what I believe is in the best interest of my constituents.

Beacon’s second building moratorium in two years is due to expire in March. What should be the city’s next step in managing ongoing development?

■ Gauzza: The moratorium was a great start but further actions should be taken. One such issue is zoning and planning reform. We should have a quota for how much residential housing is allowed in the city, and we should be increasing our commercial zoning numbers. Residential zoning is not as tax-effective and will not bring jobs to the city. The second issue is parking. We need to find a solution, because there is not enough parking on Main Street for businesses to succeed. I would like to have an open discussion with city officials as well as residents to see what a cost-effective and pragmatic solution to this problem would be. The third issue is infrastructure. Our sewage and water systems are outdated and overworked. We need a cost-effective solution, which in my mind would be through federal and state grants as well as partnerships with developers in Beacon, along with city spending, to fix large sections of our sewage and water systems, while not burdening taxpayers any more than they are already burdened.
■ McCredo: It’s important to get our zoning right because the projects that get approved will affect this community for generations. Earlier this year the council had a meeting with members of the Planning and Zoning Boards which I found extremely helpful because it is important for all of us to be as close to the same page as possible on a vision for this city. We need to preserve our open spaces and our viewsheds and everything that makes Beacon “Beacon.” We need to set firmer regulations on what developers are allowed to do and we need to provide stronger incentives for them to include benefits to the community, such as job creation, environmentally friendly building practices, and pocket parks and trail access that we all can enjoy. We need to be proactive about making sure we have the infrastructure in place to support these new developments. We also need to make sure that we have affordable units that are actually affordable to people.

Beacon Ward 4

Dan Aymar-Blair, an executive with the New York City Department of Education, won the Democratic primary against Kelly Ellenwood, the former president of BeaconArts and one of the founders of the Wee Play organization, but Ellenwood qualified for the Independence Party line, so both will appear on the ballot. The winner will succeed Amber Grant, who is running for an at-large seat.

Aymar-Blair, Ellenwood

Aside from development, what’s the biggest issue facing Beacon in 2020 and what can the City Council do to address it?

■ Aymar-Blair: The cascading effects of growth have to be addressed to protect our quality of life. Parking, traffic, road quality, water and sewer — these aren’t sexy topics but I view their improvement as core to the job of a council member. We are already witnessing the stress on our vulnerable water system and I can’t count how many neighbors have told me they’ve stopped going to Main Street because of the lack of parking. Even if growth continues in a managed way that puts the public’s interest first, these systems we all depend on could still be overwhelmed. As part of a strategic infrastructure initiative, we need to conduct a comprehensive study of our critical infrastructure and use that information to lay out a multi-year capital plan. Because of the pace of growth, we should establish key performance indicators and stress measures for our infrastructure and share the annual results with the public. This plan must also be forward-looking. It must accommodate infrastructure such as biking corridors, concealed parking structures and public amenities. This is just one way to ensure that Beacon’s growth and new development work for everyone, from working-class families to small businesses.
■ Ellenwood: By 2021, the Fishkill Creek Development Zone will likely have 30,000 square feet of commercial space built, with more on the way at Camp Beacon and on Route 52. The potential for good-paying jobs in Beacon is within our grasp, but it can’t just be “build it and they will come” — we must be proactive in finding the right fit for our hardworking, diverse, creative and compassionate community. The mayor and the City Council should hire, or tap into what is available through Dutchess County, someone to really go after those great employers that will help bring equity among our diverse population. Service jobs are plentiful but they don’t pay enough. The mayor and council also need to find ways to incentivize these desirable employers. After economic development, infrastructure upgrades are another ongoing priority.

Tell us what makes you a better candidate.

■ Aymar-Blair: Over these last eight months of campaigning, I’ve asked neighbors what they expect of their City Council member. They tell me they want someone who gets things done, puts the public’s interest first and is responsive. My love for Beacon compels me to serve effectively. That requires well-laid plans and a lot of elbow grease. Whether it’s founding an international human rights organization or leading a nationwide caravan to the border, I’ve shown how hard I’m willing to work when I think I can make a difference in people’s lives. I will encourage civic participation, improve community outreach, respond to every email, and visit with neighbors throughout the year. I’ll do this not just because it’s my duty, but because I enjoy it. It’s why I stepped up. I approach problems with curiosity. I have an inquisitive, data-driven leadership style; I like to know what I’m talking about. If there’s a recurring pothole or a corner that might need a stop sign, I’m going to come check it out so I can be a better advocate. I feel confident I have the skills and experience that constituents will demand.
■ Ellenwood: On Day One I will be able to hit the ground running. I will be a full-time and responsive City Council person, available and ready to help constituents navigate the often-complex municipal and quality-of-life issues that affect our daily lives. After 17 years as a full-time resident, with 15 of those (and counting) in the public schools, in the arts community, on the street, and in the halls of government, I have come to know and understand our city, its people, its needs, its vulnerabilities and its potential. In 2018 I conceived, coordinated and implemented the popular Beacon Free Loop bus. My ability to see around corners and find creative, elegant and, above all, low-cost solutions to some of Beacon’s most difficult issues is something the people I will represent can count on. They can also count on me to get the job done — it has always been my reputation to not give up and to follow through.

Beacon’s second building moratorium in two years is due to expire in March. What should be the city’s next step in managing ongoing development?

■ Aymar-Blair: In a city just 5 miles wide and with so many projects in the pipeline, getting development right is a matter of urgency. Our city is being transformed. The first step is to predicate the end of an extended building moratorium on a study of the impacts of different kinds of zoning. Concurrently, we need to undertake a community planning process, even reopening the comprehensive plan for revision. We should also suspend the sale of public land until we have a long-term strategy. Where we can make quick change is reforming the planning and approval process. I’d like to look at how impact studies are conducted as projects face the Planning Board’s scrutiny. We can set more zone-specific architectural standards and give our architectural review board a stronger say on projects. And large projects should come with community benefit agreements. We aren’t the first community to face these problems; we know the solutions. My neighbors — whether they’ve been here for three generations or three months — invariably tell me they feel that something isn’t right. Extending the building moratorium, conducting an impact study, having a community-led process and implementing process improvements will demonstrate we’re taking their concerns seriously.
■ Ellenwood: Some next steps are in process, e.g., zoning updates and the expansion of the Historic Overlay District. I recently returned to my notes from the 2007 and 2017 Comprehensive Plan public sessions; as I suspected, many voices are on record to strengthen the architectural review process. The Planning Board is limited, despite the expertise that resides there; it needs teeth to ensure that what gets built is high-quality, aesthetically pleasing, and compatible with existing buildings and landscape. Architects must be involved in any major (re)development. Part of Beacon’s identity is that of an arts and cultural center; well-designed and constructed architecture (using sustainable building practices) is something we should demand from those who wish to invest in our city. Tangentially, we should prioritize preserving some of the buildings that could be studios or light industrial maker spaces, including buildings that are in the middle of residential zones. They are part of the character of our hard-working city, and they shouldn’t be retrofitted into expensive multi-family units; if they are to become residential units at all, they should be targeted and incentivized for below-market rate housing.

Beacon At-Large

The two at-large seats are occupied by Lee Kyriacou, who is running for mayor, and George Mansfield, who is seeking re-election. The other candidates are Amber Grant, a Democrat who represents Ward 4, and Estefano Rendon, a Republican who Michael Justice, chair of the Beacon Republican Committee, said has suspended his campaign.

Grant, Mansfield

Aside from development, what’s the biggest issue facing Beacon in 2020 and what can the City Council do to address it?

■ Grant: Quality-of-life issues such as aging infrastructure, issues related to parking and congestion, and affordability, among others. We can address infrastructure by continuing our work to improve streets and water lines and by continuing to implement the findings that came out of our water study. We can make progress on parking and congestion by increasing pedestrian and bicycle access and implementing suggestions from a previous traffic study: making sure we have signs for public parking, basic services and points of interest. That, and enforcing our code would be a great start. We can address affordability by ensuring our landlords know about and are complying with new legislation and by determining whether Beacon can opt-in to rent stabilization. No one thing is going to fix it all. We have to evaluate where the city might be in five, 10 or more years and determine what is needed to best support our residents and businesses. By thinking and planning ahead, we can address and solve problems before they appear.
■ Mansfield: The least glamorous but arguably most important thing the council should be doing is to continue to make improvements to our aging infrastructure. As a council and members of a community, we have an obligation to future generations to not only maintain but to invest heavily in our infrastructure. It is the foundation upon which our city can continue to build sustainably.

Tell us what makes you a better candidate.

■ Grant: I’m proud of the work I’ve done in my first term, especially when it comes to stronger zoning laws. Central Main Street now includes key protections for historic properties, height and story maximums, and regulations for corner buildings. We prohibited maximum build-out on land with wetlands and steep slopes. I’ve advocated for and helped pass the Municipal ID law, which protects vulnerable members of our community. ID cross-acceptance creates an opportunity for cities to work together to strengthen the Hudson Valley and promote tourism between cities. I have also been focused on environmental sustainability. When I ran in 2017, I said it was important that Beacon hire a Climate Smart Community coordinator, and once elected I helped define the role and highlight the benefits of filling the position. We’ve now done that. I plan to continue advocating for similar benefits for Beacon and to see them bear fruit.
■ Mansfield: Having served two years on the Planning Board and 10 years on City Council, I believe my record would show pragmatic and considered responses to challenges during both difficult and prosperous times. I bring an historical perspective and full understanding of the issues and opportunities that challenge us daily.

Beacon’s second building moratorium in two years is due to expire in March. What should be the city’s next step in managing ongoing development?

■ Grant: I would like to see the council identify the view sheds which are important vantage points and legislate what it means to protect them. We need to revise our historic overlay zoning to make it less onerous while still encouraging historic restoration and preservation. With that would come additional designation of properties on and adjacent to Main Street as historic. I’d like to finalize our review of allowed uses and dimensions across zones, and finalize the Tioronda Bridge design. I believe our work on zoning will be ongoing and evolving: it’s a key way to shape our community and one we should continue to revisit and evaluate.
■ Mansfield: We should continue to review all zoning, making necessary changes due to the ever-changing economy and any leverage the city may have. We should look to diversify our economy by incentivizing commercial development that would provide jobs and contribute to our tax base without the burden that residential development would have.

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