From left: Donnie Stroud, Kate Bellamy and Crissy Stile. (Photo by Mount Dora Buzz)
What's the best way to find out what candidates really think? Pull out all the safety nets.
That's exactly what happened when Mount Dora Buzz recently gathered all three Mount Dora City Council candidates together. To help voters make the most informed decision, the candidates were required to leave their cell phones and campaign surrogates behind. The goal was to ensure the written answers would be their own. The questions were unknown to the candidates in advance and everyone had one hour to write and proofread their answers.
On November 6, Mount Dora residents will cast their votes to fill the at-large city council seat. The three candidates vying to serve the entire city are Kate Bellamy, a small business owner; Crissy Stile, a small business owner; and Donnie Stroud, a retiree. Below are their unedited answers published in their entirety and in alphabetical order by candidates' last names.
QUESTION: As Mount Dora continues to grow with new residential and business development, what should the city do to ensure responsible growth?
BELLAMY: I think that with growth in a city things need to be planned carefully. We must provide adequate parking and safe roadways. It is important to have a solid plans and a vision for what the future will bring. STILE: Our city has already experienced significant growth. To ensure responsible growth we have got to budget necessary funds to upgrade our emergency services. Our fire department's response time is currently twice what it should be. Our police department reports twice as many traffic stops in 2017 as it did just four years ago. It is vital that our public safety has an opportunity to catch up with the growth of our city.
STROUD: Strictly follow and enforce our zoning and building codes, but be a city that works with developers, not against them. Developers like to work with cities that consistently follow and enforce “the rules.”
2. BIKE TRAIL
Above: The Tremain railroad trestle is planned to be modified and preserved as part of the Wekiva Trail.
QUESTION:In order for Mount Dora to be connected to the Wekiva Trail, the vast bicycle and pedestrian trail that connects to Florida's Coast-to-Coast Trail, the city has to pay $1 million dollars to fund its share of the project. Do you support this? Please briefly explain.
BELLAMY: I think that being a part of the Wekiva Trail is extremely important for Mount Dora. The exposure and the opportunities that the trail can bring to Mount Dora could be amazing.
STILE: Over the past 3.5 months I have knocked on over 1800 doors throughout the city. Our residents are excited about the Wekiva Trail. This 15-mile trail will connect Mount Dora to over 200 miles of Central Florida's most beautiful assets: parks, lakes, wildlife and all of nature. This is a must as far as planning goes. STROUD: I do. $1 million will be a good long-term investment to a do [sic] Mount Dora to Central Florida’s growing bike trails. It will not only open Mount Dora up to more bike riders, but will also benefit our own citizens. I’m for it.
3. DOWNTOWN RECYCLING
QUESTION: Downtown Mount Dora currently doesn’t have an adequate recycling program for businesses. Do you believe improving this should be a priority? Please briefly explain.
BELLAMY: Yes, we have to start recycling for tomorrow. This is a huge part of my platform. Downtown produces an unbelievable amount of recyclable materials. There is enough money and recycling to support a program. It is time to be responsible and do the right thing.
STILE: Particularly as a downtown business owner (bookstore on Fourth), I am embarrassed that we do not recycle. With permission from our city manager, I was given the opportunity to meet with every department head. I have spoken at length with our public works director regarding recycling. I understand trying to get people to deposit recyclable materials in the proper receptacle on street is nearly impossible. However, there is no reason our downtown shops and restaurants should not be recycling all of our cardboard, glass, plastic, packaging materials, etc. I will work to bring recycling to Mount Dora when I am on council. STROUD: Nothing is as ugly as a landfill. You can spot easily. I support recycling not only for the downtown, but all of Mount Dora. Both as a community and as a nation, we need to step up our recycling effort.
4. NORTHEAST NEIGHBORHOOD
QUESTION:What do you feel is the biggest issue or issues facing Mount Dora’s East Town neighborhood? What could the City do to help?
BELLAMY: The northeast side of town needs their own representation. In order to restore their part of town, they need a voice. A voice from someone who lives there and cares about their needs.
STILE: In my department head meeting, I specifically asked what is being done to improve the Northeast. This area of town is blighted and our Northeast residents deserve better. The City needs to capitalize on the rich history in the Northeast. The number one way to make the most effective improvement to the Northeast is to listen to the residents. Let’s hear what they want, what they need.
STROUD: The city has established a Northeast Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) to address this issue. They have the ability to request funding from the city council for streetscape, sidewalk, roadway, drainage, building renovation, and more. I would like to see the CRA look at improving First Avenue as it will become the new front door to Mount Dora.
5. fire assessment fee:
QUESTION: Do you support a flat fee for each home or one that is based on a home's square footage? Or do you have a different idea?
BELLAMY: I support a flat fee. A standardized fee seems like the fairest way to go.
STILE: At the all-day budget workshop in July, which I was the only candidate in attendance, the idea of a fire assessment fee based on square footage was presented by a council member. Our Deputy Fire Chief had a great response to this proposal. First of all, whether you live in a 900 square-foot home, a 5000 square-foot mansion or a high-rise condo you get the same emergency response. Secondly, our fire response also includes EMS. In a meeting I had with our city manager, I was excited to learn that all future first responders are required to be trained paramedics. The size of your home doesn’t matter when you’re having a heart attack.
STROUD: I am against assessment fees. They are just another form of taxes. Assessment fees are per home not based on value. So a mansion pays the same fee as a modest home. Fire department should be funded like almost all other city services-out of general funds.
6. DOWNTOWN PARKING
QUESTION: The city is in the process of acquiring land to add public parking lot in downtown Mount Dora. Do you believe the added surface parking lots will provide adequate additional parking? If not, what do you support to increase it?
BELLAMY: No, the surface lots are just a Band-Aid. In the future we are going to need much more parking. We are growing and it’s going to take a parking garage to solve this problem. I think we need to look at building a garage at the old Post Office. STILE: We have adequate surface lots. Currently, the lot on Third Avenue between Baker and Tremain is rarely used. We also have permission from the Methodist church to use their lot (except Sundays). Both of these lots are within two blocks of downtown. Building a parking garage at the current Post Office site would be a great solution to our parking problem once we fully utilized our surface lots.
STROUD: I support multiple surface lots scattered around the city. Residents want to park near where they shop. Multiple surface lots are the next best thing to more street parking.
7. INNOVATION DISTRICT
QUESTION: What would you like to see developed at the planned Innovation District around Wolf Branch Road?
BELLAMY: I would like to see an area full of high tech businesses. Perhaps a satellite college facility from UCF. I also believe we need to make sure that we provide affordable housing for the workers that will be there.
STILE: It makes sense to develop the Innovation District commercially. Warehouse and industrial is what the city is targeting. In an effort to maintain our city’s growth and keep the Innovation District inclusive, I’d like to see walking paths, the amphitheater so many have talked about [sic]. We could have a theater under the stars. I just don’t want to see the new district created to be “separate“ from the rest of our city. I’d like all of our neighborhoods and districts to make Mount Dora whole. STROUD: I would like to see businesses that will make a long-term investment in Mount Dora by buying land, erecting buildings, installing equipment, and hiring employees. I think the Innovation District would be a good location for a major hospital. The hospital would spin off other health-related businesses and medical office buildings. I think the area could also support manufacturing due to the new road network.
8. CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS
Above: The current state of part of the City's Public Works building.
QUESTION: Capital improvement projects take significant planning and funding. What are your top three priorities for near-term (two years) capital improvement projects and what are your three priorities for long-term (five years) projects? Please list.
BELLAMY: I honestly want to do some more research on this topic before I give my final answer.
STILE: Near term:
Three fully operable fire stations
Parking garage (7th Ave. and Donnelly St.)
Public Works building
Finish downtown streetscape
Develop further the Innovation District
Wekiva Trail to connect us to the C2C (coast-to-coast trail).
STROUD: The City is about to embark on a five-year capital improvement plan that could exceed $170 million. We need to spend on what we need, not what we want. My top three priorities for two years is [sic] as follows:
Build the cities third fire station
Rehab the Public Works complex
Continue expanding surface parking lot by building the lot at third Avenue and Baker Street.
For five years:
Complete the purchase of the post office
Connect to the Wekiva Trail
Improve our road maintenance
9. ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT
QUESTION: A downtown “entertainment district“ is currently being considered by the Mount Dora City Council. The district would enable people of legal drinking age to purchase alcoholic beverages at licensed downtown establishments and carry within the defined district. Do you support this? Please explain.
BELLAMY: Absolutely! An entertainment district would add to the downtown experience. Couples could walk to the lake with a glass of wine and watch the sunset. So many guests I have spoken to really want this to happen. I think we should give it a try.
STILE: The residents I’ve spoken to are very excited about a downtown entertainment district. While I am not opposed to the idea, I don’t see it adding any value to our town.
STROUD: I am against the so-called entertainment district, because I am against open-container drinking downtown. Open-container drinking does not fit Mount Dora‘s reputation as a family values community. Just because Eustis and Tavares does it, doesn’t mean that Mount Dora should do it. We are “someplace special.”
10. PINEAPPLE POINT
ABOVE: Elizabeth Evans Park which is adjacent to Pineapple Point.
QUESTION: Understanding this is privately-owned property, what should the key considerations be for developing Pineapple Point, the lakefront land between Lakeside Inn and Evans Park downtown?
BELLAMY: I think we just need to make sure that area is not spoiled with high-rise businesses that don’t fit into the footprint of Mount Dora. I hope the development will support our small-town charm and ambience. STILE: I am in favor of working with property owners and business owners to develop our waterfront. I believe Pineapple Point is a prime location for an open-air market, open seven days a week. Another idea is an all-glass waterfront dining establishment. I would also like to see a nature excursion type operation, i.e. - canoe/kayak rentals, etc. I would not be in support of development that blocks our waterfront.
STROUD: We must respect the rights of the property owners to develop as he wants, as long as City zoning and building codes are followed. Personally if developed, I would hope that the owner and city could work together to install a public boardwalk for all to enjoy. This could be a good public–private partnership opportunity should both the owner and City agree.
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