Four candidates made their cases for two city council seats during a public forum last week.
The League of Women Voters Wayzata-Plymouth and the Chamber of Commerce hosted the Wayzata City Council Candidate Forum in the council chambers on Thursday. The forum was moderated by LWV member William Johnson.
Editor’s note: Wayzata.com viewers can watch the entire candidate forum at Wayzata Community TV, and the public is encouraged to do so.
The candidates participating were incumbent councilor Molly MacDonald, planning commission chairman Jeff Parkhill, vice chair of the planning commission Larissa Stockton and longtime resident Chris Hickman.
Each candidate was given the opportunity to present an opening statement. They highlighted their varied experiences and an overview of their approach to serving on the council.
Hickman described himself as pragmatic, vowing to take a “methodical and balanced,” approach. MacDonald leaned on her upbringing in the community and how she brought a “different perspective” to the council. Parkhill and Stockton, both Planning Commission members, had different overarching issues atop their lists. Parkhill said he prioritizes smaller development. Stockton wants to be proactive on crime, traffic, noise and congestion.
A variety of issues were addressed during the hour-long forum, but one of the most overarching issues was development and the pressures of growth. Each candidate expressed concern over maintaining the charm of a small community. MacDonald and Stockton agreed the voice of residents is important while developing.
Q: How can the city deal with residential and developer pressure while maintaining charm?
Stockton: “What we need to do is look at the experience of the residents. “We can achieve balance from focusing on the user experience.”
MacDonald: “We have a high growth rate here in our city. There’s a public process — I intend to oversee that process and ensure transparency, listen and be accessible. I encourage residents to keep using their voice.”
When asked about the preliminary property tax levy of 10.59-percent, which was recently passed at council, Parkhill said the city must explore new revenue sources. The city’s budget is about $19 million.
Q: What are your thoughts on the preliminary property tax increase of 10.59-percent recommended for Wayzata?
Parkhill: “There’s tremendous pressure on our budget,” he said. “(Revenue) sources we have now are property taxes. Alternatives are the Muni and liquor store, stormwater, the marina and cable. We need to come up with different ideas. I’m not a huge proponent of taxes at all. But there are times we need to cover our costs.”
Hickman: “We are very fortunate we have a triple ‘A’ bond rating and an affluent community. We give our fair share to Hennepin County. We are an outflow city to the balance of this state. It is a privileged place to be in. We could do a little more fundraising for the police department. I wish we could do better and take some burden off the taxpayers.”
In Stockton’s response she references the addition of two police officers as one of the reasons for the proposed increase.
Stockton: “Public safety has become an increasing concern. While we do have a strong ratio of police to residents, there is an increase in activity on our main streets. These are trends we don’t want to set into habit of mind. These activities need to be curtailed.”
Johnson asked the candidates to choose from one of four topics to speak on related to the corridor study: land use and development, transportation, road safety or public realm and streetscapes. All four chose land use and development and all four referenced development near County Road 101.
Q: State your vision for land use and development.
Stockton: “We need to reclaim the 101 and Wayzata Blvd. We’re a small town. We need to connect upper to lower Wayzata through efficient traffic and walkability.”
MacDonald: “Safety is of the utmost importance. We need examine that area and come up with a plan for resident safety. The access entry points there are terrifying. If we come up with a good, solid plan we can go to the county and ask that they address these safety issues prior to their plan which is 2030 I believe.”
Hickman: “That is an important corner coming off Central Ave. into the heart of city as you approach superior,” he said. “That is the last opportunity to make your best impression of the city when entering from that side. This project needs to be developed correctly and smoothly so it’s balanced.”
Q: What do you see as the greatest challenges facing businesses, and what role should the city council have in supporting businesses?
Hickman: “The traffic that is attracted to the city is not really interested in the retail sector and it’s suffering. If we add more and more retail its going to be competing. I’m in favor of a half a percent sales tax because most of the sales tax is going to be paid for by visitors.”
MacDonald: “Parking has been an issue for my business and the businesses I have spoken to. I’d like to refute and state for the record that the Wayzata businesses are thriving. We’re all having record years.”
Q: What measures would you support if any to support affordable housing needs?
Parkhill: “(Accessory dwelling units), we looked at doing those in various districts in the community. That would allow some affordable housing. I think as they build along Wayzata Blvd. there absolutely needs to be some affordable housing requirements.”
Stockton: “Affordable housing in Wayzata is a tough nut to crack because we are a destination location and values are very high. As we develop the upper part of Wayzata along Colonial Sq. and Wayzata Blvd. and the 101, over time these are areas we can do that. Ask developers to portion off part of their development to suit this need.”
Q: What is your view on a permit process for short-term rentals?
MacDonald: “We need to wait for it to become an issue. We shouldn’t be in the business of solving problems that aren’t an issue yet.”
Hickman: “I spend time in Scottsdale, Ariz. during the winter. Thirty-percent of the properties in Scottsdale are short-term rentals. They’re not owner occupied. I don’t think we want a community like that. Your community is built on people with a soul.”
Q: Wayzata is considering installing rooftop solar panels on city buildings. What additional environmental actions should Wayzata consider?
Parkhill: “We approved one solar energy variance last year. It’s kind of in a trial phase. We didn’t think it was going to look that nice. They’re coming out with really good ones though that can be hidden. The best thing we can do is continue to wait until these solar panels are aesthetically pleasing at least for places that are noticable. Solar is the wave of the future.”
Hickman: “I’ve had solar panels — 34 of them — for five years. I live in a 6,000 square-foot house and my electric bill averages $12 a month. It’s time we started considering this. They’re very efficient. They’re getting more inexpensive daily.”
Q: What steps would you take towards advancing racial diversity and equity in the city government and community?
Hickman: “You have to teach diversity very young and teach acceptance because I tell you what, 40-percent of the population of Minnesota will be people of color in 40 years. We better get prepared and we better get used to it.”
MacDonald: “I think the Panoway has helped with this situation quite a bit. It has offered people accessibility to the lake. I feel connected to the community. It’s the most diversity I’ve seen in my entire life in Wayzata.”
In closing statements, the themes of working together, calculated approaches to growth and balancing the needs of residents and developers were central to each candidate.
MacDonald touted her life-long residency in Wayzata having grown up in the community and started a business here. She spoke to considering the past when preparing for the future.
“I live in a 100-year-old house. I drive a 60-year-old car,” she said. “I appreciate the past and am excited for the future. Wayzata has an authentic legacy that comes from multi-generational families like mine. Authenticity comes from loving where you live. I’m running to manage thoughtfully the high growth rate, maintain city services to our high standards and prioritize public safety on roads and in parks.”
Parkhill said he aims to steer away from hot-button talking points and work together with the rest of the council. Stockton also spoke of collaboration, saying her skills as a consultant have prepared her for the role. Hickman said he wants to see the $19 million city budget pared down and have the 2040 comprehensive plan reviewed regularly.
Voting for the two city council seats will take place on Nov. 8. Polls are open 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. at City Hall. Absentee voting for the State General Election began on Friday.
Important information about how to vote in the general election can be found at www.wayzata.org/375/Elections.