As early voting begins Thursday in New Hanover County, the five candidates for two seats on the Wrightsville Beach Board of Aldermen have accelerated their campaigning in advance of the election cycle’s only candidate forum.
The forum is hosted by the Wrightsville Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Blockade Runner. It’s scheduled for Monday, Oct. 23 at 6 p.m at the Blockade Runner.
To help indicate what issues are important to candidates and determine their positions on town policy, Lumina News sent each candidate a seven-question survey that explored both general and specific topics relevant to Wrightsville Beach. The questions sought information about the candidate’s experience, qualifications and what issues they believed were most important for the town to address. The survey also specifically asked questions of commercial development and curbside recycling, two issues the board of aldermen is currently considering.
Because the candidate’s answers differed in length and detail, answers were shortened or summarized to provide a balanced level of coverage. However, Lumina News has posted the complete set of answers here: http://bit.ly/2ipi9u0
The town’s water and sewer system is independent of the Cape Fear Public Utility Commission and is currently being reviewed by an “ad hoc” committee, which seeks to address issues of growth and water quality. The committee is currently waiting for recommendations from a private engineering firm. The recent GenX water contamination issue for CFPUA will also factor into water quality issues.
Another pertinent issue is the encouragement of commercial development, highlighted by the recent approval by the town planning board of duplex development in commercial zoning at Johnnie Mercer’s Pier, where only 10 percent of available area will be devoted to a commercial or retail business. Another issue up for consideration by the board is mandatory curbside recycling, which would could cost residents $5 a month or more and potentially come with other requirements.
Henry “Hank” Miller, III
Miller, the only incumbent running, said his top issue would be to keep taxes as low as possible, noting that the board of aldermen had not raised taxes since he was elected in 2013 and hasn’t raised the town’s other main source of revenue, parking fees, since 2014.
“We have worked well together on budgets and have been able to add over $5 million dollars to our fund balance during that time and over $2 million to our “sand” fund,” Miller wrote on the success of the current board.
Miller said one policy that can help control summer traffic is the board of aldermen limiting any new events for the peak travel months, instead encouraging events in the “shoulder” seasons in spring and fall.
“I think the Town should encourage commercial development that fits within our land use plan which is currently being updated.,” Miller said, adding that most residents seem to support the 40-foot building height limit. “The market drives commercial and residential development.”
On curbside recycling, Miller said “While I personally participate in recycling I want to be sure that any plan we consider adds no significant financial burden to the taxpayers.”
Miller said his service on other business and public service boards has allowed him to establish working relationships at the local, state and national level, including: University of North Carolina at Wilmington Board of Trustees, member of the Wilmington Urban Area Transportation Advisory Committee, and membership on the Wilmington Regional Association of Realtors Government Affairs Committee.
Pat Bradford is the owner and publisher of Wrightsville Beach Magazine and the former owner of Lumina News, as well as a former real estate agent.
Bradford said that the top issue facing Wrightsville Beach was the “changing character of the town,” specifically citing the encroachment of residential development into commercial property.
“The trend in highly sought out communities in America (that creates high home/condo values) are those with a mix of residential and commercial; to leave the car parked and walk, roll or bike to shops, restaurants, entertainment, and recreation. If developers prevail, residents will be stuck in backed up bridge traffic just to get a loaf of bread, a case of water, or enjoy a fine meal,” Bradford said.
Bradford said that while most residents are happy with town services and spending.
“Attracting and retaining quality employees has been an ongoing issue for my 20 years of studying the board. When elected, I will dig into that,” she said.
She also addressed fines for violations, arguing: “In some instances, the fines for repeat offenses should escalate dramatically, including dogs off leash, dog waste, parking boat trailers on the medians, and so on.”
Bradford said that many residents have told her they are in favor of curbside recycling, but added that she was interested in hearing from both those that support and have concerns with mandatory curbside recycling,
Bradford said another pressing issue for Wrightsville Beach would be improvements to the town’s water and sewer system, which she would favor over transitioning to the CFPUA system and likely higher rates. She said her conversations with former state senator and environmental engineer Rick Catlin believe that Wrightsville Beach wells can be cleaned of any remnant GenX contamination. She also said that town needed an alternate sewer main to the mainland, citing the risk that a rupture of the main “pipe crossing the waterway and create an environmental disaster that would destroy tourism, fishing and our quality of life.”
Sounia Nejad Chaney
Chaney is a local real estate agent who once unsuccessfully ran for the town council in Vail, Colorado. She is an active member of Rotary International and cited her experience as Homeowners Association chair, PTA president, chamber of commerce member, and an EMS volunteer as helping to inform her decision making skills.
“I live by the Rotary motto of ‘Service Above Self,’ she said.
Chaney said her top issues included “Protecting this beautiful and fragile environment by planning for ongoing beach nourishment and insisting on responsible growth while respecting the 40-foot height limit.”
Chaney also said she would support building a new sewer pipeline under the Intracoastal Waterway.
Chaney said harnessing technology like an app to help visitors evaluate parking can help reduce summertime traffic problems.
Chaney said a move to curbside recycling was long overdue.
“The town needs to work with condominiums to provide them with options based on their space restrictions to house recycle containers while respecting the existing regulations for containers and having them walled as currently required,” Chaney said.
Dull is the president of a local real estate development company who has been a property owner in Wrightsville Beach for 25 years. He is the current chairman of the Wrightsville Beach Planning Board, on which he has served for six years. He’s also served on the New Hanover County and Wilmington planning commissions.
Dull said that clean drinking water was the most critical issue facing Wrightsville Beach, where he is the chairman of a town “ad hoc” committee reviewing the water and sewer system.
“As a civil engineer graduate, I feel that I have the expertise to help the town leadership make the right decisions regarding the water we drink and our critical systems that we continue to maintain.” Dull responded.
On commercial development, Dull said: “We will continue to find the balance between being the Town of Wrightsville Beach and not the subdivision of Wrightsville Beach. I have learned through my experience on the planning commission, the 40 foot building height limit is important to the citizens of Wrightsville Beach and I believe that rule will stay in place.”
Dull responded that he was a member of several boards and has developed relationships with several local, state and federal officials.
Prince, the current vice president of the Wrightsville Beach Foundation, has also worked as a clerk for former N.C. Rep Jane Mosely, served on the UNCW Board of Visitors and has served for four years on the finance committee of St. Therese Catholic Church.
“I have a deep respect for this special area we are entrusted with to protect environmentally and want to be a greater part of that,” said Prince, who said her top issue was planning for future growth on the island. “I have experience in working in city recreation and state politics as well as campaigns that I can draw on to help work with the board, as well as my experience with the Wrightsville Beach Foundation.”
Prince said she believed traffic and bike safety issues are tied together, and law enforcement and traffic law enforcement needs to be increased.
Prince also said the town could save money with better review of services.
“I am a proponent of of bidding our parking and all municipal contracts every 4-5 years to make sure we are getting the best price for services needed,” she said.
Prince said that each commercial project needed to be evaluated individually and that the town should institute a curbside recycling program.