COLUMBIA — The same types of development issues that strengthened the Westmount Neighborhood Association were the focus of its Fourth Ward City Council candidate forum.
Roughly 30 members of the Westmount Neighborhood Association gathered in the Friend's Room of the Daniel Boone Regional Library to meet and question candidates Tracy Greever-Rice, Sarah Read and Rick Buford.
Ken Schneeberger, former president of the association, said the association wants to preserve its "walkable neighborhood." Members even came together to purchase a 2.9-acre property at Garth Avenue and Lathrop Road to prevent an apartment building from being built, Schneeberger said.
Members of the neighborhood association were concerned that residents were not made aware of proposed developments early enough and asked the candidates what they would do to fix the problem.
Both Greever-Rice and Buford said that community-level education would help folks to be more aware of development in their areas.
Read echoed education but also emphasized that the city should take a more proactive role in getting neighborhood associations informed, an answer that impressed association member Robert Johnson.
"I was happy that Read talked about being proactive instead of having everyone inform themselves," Johnson said. "It shouldn't be just up to you."
Johnson said that proposed developments in the past have gone under the neighborhood association's radar, despite a large number of engaged association members.
The group also wanted to know how the candidates viewed the proposed rezoning of the Great Hangups property on the corner of Broadway and West Boulevard from residential to planned commercial that was withdrawn before the council could vote on it.
Buford said he was not in favor of the proposed rezoning because he did not believe that a pre-existing business justified the change. The property owners need to take the neighbors into heavy consideration, he said.
Read said she would have sat down with the "various interested entities" to find a solution, including having a "broader conversation" to find an equitable solution.
Greever-Rice said she thinks that the current policies for infill development are ineffective. She said the policies were designed when the fringe of the city was being developed and infill requires more considerations such as the visual aesthetics of the property.
One member said that walking through the neighborhood during the winter was sometimes done with "risk of life and limb" because of icy sidewalks and wanted to know how the candidates would address the issue.
Buford said that it was the property owner's responsibility to clear sidewalks — as the current city ordinance says — and clearing sidewalks was "not in the budget."
Read echoed Buford but said the city could do a better job of listening to complaints and fining folks that fail to clear their sidewalks.
Greever-Rice didn't think the issue was as simple. She said that the city should look at the balance of resources and the policies to determine whether the city could clear areas with lots of "multimodal traffic."
Daryl Dudley is also running for the Fourth Ward seat but was unable to attend.
The election is April 6. The last day to register to vote in the election is March 10.