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Council candidates present their case
By Chris Roark, firstname.lastname@example.org
Candidates for the Flower Mound Town Council gave their platform one final time Saturday night at the annual council candidate forum in preparation for the May 12 election.
Early voting runs through May 8.
Seven of the eight candidates were in attendance to answer questions sent to them in advance, as well as questions submitted by audience members.
Among the topics discussed was Lakeside DFW, a proposed $1 billion mixed-use development sought to be located off FM 2499 in the south end of town.
Other topics included the oil and gas ordinance, which was modified last year to include tougher restrictions and larger setbacks.
Also discussed was the decision by Lyda and Filidoro to deny a Kroger request for a specific use permit (SUP) for a fueling station because of its location, which ultimately nixed the plan for store expansion/improvements.
Below are some of the questions asked and excerpts from the candidates’ responses:
What is your opinion of the current state of economic development in Flower Mound?
Filidoro said Flower Mound is in the same position everyone else is because of the economy but added that the town is making strides, noting incoming retailers Tom Thumb, Market Street, Neighborhood Market and Academy Sports and Outdoors. “Nobody ever says, ‘I wish Flower Mound was more like Lewisville, Plano or Frisco.’ They like the uniqueness of our community. Maybe before we change anything, we should have another election to ask the residents if they want to change the direction of Flower Mound.”
Cloud said he has heard the notion that the town is hard to work with and that a developer told him he would never work with the town again because of the strict codes he had to follow.
“We need to ease up on the building restrictions and work with the developers,” Cloud said. “That way they’ll know what’s expected of them.”
Northern said economic development is striving in town, noting eight new residential neighborhoods and commercial developments along FM 2499. “Quality developers have no issue with our standards because they are capable of meeting them. We’ve had developers come in and ask us not to change our standards because they want other developers to have the same quality. Due diligence is required on the front end. This ensures that residents will not negatively be impacted by development.”
Hayden said if Northern is going to take credit for the business openings, she should take credit for those who have left, and he named several. “When everyone says Flower Mound is a difficult place to do business with, then you have a problem. Do you know that if you want to change your windows in Flower Mound you have to get a permit? We permit businesses to death.”
Dixon said residents, developers and the county say the town is hard to do business with. He said changing it starts with the town council. “We are aggressive on the permits. There are many businesses who will not do a job in Flower Mound because of the structure that we have. It needs to be done safely and have high quality, but we have intrusive permitting." He also said the town doesn't get many responses for director positions because they fear it's a career-ending move.
Lyda questioned some of the candidates’ roles in helping economic development. "If we've been hearing about this for such a long time, what have we done to fix it? What has Mr. Dixon done to fix it? Mr. Hayden said it needs to change with leadership. But Tom, you're a leader now. Mr. Hayden failed to come up with a plan to address this." He said the town's development process is what makes Flower Mound a quality place to live. He also said the council has taken steps to address this, including quarterly meetings with developers and making it part of the town manager's annual review.
Webb pointed to the average number of commercial permits the town has issued, saying they dropped from eight monthly before NFL came into office to two monthly after."We've gone through a heck of an economic downturn. But we've been coming out of that downturn since they've been in office. To say otherwise is using that as a crutch. We are hard to do business with, and it's not because we have high standards. People know that when they have to have work done on their house, there is going to be a Flower Mound aggravation tax that's assessed. It's not a perception.”
If town revenue decreases, which would you favor most: a tax increase or a reduction in town services?
Cloud said he would not support raising taxes. “I would favor a slight reduction in services as long as it does not impact the fire department or the police department,” Cloud said.
Northern said a tax increase would not be an option with her but that reducing services isn’t an automatic move either. “When we took office, we had a $1.9 million deficit. We looked analytically how we were spending our tax money." Northern said the town has undertaken many financial strategies, including the re-negotiated waste management contract. "We are re-looking at contracts when the economy dips, not just when they expire. That's a great opportunity to look at renegotiating those."
Hayden denied Northern’s claim, saying the town has not operated in a deficit. He said raising taxes is his last choice. “We have the lowest sales tax revenue in North Texas. We have to diversify our sales tax revenue and commercial development. We have to grow the pie. Relying on our ad valorem sales tax puts us in a perilous position."
Dixon said the bad economy has helped in one way in that it has allowed the town to get good deals on infrastructure improvements. That's how we've turned this around. It wasn't some magic wand anyone on town council did. If you look at the budget retreat, I was the only one who wanted to reserve 100 percent of our excess funds in case this economy goes down."
Lyda noted NFL’s achievements to reduce spending, saying the council stood up for an unnecessary expansion of the water system, paying for new gas drilling legislation with related fees and renegotiating the waste contract. "We need to protect our property values. That's another way to increase our town revenue."
Webb said he wouldn’t raise taxes. He also pointed to the business and residence fees, such as inspection and permit fees, Filidoro and the 2010 council voted to increase. “I call that an increased tax because it comes out of the pockets of residents and businesses,” Webb said. “At the same time this council was dealing with a budget shortfall, they considered cutting funding for agencies that support abused women and children while considering increasing funding at the same time for the arts. I support the arts, but if I have to make a choice, women and children first.”
Filidoro said his record with the new waste removal contract with Waste Management shows he won’t raise taxes or decrease services. He pointed to NFL’s actions, such as the waste contract. “We have increased some of our basic services. In fact, one of the largest contracts we have in waste removal, we got rid of a subpar vendor. It was one that Mr. Dixon wanted to give a 15-percent increase to for lousy service.”
Please tell the voters the conditions under which you would approve or disapprove the Lakeside DFW project and why.
Northern said she would love to have high-end retail and lakeside dining as the project developers are proposing. But she said following the SMARTGrowth process is crucial to ensure quality development and fairness on all sides. “It is way too early in the process with the application not even being complete yet for me to be for or against it.” She added that Hayden has been promoting the project too soon. “Less than a year ago, Mr. Hayden said Lakeside DFW was a euphemism for high-density apartments. Now he irresponsibly markets their plan without doing due diligence.”
Hayden said he asks residents what they think of the project. “I actually get out in the neighborhoods. I'm not in this office all day. My job is to represent people, not to tell them what they should think. I like the concept plan. It's too early to say if I'm for or against it, but on the surface, it looks good.” He said he has talked to the neighbors who would live closest to the project to see what they think. “That’s why I walk around with the concept plan.”
Dixon said a company had previously considered moving its training center to the property, but that would deny residents access to the lake, unlike the Lakeside DFW project. “The lake is a jewel for Flower Mound. We should have access to it. Should we be for or against something from the get-go without even understanding it? Absolutely not,” Dixon said. “But I feel like people are trying to torpedo the concept before we go through the process.”
Lyda said he’s happy the project is moving forward but said due diligence is a must. “Nobody wants another River Walk. It was fast-tracked, yet it is still in development and it was supposed to be done. How are we going to grow The River Walk and Lakeside and keep Flower Mound a great place? By planning. Let’s not let Mr. Dixon and Mr. Webb do for Lakeside what they did for the River Walk apartments, turning the brownstone and the walkable downtown area into a bunch of apartments.”
Webb said he didn’t vote for the River Walk apartments but rather that he voted to recommend approval. He said Filidoro was the one who voted for the apartments. He also said it’s too early to support or oppose the plan. “It has the potential to be truly something special to our community. An attraction for Flower Mound.” Webb said differs from Filidoro in that he would stop trying to eliminate mixed use options from Lakeside DFW, and he would show up to economic development team meetings.
Filidoro said he voted “no” on the apartments but that the original River Walk concept had changed. He said it was Dixon and other council members who voted for the apartments. In reference to Webb’s suggestion that NFL does not attend economic development meetings with Lakeside officials, Filidoro said there are many such meetings, and he was taking care of a client during one of the ones he missed. “I do look forward to a completed application so that we can do the due diligence we were elected to do,” Filidoro said.
Cloud also said it’s too early to say “yes” or “no” on the project. “We need to build carefully and protect our natural resources,” Cloud said. “That wasn’t done with the apartments [at the River Walk]. There were so many trees that were destroyed. We need to get with the residents and see what their thoughts are.”
What is your opinion on Proposition 11 (which states that any amendment to the oil and gas drilling ordinance would require a three-fourths vote)?
All of the candidates said they favor the supermajority requirement.
Hayden: “This issue is very important, and there was a lot of work put into this ordinance. We're going to go forward with this ordinance, not regress.” Hayden added that the town needs to keep up with new technology as it becomes available, and he said all of the town’s firefighters should be certified in handling gas well blowouts at a pad site, adding that only three are now.
Dixon: “I said from day one that I support the ordinance. It is the will of the people. I will not weaken the oil and gas ordinance in Flower Mound.” He said one con to the proposal is requiring a supermajority even if improvements to it are needed.
Lyda: Lyda reflected when the town passed a charter amendment to require a supermajority vote to change the master plan. "Now we treat our master plan with reverence.” Lyda said Dixon told voters in 2009 that he wanted to extend the drilling setbacks but that he did not. “I was the one that got up there and started a review of our oil and gas ordinance and got the job done."
Webb: “Flower Mound has the right gas ordinance for Flower Mound. Two years ago, the residents spoke clearly on this issue. I heard them and respect their decision. Because of the respect I have for the citizens, I pledge to support and defend the ordinance of today and will vote for this on the charter amendment.”
Filidoro: “Mr. Webb voted against putting the charter review on the ballot.” Filidoro said the importance of the ordinance is elevated to necessitate a supermajority and points to the high voter turnout in 2010 as proof.
Cloud: “I agree with the three-fourths vote. The concern of gas drilling is safety. And all firefighters should be certified to handle a blowout.”
Northern: “My opponent [Hayden] says he supports it now, but he worked to stop it from appearing on the ballot. He has been trying to slow down the charter process, a decision in which we would have deprived citizens the right to say 'yes' in May. Fortunately he was swayed by the professionalism of the charter review commission and the community and then relented to putting it on the ballot and now supports it.”
Do you believe that when safety issues are used to deny projects like the Kroger proposal, they should have to be confirmed by the traffic engineers and the fire department?
Lyda said he had safety issues with the fueling station location and added that Hayden did at one time as well. Lyda reminded residents he offered a motion to approve the expansion, but it failed.
“I was not satisfied with the safety features,” Lyda said. “We have to address our residents' concerns, and I did in this case. We have to look out for the people who can't look out for themselves.”
Webb said Filidoro and Lyda didn’t address residents’ concerns since there were more than 1,000 signatures from residents supporting the request. “The professional traffic engineer on planning and zoning who voted to recommend it go forward,” Webb said.
Filidoro said Kroger itself admitted safety concerns. “We worked with Kroger engineers to try to move the fuel center to the corner, to the side, to the back, and Kroger said ‘no.’” Filidoro said an independent engineer the town hired said the center was a retrofit. Filidoro said after the denial, the two sides had resolved the issue but that Kroger withdrew its application anyway.
Cloud said he supports the store expansion. “We need to trust the engineers so that traffic won’t be a problem.”
Northern said Kroger was given multiple options but that store officials didn’t want to move the fueling station. “The council made the right decision. The planning and zoning commission said ‘no’ because of safety issues. We had a plan to move forward, but Kroger pulled their application. I hope they come back because we need and want the expansion.”
Hayden said he didn't support gas pumps at first but that Kroger later came back and said it was needed to expand the store. Kroger made several attempts to appease the council, such as adding a deceleration lane and moving the station back 10 feet. “Kroger will be back if we support it. Otherwise, when Market Street and Tom Thumb come in, we risk having a vacant store.”
Dixon said the simple majority of the council supported the plan and that he would have voted for it after Kroger agreed to install the two deceleration lanes and to move the station back. “It was a bad decision, and I hope Kroger sees fit to come back to Flower Mound and asks for an SUP and an expansion very soon.”
Northern and Hayden exchanges
Throughout the debate, Northern and Hayden made claims and rebuttals at each other.
Meeting with developers
Hayden said a difference between he and Northern is that he would meet with Lakeside DFW officials and other developers and said she does not despite being invited multiple times.
Northern said she had gone to the Lakeside property before she was elected mayor. But she said she wants developers to come to town hall for meetings so they can be taped and open to the public.
Lack of communication
During discussion of economic development, Northern said some of NFL's opponents have had their chances to fix the problem.
"Mr. Dixon has been in office for two years, Mr. Hayden for three. If they had issues with those items, they should have looked at fixing those," Northern said.
Hayden denied that adamantly.
"Have we been serving on the same council for the last two years? I can't tell you how many times I tried to put things on the agenda," Hayden said. "You have stonewalled me every time I tried to do something."
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