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Published Thursday, April 10, 2008 5:57 AM

Forum showcases candidates

Eight city council candidates gave varying opinions on property rights and development at the first public forum of election season Wednesday.

The Bryan-College Station Association of Realtors hosted the event to gather more information about the candidates before the May 10 elections.

One contested council race will appear on Bryan's ballot. Political newcomer Kevin Davenport is challenging incumbent Mayor Pro Tem Jason Bienski for his Single Member District 3 seat.

In College Station, Larry Stewart is seeking the Place 5 post held by Chris Scotti. Planning and Zoning Commissioner Derek Dictson is vying with incumbent John Crompton for Place 1. And former Councilman Dennis Maloney is challenging Ron Gay for the Place 3 post.

A tense moment occurred Wednesday when Gay referred to a comment at a previous gathering, saying Maloney had "suggested" raising College Station's property tax rate by 50 percent to pay for road projects. Maloney said he mentioned the idea to make a humorous point about the rising cost of transportation needs.

"I don't think you should take our tax rate in jest," Gay replied, as the forum's hosts asked the candidates to keep the discussion on a friendly level.

The forum was not set up as a debate; rather, each candidate was given about five minutes to talk about property and development policies.

Davenport addressed the small group of real estate officials by saying he thought it was important to respect the rights of property owners.

"I believe in code enforcement and the way you present your property to the community," he said. "In this region of the country, property is everything to some people. I believe you should have a way to enforce how it looks, but you should also respect the wishes of the property owner."

Bienski, a real estate agent, said Bryan is focused on recruiting new development to the city.

"We welcome commercial retail development in Bryan," he said. "We're definitely proactive in regard to development. ... If someone brings College Station a development, they've got to go through more hoops. In Bryan, it's just a matter of going to [the Planning and Zoning Commission] and council."

The College Station City Council has been faced with a few contentious development-related issues this year. The council recently heard a proposal that would restrict subdivided lots in the region just outside the city limits to a 20-acre minimum. That means only one house could be built for every 20 acres, temporarily stopping development.

City officials withdrew the proposal because of a lack of public support.

A problem does exist with high-density development outside the city limits, straining infrastructure, Scotti acknowledged Wednesday.

"It's partly the city's fault, and it's happened over a long period of time," he said. "I really think the city needs to do a better job. There's a perception -- and a real issue -- with costs and restrictions being too high within the city limits. That's why we have areas of the city that have been vacant for a long time. We need to address that by increasing the profitability and desire to build within the city limits."

Stewart said a measure such as a 20-acre lot minimum would "strangle the city." He also noted the importance of thoughtful, consistent planning.

"In business, if you set in place a set of plans, standard work procedures on how you're going to do a job, and you make the best plan possible and you stick to it, your product is going to be top-of-the line," he said.

Crompton said the 20-acre minimum, although flawed, was an attempt to synchronize development with existing infrastructure.

"Right now, it's out of synch," he said. "We can't put cars out on the road if the roads are not able to handle them."

Dictson said Wednesday that he'd like to see a "planned, market-based approach" to managing the city's growth.

"We need to put together a good comprehensive land use plan that looks out over 20 years and embraces the concept that College Station is going to double in size," he said. "We need to put together a thoroughfare plan that is going to handle the traffic, and we need to implement it."

Gay also weighed in on the transportation issue.

"I think the real problem here is, we haven't built roads," he said. "We've allowed developers, the state government, the federal government, to build roads for us. That may be less expensive, but it also guarantees that you get your roads built piecemeal. We need a commitment as a city that we are going to implement the thoroughfare plan that's been designed for this city."

The real estate officials at Wednesday's forum also were interested in whether the candidates supported requiring College Station developers to submit traffic impact analyses -- which cost about $10,000 -- when they submit requests for rezoning. The current policy requires traffic studies for developments of a certain size when a site plan is submitted.

Maloney, a painting contractor, said officials should look at growth management strategies that have been implemented elsewhere.

"I can tell you what kind of paint to use on your house, but I'm not a traffic specialist or a developer," he said. "I go to the experts. You don't have to reinvent the wheel here. You can go to Flower Mound or Plano and look at the kind of policies they've put in place to handle these things."

Nathan Cook, chairman of the Realtors association's governmental affairs committee, said the gathering offered a good opportunity to hear from the candidates.

"Politicians and Realtors are similar -- we go try to find home buyers and you go try to find voters," he told the candidates with a laugh. "The only difference is, when we're successful we get paid for it."

• April Avison's e-mail address is april.avison@theeagle.com.





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