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Published Tuesday, April 29, 2008 6:02 AM

Candidates debate growth

College Station City Council hopefuls on Monday continued their battle over growth and development, facing off in a candidate forum.

The event, sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce, was the last forum scheduled before the May 10 election. Early voting continues through May 6.

Two school board members, a city councilman and a school bond issue will be decided in Bryan next week, but the most heated races this election season are for College Station City Council seats.

Derek Dictson is running against incumbent John Crompton, former Councilman Dennis Maloney is challenging Mayor Pro Tem Ron Gay, and Larry Stewart is attempting to oust incumbent Chris Scotti.

A tax freeze for senior citizens also is set to go before College Station voters, and all six hopefuls have said they have concerns about the measure's potential impact on the city budget.

That's where the candidates' similarities end, however.

Dictson has criticized the city's development policies, saying he wants to foster a more business-friendly atmosphere. Gay and Scotti also are touting pro-growth ideas and have received support from several members of the local real estate community.

Crompton has called for growth to "pay for itself," through increased parkland dedication fees and stringent requirements on infrastructure when a new business or subdivision is built. Crompton, along with Maloney and Stewart, has received support from neighborhood activists.

Each of the six candidates said Monday that they would approve an incentive to a business without question if, for example, the return on investment could be realized in less than 30 days. But Dictson said the city has to have a consistent mechanism by which it doles out money to businesses that can bring in sales tax or property tax.

"This is a problem," he said of the case-by-case basis on which incentives currently are judged. "You can't say you're not going to give incentives [to some businesses] but you are for certain things. We've had this fuzzy policy where people come in and they don't know what direction the city is going to go."

Dictson then pitched an idea to trade city-owned acreage to a developer willing to build facilities for the city "so we don't have to pay for everything with our tax dollars."

"You can go in and find a developer who's going to master plan an attractive mixed-use development," he said. "In exchange for development rights, the developer builds the city hall, the senior center, the other municipal buildings you want."

The proposal was met with mixed reviews from the other candidates.

Crompton said that the city can't give away land, but can lease it at a nominal rate.

"That's how we got Arctic [Wolf] Ice Rink here, and I was instrumental in that effort," he said.

Crompton said that he's opposed to entering an agreement for a new city hall without support from residents.

"At the end of the day, if you sell the land and use it to build a city hall, you haven't accrued any assets for the city."

Scotti and Stewart said they liked the idea.

"I'd like to explore this further," Scotti said. "I definitely support the idea."

Stewart called Dictson's plan "a home run."

"I don't think you'll have to go to the voters, but it will have to be researched," he said.

Maloney mentioned 500 acres the city owns near the Pebble Creek subdivision. The land was purchased for development as a business park, but such a plan never came to fruition. However, Maloney said, it would be "short-sighted" to give up the land to a developer.

"A future economic engine could set up shop there," he said. "Right now, we only have one, and that's Texas A&M."

Gay offered a different take, saying he's "not sold on a city center concept."

"I don't think that's what people want in this community," he said. "I don't think it improves our quality of life one bit."

Before the College Station hopefuls took the stage Monday, Bryan candidates answered questions in the forum.

Bryan's ballot features two contested school board races. Jeff Goehl is seeking to oust longtime trustee David Stasny from his at-large post, and P.J. Vargas is challenging Single Member District 2 trustee Pat Shields.

Goehl and Vargas on Monday criticized the school district for planning the new Rudder High School in an area where they said infrastructure is inadequate to handle additional traffic.

Shields and Stasny touted the district's strategic planning efforts and initiative to upgrade facilities with a $37.5 million bond issue, which also will go before voters May 10.

Bryan voters will choose a new council member next week. Single Member District 3 Mayor Pro Tem Jason Bienski is running against political newcomer Kevin Davenport.

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






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