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Published Wednesday, April 30, 2008 6:18 AM

Expansion at center of elections

A flier was forwarded this month by the Bryan-College Station Home Builders Association encouraging real estate officials to "protect your job, your family and your livelihood" by voting for three candidates running for College Station City Council.

Neighborhood activists, former mayors and Texas A&M officials are mobilizing to back the three candidates on the other side -- who they say will ensure orderly growth that is paid for by developers rather than residents.

The race to the dais is getting heated, as both sides say the other is spreading misinformation and telling flat-out lies.

Growth is among the most important issues facing the city, all the candidates have acknowledged.

Incumbents Ron Gay and Chris Scotti, along with political newcomer Derek Dictson, have received financial support from several local builders and developers, among others.

Their opponents, former Councilman Dennis Maloney, first-time candidate Larry Stewart and incumbent John Crompton, are backed by a group that has a less clear label, but includes university officials and residents of the city's east side neighborhoods. Former mayors Lorence Bravenec, Gary Halter, Larry Ringer and Ron Silvia are publicly supporting Crompton.

All of College Station's council seats are at-large, meaning the representatives are not elected by a geographic district. Council members serve three-year terms and are not paid.

Early voting continues through Tuesday; the election is May 10.

What's at stake

The College Station City Council frequently is faced with issues related to growth and neighborhood integrity. The governing body signs off on plans for new roads and authorizes the city's budget. Rezoning requests and development contracts also go before the panel.

The candidates seeking office this year have clear differences in their philosophies on how to accommodate an increasing population. College Station has about 87,000 residents and is expected to top 100,000 by 2013. Those new residents will create a need for new roads and additional housing.

If elected, Crompton, Stewart and Maloney -- referred to as "the Crompton slate" by builder Keith Ellis -- would push for more fees and regulations as development occurs, Ellis said this week.

The builder's statement is a reference to Crompton's plan to "make growth pay for itself." Maloney and Stewart have offered similar but not identical views on how to pay for the city 's needs.

Crompton advocated in August hiking the city's parkland dedication fee on new development from $550 per lot to $1,800 per lot. The council ultimately settled on a fee of about $900 per lot. Crompton also has discussed imposing impact fees on new development, so that the cost of growth is paid for by those causing the strain, rather than residents who already live in the city.

Maloney is promoting a platform that includes impact fees and said on his campaign Web site that the city's parkland dedication policy "needs to be updated to provide incentives for developers to value green spaces and discourage clear-cutting development sites."

Stewart has said he will support "bond issues, impact fees or even a tax increase, if it's necessary" to pay for transportation needs.

Ellis, the builder, has contributed $500 to Dictson's campaign. He said voters are being told that the costs of new development will be incurred by developers, but that's not the case.

"I think the public has been misled into thinking this is about developers vs. neighborhood integrity," Ellis said. "Developers are not the bad guys. Developers are employees of the new homeowners. People need to understand it's going to affect the cost of housing. These fees will be passed on to the homeowner. What's going to happen to people who can't afford it?"

Halter, who served on the College Station City Council from 1975 to 1980 and was mayor from 1980 to 1988, said he doesn't think residents have a problem with additional costs of development being passed on to new homeowners.

"I think it's rather clever what they're doing," he said of the real estate officials who are supporting Gay, Scotti and Dictson. "They're saying it's going to cost taxpayers more money. How? It may costs new residents more, but not those who have lived here.

"[Developers] are saying this is their livelihood, and their jobs are at stake," added Halter, a political science professor at the Bush School of Government. "They'll still make a living. If they couldn't make any money, they wouldn't be in this business. They make tons of money."

Dictson, Scotti and Gay have said they're not trying to line the pockets of the real estate community -- they just don't want to halt the city's growth. "No-growth policies" can haunt a city when its infrastructure crumbles and the tax base is not there to maintain it, Dictson said in an e-mail to an Eagle reporter Tuesday afternoon.

'Throwing daggers'

What the race boils down to, Halter said, is that Crompton, Stewart and Maloney will "protect older neighborhoods, and the other guys won't."

But that's simply not true, said Hunter Goodwin, a developer who has supported the campaigns of Gay, Dictson and Scotti.

Goodwin, like Ellis, said Tuesday he's hurt by the insinuation that he doesn't care about how the city looks or is "greedy and evil."

"This agenda that's being pushed of developers vs. neighborhoods, I take a lot of umbrage to that," Goodwin said. "I care passionately about how this city looks, how this city grows. I live in College Station on Munson Avenue. I'm the head of a [homeowners association]. Does that sound like someone who doesn't care about his neighborhood?"

Gay and Scotti drew the ire of east side residents when they voted in 2006 to rezone property at Rock Prairie Road and Earl Rudder Freeway to pave the way for a Wal-Mart SuperCenter.

The rezoning was denied, and the Wal-Mart proposal has been off the table for months, but residents who live in the city's east side neighborhoods haven't forgotten, said Dick Startzman, a Sandstone resident who is serving as Stewart's campaign treasurer.

"What's at stake here is protecting the people who already live here against destruction of their way of life," Startzman said Tuesday evening. "The [Wal-Mart] development attempted to destroy the way of life in a number of neighborhoods. The city was in no shape to mitigate the traffic mess that would have caused. If [Gay, Dictson and Scotti] are elected, we have a lot of peace and quiet to lose, and we'll have giant traffic jams."

Neighborhood representatives are contributing to the campaigns of Crompton, Stewart and Maloney in a "defensive posture" to preserve their way of life, Startzman said.

"They have much more money," Startzman said of Gay, Scotti and Dictson. "You have to wonder, why would somebody be funding these candidates at such high levels? It's because they have profits to gain. They see a payout."

Goodwin said he donated to the campaigns of Gay, Scotti and Dictson not because of a payout, but because they "took the time" to meet with him and ask for his support.

Campaign finance reports filed earlier this month showed that Dictson, Gay and Scotti collected about $19,500 in contributions, while Crompton, Maloney and Stewart raised about $12,600.

A second round of finance disclosure reports is due Friday.

Goodwin, the developer, said the Crompton, Maloney and Stewart supporters are "throwing daggers" by saying that real estate officials are benefiting financially from the city at the taxpayers' expense.

"I have done five large commercial projects in College Station dating back to 1998 and have yet to be offered anything in the way of incentives," Goodwin said. "If the truth were actually told, I have paid sizable amounts in both parkland dedication fees and in road improvement.

"Because I develop as a business, I have been portrayed as an evil, uncaring, horrible citizen," he added. "That is the most unfair statement I've ever heard. It makes me want to move."

But daggers also are being thrown by supporters of "the trio," Halter said, referring to Dictson, Gay and Scotti.

The candidates are "pandering to Texas A&M University students," Halter said, explaining that he believes "the trio created a red-herring issue" involving housing ordinances.

The council discussed earlier this year a concept that would allow neighborhoods to lower from four to two the number of unrelated adults who can share a home. That proposal was withdrawn, however, and is not supported by Crompton, Maloney and Stewart, as supporters on the other side would have voters believe, Halter said.

In a recent candidates forum on the Texas A&M campus, the issue came up repeatedly, as Scotti and Dictson each accused their opponents of having plans to bring up a housing ordinance if elected. Stewart and Crompton denied such a strategy, and Maloney has said that requiring landlords to register their property with the city will solve most neighborhood problems.

"The trio is out there telling students that this is an issue when it isn't," Halter said. "People are just not telling the truth."

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





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