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Candidates debate development in District 7

Wednesday, December 3, 2014 by Kara Nuzback

Two North Austin City Council candidates, who will face off in a Dec. 16 runoff election, say the city is growing rapidly and that the District 7 Council member must make sure the area stays affordable.

District 7 candidate Leslie Pool, 59, is an executive assistant for Travis County Constable Carlos Lopez. She sailed ahead of the other seven candidates in the November election with 32 percent of the vote. Her opponent, attorney Jeb Boyt, 50, earned 17 percent.

At a candidate forum Monday night at St. John’s Episcopal Church that was hosted by the North Austin Community Newsletter, both candidates addressed development in the area, with Pool emphasizing the need for the city to collaborate with neighborhood associations in development plans. She also highlighted the importance of maintaining amenities like parks, pools and libraries.

Pool said she would use neighborhood plans as a guiding principle in development decisions and hopes that CodeNEXT, a revision of the land development code, will respect the time and effort residents spent to create the plans.

Boyt, on the other hand, focused on the need for more affordable housing and better transportation in District 7. Boyt said Capital Metro needs to improve its services so people can more easily navigate the city. He also suggested improving options for bicyclists and pedestrians.

“Affordability is affecting us all,” he said. “We need to create more opportunities for housing.” He added that housing prices won’t come down unless the city creates more places for people to live, and that the city should encourage housing developments by cleaning up the permit process.

Boyt also suggested reforming the tax appraisal process to ensure commercial properties pay their fair share of property taxes.

Likewise, Pool spoke in favor of property tax reform. She strongly opposed corporate incentives, though, saying, “They need to pay their fair share of taxes,” Boyt was less militant, saying the incentives should be used sparingly.

“Above all, they need to be fully justified,” he said.

Both candidates said they seek to open the lines of communication between residents of District 7 and the Council. Boyt said that, if elected, he would establish an office in District 7 rather than downtown and hold regular hours to make himself available to residents. He also said CodeNEXT will likely dominate Council meetings over the next two years, and he plans to hold public meetings in District 7 to get residents’ thoughts about the plan.

“I will work with you on this,” Boyt said. “And I’m going to take your concerns to Council.”

Pool said she would promote civic engagement by holding more than one Council meeting per week, to keep the meetings from going into the late-night hours. She also said if committees do more work on issues ahead of the meetings, Council would spend less time discussing each issue.

Pool added that she would promote collaboration between Council, residents and business owners during the CodeNEXT process.

When asked about Opportunity Austin, a plan to promote economic growth and attract new residents, Pool said the city needs to repair existing infrastructure such as sidewalk connectivity and park maintenance before attracting more people.

“It made the city a player on a big, national stage,” she said of Opportunity Austin. “It also drove the massive hypergrowth … that we are dealing with right now.”

Boyt argued that the Chamber of Commerce initiative should not take all the credit for Austin’s recent growth, but said the influx is affecting affordability and traffic congestion in the city. He said he does not want Austin to become as expensive as San Francisco, and he would bring residents’ concerns about growth to the city as a Council member.

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