Mayoral candidates debate city's future
by Wes Mayer
Senoia citizens crowded into the city’s Municipal Courtroom on Thursday to hear viewpoints of the three mayoral candidates for the upcoming municipal election.
The evening was organized by Joe Cannin of the Senoia Forums Group. After the candidates’ opening remarks, each answered 13 questions and an additional five from the audience.
Questions touched on the growth of the city, how candidates propose to handle new industry and increasing traffic, the 2014 Senoia Comprehensive Plan, the millage rate and the Board of Ethics.
Suzanne Helfman, chairwoman of the Senoia Downtown Development Authority, strongly considers Senoia’s downtown and historic districts to be the city’s charm. Current City Councilman Larry Owens made it clear he wishes to continue moving in current Mayor Robert Belisle’s direction, focusing on expanding and growing the city. Retired military colonel Don Rehman wishes to tweak a few things in Senoia’s government and make it more open and inviting to the public.
All three candidates seemed to disagree most on the handling of city growth. Owens views growth as a delicate balance — something that should be allowed without disrupting the feel of the city. Owens said he was not in favor of large developments with big box stores like Home Depot. Helfman agreed, noting that growth should maintain downtown charm and keep the city itself self-sufficient. Rehman said he is unsure if Senoia can afford new growth or how expansion would affect taxes. He said there is nothing wrong with staying a small and quaint town.
When the issue of parking for events arose, Owens said he does believe additional parking is needed and plans have already been drafted. Rehman suggested having a parking deck with a transport system to help residents get to events and access downtown. Helfman said she does not support new parking for events as there are so few each year. She agrees downtown parking is an issue but would hate to see a parking deck within the city.
The next issue opened for discussion was that of the city’s water towers and whether Senoia should supply its own water or purchase from Coweta County. Rehman suggested Senoia shouldn’t be in the water business, but everything should be carefully evaluated. Helfman did not know the answer to the water issue, either, and agrees a balanced study should be made. Owens, serving on the council, believes it is cheaper for Senoia to have its own supply rather than buy from the county.
The status of the roads leading into Senoia, such as Rockaway Road, was discussed. Owens and Helfman agreed the roads should remain residential, allowing residents to be assured the city has its own identity; no developments should be built along the roads. Rehman agreed, but argued the bigger issue is increased traffic in newly-built residential areas.
The candidates also agreed Senoia should offer welcome packets to new residents. A city development authority should be formed, new construction impact fees stabilized, and merchants and residents should come together to discuss drainage issues.
The candidates were each asked what a single common vision of Senoia would be, along with the top priorities and greatest challenges of being mayor.
Helfman said her greatest challenge would be to make sure the current city can accommodate and keep up with new growth, and her top priority would be to get up to speed on the status of all city surfaces. She said her vision is to preserve the historic, nostalgic charm and economic development of Senoia.
Owens said his greatest challenge would be the water issue, and he would continue to study the issue in an effort to make sure the city will have the best quality water for the best price. He said it is hard to place a finger on a single vision, but if he had to, it would be the continued community spirit of the city’s residents.
Rehman said his top priority would be to learn all he doesn’t know about the city, and his challenge would be to fill the courtroom with the same number of people in attendance Thursday for every city council meeting in the future. His vision of Senoia includes the health and safety of a diverse population which believes in family and the preservation of the city’s history.