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City issues aired at forum
Commonwealth Crossing, uptown projects are discussed
Sunday, October 21, 2012
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Reversion/consolidation, creating a minority precinct, parking and the lack of movement on developing a new industrial park were among the issues discussed Saturday during the second West Side Candidates Forum.
Held in St. Paul’s High Street Baptist Church, the two incumbent city council candidates — Danny Turner and Mark Stroud — and the two political newcomers — Sharon Brooks Hodge and Jim Woods — fielded several questions from moderator Naomi Hodge-Muse and the seven other people present.
The four candidates are running for three seats on city council in the Nov. 6 election.
A resident asked why the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to stall a grading project at the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre, a 700-plus acre tract near the Virginia/North Carolina line. The corps has asked for more information and delayed approval, officials have said.
Turner said that the corps found the CCBC “is a bad investment,” as did the U.S. Department of Commerce.
There are many vacant buildings available in the area, he said, and added that CCBC is not considered a “mega-site” (or megaproject), considered to be those that create at least 400 jobs and have a capital investment of at least $250 million, according to previous reports.
“It would be nice to have” CCBC “but it’s too far from Martinsville” to have much impact locally, Turner said. He added that the estimated $24 million for work there could be better spent on the Fieldale/Bassett corridor to make vacant buildings there more attractive to companies.
Stroud said a change in administration in the corps of engineers may have an impact on the stalled permit.
Tony Millner, who lives in Henry County but has a business and other interests in the city, is concerned that if the Phoenix Community Development Corp. goes forward with plans to construct a building uptown for offices and apartments, parking will be eliminated and there will be too few spaces for students, faculty, businesses and clubs.
The building would be located on the site of a city-owned parking lot across from the Sportsman’s Club on Fayette Street, and Millner asked about the possibility of constructing it on top of the current parking area.
Stroud said discussions about the project are in the preliminary stages, and he anticipates more talks before the project moves forward.
Hodge said she thinks it is incumbent on the city to “protect the property owners” by talking to business owners and residents to learn their opinions before the project begins.
When kicking off the forum, Hodge-Muse, who is president of the Martinsville-Henry County NAACP, asked whether it is possible for the city to stand on its own without consolidation and what measures are needed to prevent it.
Stroud said he thinks the city is poised for a rebirth, with plans for expanding the New College Institute, building a medical school, the development proposed by the Phoenix Corp. and other projects.
With each, “you will have faculty and students coming in and buying up homes,” Stroud said, and noted that those new institutions also would require services, including support services of restaurants and others.
“I think the city of Martinsville has a bright future, with or without consolidation,” he said.
Woods noted that the word reversion was absent from Hodge-Muse’s question.
Fiscally, consolidation is needed, Woods said.
“I think it would be financially prudent to at least consolidate services that” overlap, such as garbage pickup, he said.
“There is no way we can continue on the level we are now,” Turner said, and noted that the city is taking money out of reserves to meet expenses.
He said it may be feasible to consolidate the school systems and some constitutional offices.
Hodge said the city needs to find out why people are leaving the area (aside from the lack of jobs), and work to attract and recruit people to live in Martinsville.
She noted that Roanoke City Council was holding pot-luck dinners Saturday night in various communities to help bring the area together.
“What are we doing to bring neighborhoods together,” she asked. “We need to provide the kind of cultural climate that makes people want to live here.”
Hodge-Muse also asked if the city reverted to a town, would the candidates consider creating a minority precinct to ensure at least one member of the Henry County Board of Supervisors was black.
Stroud noted there would be a town council if a reversion occurred, but Hodge-Muse said a town council “has no clout,” and the black community would have no voice.
Stroud said he would be open to the possibility of creating a minority precinct, as did Woods and Hodge.
Turner said that the question was based on the assumption that white voters would not support a black candidate and vice versa.
But, he noted, “the number one thing is you have to have people (willing) to run” for office, he said. During the most recent election of supervisors, he said, there was no opposition to any of the candidates.