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Council and mayor debates cover the bases
Candidates for City Council At Large 1 wrestle with issues of growth and traffic at debateBy Brian Beckley
Facing off in their only head-to-head debate of the election season, City Council At Large Position 1 candidates Dan Swatman and Melvain Donyes traded a few friendly barbs and tried to differentiate themselves from each other last week in the Public Safety Building.
Moderated by former Planning Commission Chairman Steve Burnham, the candidates faced a series of question written by the editorial staff of The Bonney Lake Courier-Herald on topics ranging from the Washington State University Demonstration Forest and traffic to the role of an at-large council member.
During the debate, Swatman, who currently sits on the council as both deputy mayor and Ward 1 council member, repeatedly touted his experience and knowledge of city issues while Donyes, a pastor and director of the Bonney Lake Food Bank, portrayed himself as a new voice who would work to build consensus on the council.
Both candidates said they were unhappy with the current proposal by Quadrant Homes, a subsidiary of Weyerhaeuser, to develop the forest into a mix of homes, commercial space and parks, and would not support a change in zoning.
The forest is currently zoned “public facilities.”
“Supporting such a move, I think, is probably premature,” Donyes said, adding he wanted to see more specifics and public comment on the plan. “I really think we need to negotiate on behalf of the citizens and what they would like to see.”
Donyes also said he would like to see the city offered “a whole lot more” than is currently on the table.
Swatman agreed that the public should determine the course of action on the forest. Though he called private property rights “critical,” he said he saw no reason to allow Quadrant to build on the land.
“It's important the City Council be in the driver's seat when it comes to zoning,” not the developers, he said.
The candidates also were asked to explain their position on how to deal with traffic problems along South Prairie Road between state Route 410 and 200th Avenue Court East, given that Cascadia, a development of more than 6,500 homes is designed so drivers will pass through that area.
Swatman called the area “one of the worst intersections in town” and said developers of Cascadia and other pending subdivisions such as Falling Water are behind schedule on building, which means money from impact fees has yet to reach city coffers. He also said he was working with officials from the state to find more routes off the Plateau.
Donyes said the issue presents many challenges for the council and faulted Swatman for opposing developer plans to widen 200th Avenue Court East to a five-lane road, which he said would help alleviate the congestion.
Swatman said he had opposed that plan because he hoped to direct traffic around Bonney Lake instead of through it.
“The last thing we wanted to see was the traffic get any worse at that intersection,” he said.
The candidates diverged again on the issue of impact fees, with Donyes faulting Swatman and other council members for not imposing fees sooner to mitigate the impact of development on parks, roads, schools and other issues.
“I think there is a lot of making up to do for our infrastructure,” he said, calling the elapsed time “income lost, never to be returned.”
Swatman said impact fees were “one of my favorite subjects” and said when he was first appointed to the council in 1999, the city only had impact fees on sewer and water hook-ups.
“Now we have all of them,” he said, adding that through the fees, the city planned to pay for the $6 million addition to Allan Yorke Park known as the Moriarty Property.
During his rebuttal, Donyes said the downside to the fees was that too many would impact the price of homes in the city, pushing them out of range of many who would want to live in Bonney Lake. Swatman called the fee amounts “appropriate” and said they had been figured out mathematically.
The two candidates split the most, however, when asked about property condemnation. Built around the condemnation and subsequent jury-awarded $6 million purchase price of the Moriarty/Schuur Brothers property, the candidates were asked their positions on when land should be condemned.
Swatman, one of six council members to vote for the property's condemnation said it was “the last thing you ever want to see a government do,” but added that in this case it was the “last chance” to increase the size of the park.
Regarding the price of the land, Swatman compared the decision to sending children to college, saying most parents would mortgage their house for a better life for their children.
“If Bonney Lake has to step out a bit to make sure park land is available...we need to do that,” he said, adding he did not see Donyes at any of the council meetings when the issue was being discussed.
Donyes disagreed, saying that though there was a “great need” for more parks in Bonney Lake, he was “very strong” against condemnation.
“Condemnation is a very, very serious thing,” he said, adding that personal property was a “bedrock” of the nation.
Donyes went on to say he wanted the council to be more “proactive” in obtaining property from willing sellers.
The final question of the night was an opportunity for both candidates to make an argument as to why they would be a good at-large representative on the council.
Donyes, grabbing his midsection, laughed and said, “I don't think there's anyone more qualified” before beginning his answer.
Donyes argued that the council has been too contentious for too long and offered himself as a consensus-building change of pace.
“I just think it's time for a change,” he said. “I think I have a lot to bring and I want to bring it for the good of the city.”
Swatman touted his experience on the council and his time as deputy mayor, a position selected by fellow council members. Swatman said he always looks at issues and visits the homes of citizens all around the city, not just in his ward. He also said he believes the positive direction in which the council has moved over the past few years was an example of his leadership skills as deputy mayor.
“It's the experience that's really going to make the difference,” he said. “We're dealing with some issues that are extremely technical.”
Following the debate, both candidates said whatever the outcome, they planned to stay involved in city politics.
The choice goes to the voters Tuesday.
Brian Beckley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.