The Transylvania Times -

City Council Candidates Tackle Questions

 

October 16, 2017



Editor’s Note: The only competitive race in this year’s municipal elections is on the Brevard City Council, where three candidates are competing for two seats.

The three candidates — Maureen Copelof, Jessica Gallagher and Mac Morrow — were contacted to take part in Q&A.

The following are there responses:

Maureen Copelof

Age: 62

Family: Husband, Sylvan

Education: Bachelor of Arts in religious studies from University of South Carolina, a Master’s in business administration from USC and a Master’s in political science from Auburn University.

Occupation: Retired U.S. Navy officer

Held Elected Office: No

•The lack of affordable housing in Brevard and the county has been repeatedly commented upon. Do you agree with the decision earlier this year by the City Council to reject the proposed 80-unit apartment development off Tinsley Road. Why or why not?

Copelof: I agree that affordable housing, or workforce housing, is absolutely critical. It is one of the biggest issues that families, both young and elderly, bring up to me. City council has to really look at where does it make sense. I understand the city council had its reasons for rejecting that particular apartment plan. We have to make sure that the area where we put workforce housing can absorb that density, that it has appropriate roads, and is not in an area that will cause problems because of slopes and location.

We have to find suitable areas where we have the infrastructure, the roads and space to accommodate that level of density. The challenge for city council is to go out and proactively start looking for areas that can accept that level of apartment building.

•Some investors apparently are purchasing numerous residences and using them as AirBnBs and VRBOs, thus taking many homes off the market for either long-term rental or purchase. Do you believe this practice is exacerbating the shortage of affordable housing in Brevard? If so, what, if anything, would you do to restrict such practices?

Copelof: The AirBnBs are having an impact. They are reducing the inventory of available housing to rent. There is very little available to rent at any price level in our town. This is a really serious problem. I believe people do have the right to use their personal property as they see fit. If you own property and want to make a profit renting it, that’s part of your right as a property owner.

The city has got to start dealing with the fact that we need to incentivize builders to construct affordable housing units in the city and the county. Both need to team up.

The problem doesn’t stop at the limits of the municipality. I would not restrict property owners on how they can use their property. City council in the resolution that they passed put restrictions on advertising and outside look to keep the neighborhood feel. But what we really need to do is to encourage more development of additional workforce housing and to come in to those areas, where we can support it and increase the inventory.

•There is only one City of Brevard member on the Transylvania Economic Alliance board, while the city is the main engine of economic activity in the county. Should the city have more representation on the board? Why/Why Not?

Copelof: I believe the city and the Transylvania Economic Alliance need to work hand in hand. The city has to be fully engaged with it. If you have one fully engaged member on the board, I don’t see that as a problem. It’s not the number of people on a board.

It is the involvement, the ideas, the teamwork that we need to foster between all the members on that board, and make sure we’ve got a really good and involved, creative thinking, forward thinking, strategic planning member on the board, who can represent the city’s interests and work with the other members.

•Do you have any concerns about the Asheville Highway corridor becoming “anywhere USA,” with corporate food chains and strip malls? Do you believe it’s having an impact on Brevard’s image?

Copelof: Yes, I believe it is having an impact on the image.

As you drive into town you have an awful lot of fast food chains. That’s why we have ordinances in terms of development. We have to make sure we identify what’s really important to our city in terms of what we want to protect — how do we want to protect the nature of how our town looks.

Then, we need to make sure we have clearly defined standards, so that businesses coming in understand we want a certain level of look when they are going to build in our community and that we hold companies to those standards.

Some say that will just drive business away. But if you have something that is clearly stated, easy to follow, no ambiguity, then that actually helps businesses with planning. If you don’t ask and just accept everything that wants to come in and build, then you are going to get a hodge-podge. We’ve got to establish those very clear standards for development. We need to have effective administration and enforcement of those standards, and we need to ask companies to work with us as partners to make sure that what they are building does reflect the nature of our town.

•Would you support providing economic assistance to help local entrepreneurial efforts to improve and bring dilapidated buildings up to code? Why/Why not?

Copelof: The city needs to work with property owners to make sure they do come up to code. A property owner has a responsibility for their property. When you buy the property, you own it. Unless there is a financial need by that property owner and they can’t do it, then at that point, yes, the city could work with them in terms of assistance. I would not want to see it blanket. If people are buying up houses and trying to restore them and get them up to code and then put them on the market as rentals, then if they have the financial capabilities to be taking care of their properties, they should be doing that. But not everyone is at that point. I do think there are assistance programs where there are economically disadvantaged families who are living in substandard houses who we should be providing economic incentives to help bring up to code.

•A lack of good-paying jobs is the number one concern for many residents. At the end of the next four years, how many new jobs and in what pay range would those jobs need to be for you to consider economic growth a success? For example, would the city need to add 100 new jobs paying an average of $35,000; 50 new jobs paying an average of $25,000, etc. for you to say the city has successfully addressed the lack of good-paying jobs.

Copelof: The city does need to encourage companies to come here and pay a living wage. If you are working 40 hours a week and you cannot support your family with dignity and you need public assistance, then something is just flat wrong.

What happens is that the government ends up picking up the tab for minimum wage jobs by having to provide assistance to families, so they can survive. We need to work so that we are above the living wage for our area. The Living Wage Coalition of Transylvania County has done a lot of analysis on it as to what a family needs. And it varies by the size of a family.

I can’t quantify what I’d call success in terms of numbers of new jobs. I think that is unrealistic to say. If we work with existing companies to raise wages, if whenever companies are expanding and they are looking to expand with good-paying living wage jobs here, then we should encourage them to come here. I would consider that success. It’s not realistic to put a cap on numbers and set a target in that fashion.

•We call ourselves the bicycling capital of the South, yet we don’t meet the standards of a bicycling community. There are few bike racks in town and no bike lanes within the city. Do you support bikes lanes and more bike racks? Explain.

Copelof: I’m a big proponent of bikes. I believe that if we could have more bike paths, bike lanes and more areas where people could safely bike for short errands — where you want to run to the food store and put items in a basket and bike home — that would help our traffic congestion, help with traffic problem. I don’t understand why we don’t have more bike racks out there. The safety of bicycles on our roads is a serious problem. We have narrow, mountain roads where bicycles and cars are sharing a very limited space, often causing problems. We do need more bike lanes. Anytime there is a road project we should be asking the question, “How do we build in a bike lane?” How do we connect our bicycle paths that do exist? I’m also a firm supporter of the proposed Ecusta Trail and the N.C. 280 corridor trail/bike path. We want to get to the point where Biking here can be an alternative transportation and is a great way to improve the community’s health and reduces, as I said, traffic congestion and helps with the traffic problem.

•Would you support funding the local Farmers’ Market more so that it could accept SNAP (formerly known as food stamps)/EBT cards?

Copelof: Yes, I would. Our local Farmers’ Market is a tremendous resource and has healthy produce. I would love to see it expanded and supported to where people in a lower economic situation can go there and take advantage because healthy food is not always the cheapest food.

Some people are buying food that is not necessarily the best, that is not necessarily locally grown and is not necessarily organic food. We should be trying to help people who are in need of economic assistance get that type of very healthy food.

A Farmers’ Market is a tremendous local resource that helps our local farmers, local businesses and there is no reason why we can’t have local people taking advantage of that. I would support expanding those programs to allow that.

•Why are you running for office and what skills and/or characteristics do you have that will make you effective in your position?

Copelof: I’m running for office because I love this town. I believe to get the future we want for our community you have to get actively involved. I have been actively involved in a number of ways. I’ve served on the county’s Planning Board for three years. I’ve run several nonprofits. I get involved working to raise money for education for women. I’m involved in a lot of different groups, so by running for office I want to extend that even further. Growth is going to happen, and change is going to happen. How do we manage that change, so that it is the type of change, the type of growth that really creates the community that we want to have?

The role of city government should be to create community. You do that by how you design your buildings and roads. You do that by how you create workforce housing. You do that with economic development because a health community can’t exist without good paying jobs. You do that through protecting your environment because without quality air and water you don’t have a healthy community.

You do that by making sure you have the institutions — the right kind of committees, such as the Community Relations Board that was just created. All of these things build community. I’m running because I believe in building community and that has to be based on listening to people.

I’ve been out talking to people and been to more than 700 homes. It’s important to be directly involved and listening. I have 30 years of military experience, which has taught me how to be a leader, a team builder, actively involved, and when you make a decision you want to hear all the sides because then you make the best decision.

Also, I bring the skill sets of a master’s degree and financial management. While in the military, I ran a military base, which is very similar to running a town, with buildings and infrastructure, recreation, housing and child care. I think the combinations of skill sets that I bring is somewhat unique and I think it could be very useful to our community.

Jessica Gallagher

Age: 36

Family: Single

Education: Chemistry degree from Hendrix College and law degree from Lewis and Clarke in Portland, Ore .; and Master of Laws from Georgetown University.

Occupation: Business manager at Platt Architecture.

Held Elected Office: No

•The lack of affordable housing in Brevard and the county has been repeatedly commented upon. Do you agree with the decision earlier this year by the City Council to reject the proposed 80-unit apartment development off Tinsley Road. Why or why not?

Gallagher: Affordable housing is something we have to figure out. Most recently everyone was talking specifically about the 80-unit development. The reason it failed is because it dealt with a steep slope. We have to figure out what works for our community. I don’t know if it worked for our community.

We have to figure it out, and we have to be creative. We need the right kind of housing for the people who live here already and for the people who want to live here. Housing that is affordable doesn’t have to be ugly. It doesn’t have to be a projects building. These people need a place they can live in with some dignity, make a living wage and not spend 75 percent of their income on their mortgage. People have been asking this question for 20 years. It’s time to solve that problem.

Some of the work I experienced in law school was creating affordable housing projects. Some of them were single-family housing. I bring to the table some knowledge and experience in that area. It may be different than anything the city has talked about before. I have some experience thinking outside the box.

•Some investors apparently are purchasing numerous residences and using them as AirBnBs and VRBOs, thus taking many homes off the market for either long-term rental or purchase. Do you believe this practice is exacerbating the shortage of affordable housing in Brevard?

If so, what, if anything, would you do to restrict such practices?

Gallagher: We have lots of short-term rental properties; anyone can get on AirBnB and find them. I don’t know if it’s creating a shortage. I do think it is driving prices up, in that folks can get much higher rates, so if they want to sell the home, they want the same income. What would I do to restrict these practices? That’s a tough question. Folks own these properties, and people have the right to do what they want, but I think we can do both. I think we can have short-term rentals here and still have homes that are affordable and still have spaces available. Maybe, it’s creating something in addition to that. It takes some thinking about setting up a system for workforce housing that works. For instance, there are organizations that create affordable housing. In turn, they agree to get an affordable price for their home, if they sell it. There’s a formula, but it’s not a “market rate.” It’s one example of getting a beautiful home, a home to be proud of and agreeing to pay less.

•There is only one City of Brevard member on the Transylvania Economic Alliance board, while the city is the main engine of economic activity in the county. Should the city have more representation on the board? Why/Why Not?

Gallagher: I think in regards to the Transylvania Economic Alliance there are lots of instances where they need to work together. Should we have more representation? I don’t know if having more people there changes the city’s voice. The city is the donut hole. We are surrounded by the county. It does not make sense to not include the other government. It matters in housing and infrastructure. It’s important the two work together. It goes both ways. Not only does the city have to be present, it’s almost a given that we want to work to remove any redundancies.

The more we work with each other, the more we can identify them.

•Do you have any concerns about the Asheville Highway corridor becoming “anywhere USA,” with corporate food chains and strip malls? Do you believe it’s having an impact on Brevard’s image?

Gallagher: New business is good for the city, but I think it’s important what kinds of businesses are sustainable and what types of businesses create the kind of city we want to live in. We live in an amazing place. We have a downtown that is thriving. We need to be intentional and deliberate with what we do. Any town is going to have chain restaurants. They spend their money and they continue to come here, so we thrive.

•Would you support providing economic assistance to help local entrepreneurial efforts to improve and bring dilapidated buildings up to code? Why/Why not?

Gallagher: We have an older downtown and a consequence of that is that the buildings need work. If we look at it, whether it’s housing or a business entity, it is necessary that the city be involved in that and in creating the codes. It only makes sense that we help folks and get them into the buildings and not be limited by building renovations out to code. If you have a place where no one can afford, you’re not doing yourself any good. The city is not the only one. With the Heart of Brevard everybody is paying into that. They want to create a fund to change that. It’s another organization to help folks and find money to get into buildings.

•A lack of good-paying jobs is the number one concern for many residents. At the end of the next four years, how many new jobs and in what pay range would those jobs need to be for you to consider economic growth a success? For example, would the city need to add 100 new jobs paying an average of $35,000; 50 new jobs paying an average of $25,000, etc. for you to say the city has successfully addressed the lack of good-paying jobs.

Gallagher: The reason people are concerned is because housing is expensive here. They are looking for jobs that help them. I don’t know if I know a number of jobs at what rate. I think we have to think about creating jobs that are sustainable and allow people to live in the city.

There are lots of people who work in the city but don’t live here. How do we create jobs?

A number and pay rate is difficult to do sitting right here. However, I think the city needs to be paying attention to intentional and deliberate growth — all connected to jobs that pay a living wage. At some point, the city government has to work to create the jobs and are sustainable. It is not just the job of the city, nor is it able to be fully done by them. Jobs are connected to so many other things. Success means we are paying attention to it while addressing other things.

•We call ourselves the bicycling capital of the South, yet we don’t meet the standards of a bicycling community. There are few bike racks in town and no bike lanes within the city. Do you support bikes lanes and more bike racks? Explain.

Gallagher: Yes, I support bike lanes and bike racks but not only because we call ourselves the bike capital. We are a center of tourism and lots of people come here to bike, but it also makes for a livable downtown. We talk about congestion with parking and cars and driving through downtown. If they have places they can park and lanes they can ride in, then people will ride. They can’t ride on the sidewalk. We are also discussing the environment. Putting more people on bicycles is only a good thing, but you can’t do that without a lane or place to put them while downtown. You can also create bike racks that are lovely to look at but are also functional. We can reach out to our artist community to find ways to incorporate that and also be pleasant to look at.

•Would you support funding the local Farmers’ Market more so that it could accept SNAP (formerly known as food stamps)/EBT cards?

Gallagher: I think the market is an amazing addition to our city. It brings in local food and creates space for community and for local food. It’s a social space as well. It’s an amazing addition to Brevard and, in turn, feeds the economy of the city. If they come here for the market, they come here enjoying the community. Should the city be involved in funding? I think they should be supporting it. If the Farmers’ Market could accept SNAP, it opens it to a larger community and allowing more people to have access to more food and good food. I don’t know if that funding would help that happen, but anything to help the community grow.

•Why are you running for office and what skills and/or characteristics do you have that will make you effective in your position?

Gallagher: I started thinking about running last fall and giving back. The way to do it is to run for local office. I was with a friend who suggested it. When it came down to it, she asked what are your reasons not to run? I manage lots of entities, and I have the skills to work on a council, my answer was, “I have no good reasons not to run.”

I am fortunate enough to live in this place. It is beautiful and amazing, and I want it to stay that way. The place where the most action happens is city government.

When we’re talking about roads and sewers those things are not necessarily the things that get people super excited, but those are the things that have the most impact day to day. As you walk down the street, as you drive your cars, the roads, the sewer system, the storm water runoff, that’s all part of city government.

Some issues I want to be a part of include affordable housing. People have been trying to figure it out. It’s time to figure it out. I have the experience and skills. I think we have to figure out how to create more affordable child care. The city helps with that. It’s important it’s linked. If we are going to have young families move here, it’s intricately linked. I do think it is important that the city and county work together. I manage all of those. I am very good at looking at a system and understanding where the pieces don’t fit together, who are we not communicating with and who should we be bringing to the table. I do it every day. It’s a skill set that I have developed, and I can give back to the city.

I also work really well with other people. People say that running for office is an individual sport. Being on the council, you are one of five and a mayor and staff working with people on different issues. That’s important. I can work with all of the council members, and that’s a positive thing I have to offer to the council.

Mac Morrow

Age: 72

Family: Wife, Veronica, and daughter Jenifer.

Education: Clemson University graduate and Marine Corps graduate.

Occupation: General manager of Keir Manufacturing.

Elected Office Before: First appointed in 1986, and then I finished a year and a half and I was elected two terms. Then I came back on council in 2001 to present. Mayor Pro-Tem all but one year since 2001.

•The lack of affordable housing in Brevard and the county has been repeatedly commented upon. Do you agree with the decision earlier this year by the City Council to reject the proposed 80-unit apartment development off Tinsley Road. Why or why not?

Morrow: It’s a timely question. Yes, I agree with the residents and the nearby neighbors who are in total opposition. There were a couple of problems with the project.

One, it was outside where infrastructure exists, so it meant an extension of utilities. (The developer) was trying to put a square peg in a round hole in a sense that what he was trying to do didn’t fit the lot. He wanted us to bend our steep slope rules, as well as several other rules.

The point is, he was trying to put an investment on our property that didn’t fit. Whether or not it would move the mark of affordable housing, in my mind that’s still questionable.

This is a case in which an investor’s risk is covered by some program that considered affordable housing.

The city is working on this and identifying other sites where an investor could actually leverage public loan properties or properties that need to be redeveloped for some reason.

And, when you do that, then it’s planned, and in the previous case, which unfortunately often happens, someone will find a cheap site and try to save money on that where it will end up costing money on the long run in other things and then expect the tax payer to subsidize it. But there is work to be done on affordable housing, and this is not unique anywhere where land prices are high.

•Some investors apparently are purchasing numerous residences and using them as AirBnBs and VRBOs, thus taking many homes off the market for either long-term rental or purchase. Do you believe this practice is exacerbating the shortage of affordable housing in Brevard? If so, what, if anything, would you do to restrict such practices?

Morrow: Our attorney tells us that City Council can’t do anything to restrict it because the state doesn’t give us any tools respective to rentals.

You can drive through neighborhoods and almost see the transformation, where homes have been upgraded for this purpose, and you can make a case that this helps the neighborhood.

I’m not aware of anyone who has done this and has done it to the detriment of his or her neighborhood. So, that’s a good thing, but I think where there have been problems in other places often times it’s not local people who are doing it. In our case I think it’s all local folk, so it’s a way they supplement their income, but when you get outside investors doing it, and it’s not managed correctly, then you have problems. But we are a tourist destination. Even in my neighborhood I’ve seen it work well.

If you are looking for rental properties, they are out there, just not in the areas where AirBnBs are.

•There is only one City of Brevard member on the Transylvania Economic Alliance board, while the city is the main engine of economic activity in the county. Should the city have more representation on the board? Why/Why Not?

Morrow: I think we have a wonderful representative on our board (David Watkins) — one, because he has been involved in economic development issues for a long time and understands it. So, it’s not about a number of votes, it’s to make sure you have a voice on that board who not only understands but appreciates the assets the city brings to the economic table.

But whether it’s understanding what role cities have, but more importantly cities don’t have, are often misunderstood, and I hear it after breakfast, after church, people asking me, “Why the city doesn’t do this or that?’

In most cases, that’s a responsibility of others, so it’s good that we have someone on there who is one of the bigger investors in the city in this case and understands how important infrastructure is for economic development.

•Do you have any concerns about the Asheville Highway corridor becoming “anywhere USA,” with corporate food chains and strip malls? Do you believe it’s having an impact on Brevard’s image?

Morrow: Certainly since 2006 in the implementation of the unified development ordinance that corridor has improved. With this new $16 million thoroughfare improvement, it’s going to change even more drastically. I think it’s unfortunate that what we have today is a strip where it’s depending on the automobile. What happens to Brevard Place, the former motel, will have more of an impact probably visually than others. Brevard can’t really control who buys what. Put it this way, I’m very hopeful that Brevard Place will turn out to be an enhancement to that highway and not yet another distraction.

My granddaughter thinks the Dunkin Donuts is wonderful. Others will, too, and it’s probably an improvement as well. Even the owner of Wendy’s has been very complimentary to what this city’s rules require. In Boone, they have the same requirements that we have. People who are there like to feel that they are supporting the college and students who are relatively close. And so visually it’s probably going to get better over time.

•Would you support providing economic assistance to help local entrepreneurial efforts to improve and bring dilapidated buildings up to code? Why/Why not?

Morrow: The best example is the Main Street program and most recently where those dollars were provided to both D.D. Bullwinkel’s and the Domokur building. There are dollars out there for that, and I don’t think you will see any money coming from the city taxpayers for that.

There are programs out there that do that for investors if, in fact, one retained the historical character.

•A lack of good-paying jobs is the number one concern for many residents. At the end of the next four years, how many new jobs and in what pay range would those jobs need to be for you to consider economic growth a success? For example, would the city need to add 100 new jobs paying an average of $35,000; 50 new jobs paying an average of $25,000, etc. for you to say the city has successfully addressed the lack of good-paying jobs.

Morrow: Cities, first of all, don’t create jobs. Cities create an environment for investment. And those people come and they create jobs. You have to have the protection of that investment and that means rules and regulations, like the UDO, so that the individual knows that the property fits the goals of the city and plans for the future.

When you look at what the city can do, respectively, it’s simply by making sure that we have regulations that are not cumbersome to investment, that we have sites that have been predicted for investors for a variety of reasons, whether it’s industrial, commercial or residential.

We do have that in Brevard and through that we can see Brevard is progressing.

And you have to drive that progress in a certain way, and it’s not driven trying to get jobs, it’s driven trying to get the investors who are going to create the jobs.

•We call ourselves the bicycling capital of the South, yet we don’t meet the standards of a bicycling community. There are few bike racks in town and no bike lanes within the city. Do you support bikes lanes and more bike racks? Explain.

Morrow: We have more miles of bike paths than most communities. We have six miles of Biking paths. The streets or the bike lanes you are referring to are the responsibility of the state, if we are talking about U.S. 64 and U.S. 276, and, unfortunately, when you look at those designs, they were done in the 1920s.

Within the city limits, with the continuation of pedestrian bike ways to connect the Brevard Music Center and Bracken Mountain, for example, you now have a route where bikes are safe, pedestrians are safe.

Within the city, particularly, with speed limits less than 35 mph, or less, I think you are pretty safe on your bicycle, at least in all the times I’ve ridden my bicycle, even on the narrow roads in the city. I’ve never had a problem. It’s exciting to think about the N.C. 280 bike path coming, and wouldn’t it be nice if we had the Ecusta Trail. Wilson Road will have a bike component, and it will be built in 2021, and the state recognizes the need for it. I think it’s safer if you have routes off of the main routes.

•Would you support funding the local Farmers’ Market more so that it could accept SNAP (formerly known as food stamps)/EBT cards?

Morrow: That would be a good question for the health and human services folks over in the county. I think about the evolution of the Farmers’ Market and how important it’s become. It was a city initiative to regain the downtown as an economic center.

I think it’s helped bring vitality to downtown. I’m glad to see other partners stepping in to help. But this is the first I’ve heard that if you had some other program that might expand the use of it for something.

That has never been proposed to the city at this point but maybe that is something we could look at with others. But again, health and human services is not our core. Keeping a vibrant downtown is.

•Why are you running for office and what skills and/or characteristics do you have that will make you effective in your position?

Morrow: I’m running for office because we have work to do. I really want to see the projects that are underway, and we’ve got the largest capital project in utilities underway and nearly complete. It’s the largest in the city’s history, so sometime early in the part of next year we will be dedicating that.

I also want to be around for the 150th birthday party. I’m a local history nut and there is a story to be told about Brevard’s early years. I’m looking forward to being part of that, and I guess, most importantly, when I decided to run, my family supports me in this.

It’s been a big part of my life. I work in downtown. I’m still working for Keir Manufacturing right there in Brevard, so I’m just down the street from City Hall. I’m hip deep in the utility world. I have background in it, and I think our future success is in how we manage our water a

 
 

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