Development, public transit top Greenbelt election debate -- Gazette.Net


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Greenbelt City Council candidates held their third and final public forum Tuesday night, answering questions about development and public transit while promoting their platforms before an audience of about 20 residents.

Nine candidates are running in the Nov. 5 city elections. The top seven vote-getters will win seats on the council. The mayor is selected by the council from among its members.

Incumbents Judith “J” Davis, Konrad Herling, Emmett Jordan, Leta Mach, Silke Pope, Edward Putens and Rodney Roberts, and challengers William “Bill” Orleans and Susan Stewart are vying for the seats, and all attended the forum.

Charles Sleeth, a resident of Green Ridge, urged the council candidates to make sure development doesn’t impinge on the character of Greenbelt’s downtown Roosevelt Center.

“I would plead with the council to keep them on the periphery of Greenbelt and not to let them invade and therefore destroy the downtown area,” Sleeth said of business development.

Emmett Jordan, currently mayor pro tem and seeking his third term on the council, said he believes the city can do more with less.

“I think we need to do some things to attract desirable businesses here. If you look at Hyattsville along Route 1, there’s lots of new housing, lots of activities, and the way we can maintain our quality of life and the services we enjoy here is by growing the tax base and becoming more efficient about what we do.”

Jordan said the city could call on volunteers to help it craft policy and streamline other city operations.

Greenbelt Mayor Judith “J” Davis, seeking her 11th term on the council, said the city needs to look toward drawing more development in, noting that Greenbelt has a 29 percent office vacancy.

“We need to reach out to the business community more and make sure we are answering their needs as well as our residential needs,” Davis said.

Councilman Konrad Herling said many downtown Greenbelt businesses are barely getting by.

“We need some kind of entity, at least an economic development director, to channel the energy necessary, so that we can fill in the 29 percent office vacancy, so that we when we have gaps in the town center or other areas, we can address that in a more professional, more efficient way,” said Herling.

Candidate Susan Stewart said she would like to see the creation of more trails and public transit options in Greenbelt.

“Repairing the walkability and transit access helps revitalize those commercial areas as well as reducing our carbon footprint and being more environmentally conscious,” Stewart said.

Carlile “CJ” Johnson, a resident of Greenbelt for 35 years, asked the candidates what could be done to add Sunday public transit.

“Everyone wants to jump on the bus,” he said.

Davis said the city has been asking the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority for Sunday service for some time.

“The Sunday service, for some reason, is the hardest nut to crack because they keep insisting there’s not enough money and not enough usage,” Davis said. “We will continue to work at it.”

Candidate Bill Orleans said it’s a matter of money.

“WMATA would be happy to provide service to Greenbelt on Sundays if it would pay for it. The incumbent council, through all their affiliations and associations and contacts, can readily go to the governor, can readily go to the county executive, and say, ‘We want Prince George’s County and Maryland to pay for Sunday service in Greenbelt.’”

janfenson-comeau@gazette.net