By LOU WILIN
A failed downtown development stirred debate Wednesday at a forum for four at-large Findlay City Council candidates.
A proposed $31 million residential and retail development in and around the former Argyle apartment building came to nothing after much public excitement months ago.
The project seemed to run out of steam when the city was unable to reach an agreement to sell a nearby parking lot that was sought for the project.
It all probably seemed a little sketchy to people, Republican Councilman Jeff Wobser said during the candidate forum Wednesday at the University of Findlay.
Democratic candidate Abigail Hefflinger seized on that.
“It did seem sketchy,” she said. “We didn’t know the amounts they were talking about.”
She also criticized the failed project for what she described as “preferential treatment” for high-end apartments over Findlay’s need for affordable housing.
That drew fire from another Republican, Grant Russel.
“Should prime downtown real estate be used for affordable housing? I would suggest not,” Russel said.
Three at-large seats on Findlay City Council are up for election in November and Hefflinger is trying to unseat one of the three Republican incumbents: Russel, Wobser and Tom Shindledecker.
Wobser again was in Hefflinger’s crosshairs after he said the city’s Strategic Planning Committee, which he helped form, has accomplished nothing after years of meetings.
The committee is working on hiring a consultant to help develop a strategic plan for long-term city priorities and finances, Wobser said.
“It has taken us a while … to get started, but we will continue to move forward,” Wobser said. “I’m sure we will have that done in the next year or so.”
That’s not good enough, Hefflinger scolded.
“Strategic planning only works if you do it. You have to be committed. You have to put in time. You have to put in effort,” she said.
Hefflinger said she has helped a nonprofit agency work through an entire strategic planning process and implement the plan.
“Instead of talking about how we might do it, we need to commit to it and do it,” she said.
The candidates have varying views about the much-debated proposal to alter Blanchard Street and Lincoln Street to include dedicated bike lanes.
Shindledecker opposes it. He said the reduction in the number of lanes for cars on Blanchard Street will cause traffic backups. He also expressed concern that the changes would be unsafe for bicyclists.
Hefflinger cited similar concerns.
Russel said the proposed changes would improve safety. He also said the project would allow Findlay to improve Blanchard Street “for 5 cents on the dollar,” referring to state grants that would cover much of the project cost.
Wobser said he agrees with the plan in principle, but favors a review of the proposed benefits, using more current traffic statistics.
“I would like to see us rerun those numbers, redo the study, just enough to see if we come up with the same conclusions,” he said. “If we do, then I would still be in favor of it. If it changes those conclusions, then we need to step back and potentially look at a different solution.”
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