Six candidates competing for three Miami Shores general council seats shared their thoughts on governing the village in an election forum hosted last week by the Chamber of Commerce.
Incumbents Ivonne Ledesma and Hunt Davis faced political newcomers Sean Brady, Alice Burch, MacAdam Glinn and Steve Zelkowitz in the forum, held Tuesday.
Lance Harke, Miami Shores Chamber’s past president, led the hourlong forum, which began with three-minute opening statements.
One question posed to candidates was about the controversial Miami Shores’ downtown redevelopment plan, including candidates’ thoughts on the village’s liquor license restrictions and parking requirements. Currently Miami Shores ordinances allow restaurants to have only beer and wine licenses. Sale of hard liquor is prohibited.
Burch said the ordinance should be changed. “I do believe that we need a liquor license for Second Avenue,” she said. “I know that that is a challenge for whatever restaurant comes in.”
The other issue Burch mentioned was depth of parking. “How are we going to solve that parking problem?” said Burch, who suggested loosening parking restrictions.
Glinn argued that the plan for downtown redevelopment is “not rocket science.”
“There is a roadmap to this,” Glinn said. “You make it more walk-able through having active crosswalks. You pinch the sidewalks in to slow down traffic and create more opportunities for front porch businesses.”
Zelkowitz, a 25-year real estate, zoning and land-use attorney and current chair of the village’s planning and zoning board, said “what I’d like to see is uniform development — a traditional downtown that we can all be proud of.” “It’s not the zoning code itself that may need to be changed, but having an overlay that allows certain types of amenities and the like to keep it a cohesive development that is pleasing to the eye.”
Another question addressed the village’s desire to increase enrollment in Doctors Charter School, its sixth- through 12th-grade public charter school that opened in 2005.
Most of the candidates agreed that the school needed more exposure. Currently, the majority of students in the school do not live in the village.
“The most important thing we can do is get the school more visible,” Davis said.
“Participation in Unity Day, Green Day, other events throughout the community — making Miami Shores residents aware that Doctors Charter School now provides A-rated public education,” Davis said.
Burch, a long-term governing member of the school board, said the council’s main responsibility would be to name strong residents to serve.
“In terms of the council responsibilities, we need to also have good board members … and to reach deep into the community to people that have the skills that can help to advance the school,” Burch said.
Answering a question about how to approach planning for changes in village infrastructure, Davis asserted that each project including a bike-safety study and community center must be implemented individually.
“And that’s what we’ll continue to do,” Davis said. “We are still at the very beginning stages of the community center. We are still exploring options.”
The rest of the candidates disagreed.
“It is absolutely essential to budgeting and planning and long-term budgeting too,” Ledesma said. “It’s a way to plan for the future of our city.”
Brady echoed her sentiment. “I think it’s important to lay out what that vision is,” he said, adding that it was a necessity to review plans as time passes and the desires of residents change.
During introductions, Ledesma announced her pregnancy and trunpeted previous initiatives while in office including her leadership during town hall meetings, a proposal for a village-wide service survey of the town’s services and her initiative to begin a committee to revitalize the village’s downtown area.
“For those of you who like females, you can get two for the price of one here if you vote for me,” Ledesma joked. On a more serious note, she discussed a need to help the village get state dollars to fund projects.
“We have not gotten any state funding in the last 10 years. During that time similar communities about our size in South Florida have gotten anywhere from $1 million to $5 million,” Ledesma said. “It’s important that we have this as a focus.”
Brady is depending on his long-term experience in the IT field — he runs consulting company the Bayon Technology Group — to help him land a council seat.
During introductions, he stressed the need for community buy-in. “One of the main reasons I’m running is to help to continue to foster a sense of community involvement, both for myself and the community at large,” Brady said.
“I’d like to see a lot more people involved in running our wonderful community, participating on boards and commissions, coming out to vote, [and] coming to all the events.”
Three more community forums to discuss village-wide issues will be held before the April 14 election. The Property Owners Association will host their candidate forum at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Miami Shores Community Center, 9617 Park Dr. The group Unite Miami Shores will host a candidates forum 7:30 p.m. through 9 p.m. Thursday at the Miami Theater Center, 9806 NE Second Ave.
Amanda Rabines contributed to this report.