Student Government and student advocacy group Comets for Better Transit hosted a town hall meeting for Comets to ask Richardson city council members questions about their priorities for the next term. Mayor Paul Voelker and council members Bob Dubey, Jennifer Justice, Janet DePuy, Joe Corcoran, Ken Hutchenrider and Arefin Shamsul all attended the April 6 Q&A.
What policies or initiatives are you most proud of working on and what are you excited to take on in the near future?
Justice: Something that I think is relevant to this group, particularly one of the groups hosting, is the Active Transportation Plan, and it’s the first time we’ve done it in Richardson. So, we got a lot of really great feedback from Comets for Better Transit. And it’s something I’m really excited about and will really help connect our city in a better way. And something I’m excited to work on is the Comprehensive Plan that’s coming up this next council. It’s important because that plan sets the direction for our city for the next decade or so.
Corcoran: So, the stuff that really gets me excited is urban design, right? Urban planning, transportation and how we stitch the city together. Those are like the most fun topics to talk about in council. I also love housing, because there’s so many different ways to accomplish the same goal, right? If you want an affordable housing development, or something that is market rate, you can accomplish that through so many different avenues, whether it’s corporations or subsidies. So I love that. And of course, nothing really beats the quick hit of doing constituent service, right, solving someone’s immediate issues.
Shamsul: Something that matters to you that’s probably the most important that I’m excited about is our student housing here. So that being overdue, but finally this is happening. And God willing … at least you will be able to see some of the freshmen that really happens. But this will happen, the future generation coming in. I have two children that graduated from here, and I have my daughter, she is coming this fall … and so I’m really excited.
What is the council’s vision and plans for expanding public services?
Justice: I’m a big animal person, and I’ve actually been named liaison to the Animal Services Advisory Commission. And as far as the 2021 Bond Program, voters in Richardson thankfully passed funds for us to expand and update our animal shelter … We should be getting underway soon on updating the entire front portion of the animal shelter, which will make it a friendlier place for people to visit in general. But it will also make it a much better place for our staff that work at the animal shelter to work. So that is happening now, plans are being drawn, and we should be seeing that in the next year or two.
DePuy: So I want to talk about the library … as many of you know, we had a fire at City Hall, so on election day May 6, we’re asking voters to approve that bond program to build a new city hall. But in conjunction with that, in our 2021 Bond Program, we set aside money for the library, renovations to the library … I think it will make that space more flexible, more usable for people. That is one of our busiest city facilities, the library is. It’s a really important aspect to our city … so I think the renovation of the library … will be very beneficial for us. It’s gonna take a while, you know, we’ll be out of the space for probably two to three years, but I think it’ll be worth it in the end.
Dubey: One thing I’d like to add is the mobility and the connectivity that we’re talking about. And I think that for UTD, the Silver Line is so, so important, and it’s the future that we’re talking about. Stop and think about all the cultural parts of the city of Richardson … Once the Silver Line’s here, we could bring people in internationally … We’re bringing in the technology, we’re bringing in the art piece, and that is the way that we think in Richardson.
How do we change low-level mechanisms to make sure more mixed-use developments actually get built and end up being successful?
Voelker: To be blunt, voting for a high-density mixed-use environment can get you kicked off council … I applaud the city councils that I’ve served on over these 10 years for the fortitude to take the position that a denser mixed-use development is the best approach to allow for a livable, walkable play environment that will attract those graduates that Janet was talking about from this institution … The Comprehensive Plan will probably identify two to three more areas that will be up for redevelopment and more density and more mixed use. I applaud the councils in the future for taking that serious and figuring out how to approach that.
Hutchenrider: One thing you also have to recognize is that when we see these projects, we have the developers come to us … One of the worst things we can ever do as a city council is approve something and then not see it all the way to fruition … So you’ll oftentimes hear us work very, very diligently … trying to figure out, we use the term ‘hooks in the project.’ So we don’t end up with just one component of it, and then you come back, or the citizens come back, and go ‘we only got half of what we got promised.’”