Roswell candidates’ forum spotlights troubled Oxbo Road project, affordable housing

Roswell’s long-delayed Oxbo Road project and affordable housing were highlighted Monday during a mayoral and City Council candidate forum held at a historically Black church that faces the torn-up road.

The roadwork, millions of dollars overbudget, was the focus of a recent investigation performed by an outside law firm that found cost overruns were due to the city’s failure to properly purchase private property and other factors.

The 10 candidates in the race for mayor and city council took part in the forum at Pleasant Hill Church. Dr. Sabin Strickland, the church pastor, moderated the event which was streamed live on Facebook and YouTube, and fielded viewer questions for the candidates.

Only the candidates and media were allowed to physically attend the event. In the mayor’s race, incumbent Lori Henry is facing challengers Jason Yowell and Kurt Wilson. Post 4, incumbent Marie Willsey faces Peter Vanstrom. In Post 5, candidates Yalonda Freeman, Michael Dal Cerro and Will Morthland are running to fill the seat being vacated by incumbent Matthew Tyser. Post 6 incumbent Matt Judy is being challenged by Lee Hills.

Several candidates used the setting of the forum to discuss Oxbo Road and said Roswell has done a poor job improving traffic flow and streets.

Post 6 candidate Lee Hills said Oxbo and the smaller roads surrounding it would be better served with designs that help small businesses serve residents and help make Roswell a destination.

“The time it takes to build and improve streets in (this part of the community) far surpass similar projects elsewhere in the city,” Hills said. “It affects the financial security of Pleasant Hill Church and surrounding homes and businesses.”

Pleasant Hill church is located in the historically Black Groveway community. City officials have said they want the area designated as a historic district so the neighborhood could be better protected from redevelopment.

Hills and mayoral candidate Yowell said the relocation of Doc’s Café ­– a restaurant patronized by Black residents during segregation to rebuild Oxbo – was unnecessary. Roswell plans to restore the café and open it for public tours. In the meantime, it’s “tucked away in a safe place,” Mayor Lori Henry said during the forum.

Henry added that the city helped save Doc’s Café from being demolished due to the road project. But the city will need the public’s help with funding to turn the landmark into an official museum, she said.

A question from the live video stream asked candidates how they plan to preserve affordable housing and improve the perception of lower income residents who live in apartments.

Peter Vanstrom, who is running for the District 4 Council seat against incumbent Marie Willsey, said part of the issue is preserving the history of the Groveway community and protections from luxury development. “One of the terrible things that is happening in your residences is the high density, high cost apartments that are being put in.”

Similarly, Willsey said she would support including the Groveway community in Roswell’s development code to help preserve the area.

Post 5 candidate Yalonda Freeman said she is running for City Council to better connect renters and homeowners and create a better Roswell for young people.

“As a renter, an African American and single mother, I’m very concerned by the rhetoric around apartments,” Freeman said, “As a renter it makes me and those that I talk to within my neighborhood feel like second-class citizens and not wanted.”

Freeman said that results in everyday workers moving to more welcoming communities.

The full candidate forum can be viewed on the Pleasant Hill Church Facebook page and the church YouTube page.