Roswell City Council debate highlights development and diversity

Michael Dal Cerro, Yolanda Freeman and William Morthland are running for the post 5 seat on Roswell City Council.

Michael Dal Cerro, Yolanda Freeman and William Morthland are running for the post 5 seat on Roswell City Council.

Roswell City Council candidates were asked pointed questions during a Wednesday debate on a range of topics including development and diversity.

Seven candidates running for three City Council seats in the November 2 election participated in the second debate held this week at Roswell Community Masjid.

In separate rounds of questions, Post 4 incumbent Marie Willsey faced Peter Vanstrom. Post 6 incumbent Matt Judy was challenged by candidate Lee Hills. And candidates Yolanda Freeman, Michael Dal Cerro and William Morthland answered questions in the run for the Post 5 that will be vacated by Councilman Matthew Tyser.

Facilitator Shafina Khabani started by asking candidates what their plans are for Roswell’s vacant shopping centers.

The candidates were in agreement that the city needs a better development plan. Willsey said that while surrounding areas are growing Roswell has appeared stagnant.

“We need to prioritize renovating properties and repurposing them and refreshing them wherever possible,” Willsey, adding that this would create a stronger tax base.

Vanstrom said residents believe there’s a lack of business growth in Roswell and the city needs an economic director. He was critical of high density apartments and cited the residential development at Sun Valley Road that was planned as a commercial mixed-use site and the investigation of the Oxbo Road project by a private law firm as failures by the city.

Roswell City Councilman Matt Judy and Lee Hills answered questions in a debate at Roswell Community Masjid.

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Khabani asked about home values and said there’s a concern in the community that home values in east Roswell are lower than west Roswell.

A new city development code would address home values in east Roswell in the same way the historic district master plan has helped west Roswell, Judy said. “Growth is the major issue since I’ve been elected and before,” he said.

Both he and Willsey said the current city code doesn’t reflect the development that residents want.

Similar to Vanstrom, Hills said she believes Roswell is in need of an economic development director. That person could expand medical and educational campuses, she said, adding that a vacant shopping center could be repurposed for recreational activities such as pickleball.

“I believe creating a sophisticated economic growth arm of the city is paramount,” she said.

All the candidates were asked what they would do to promote inclusivity and racial and social justice.

Freeman said she would encourage people from different professions, such as a physician or a judge, to welcome youth into their offices to expose young people to what they do and the possibilities in life. She would also encouraged the police and fire departments to create a bridge-the-gap program that would allow officers to spend time with and get to personally know the youth in the community.

Morthland and Dal Cerro said inclusivity is a part of their daily life. Morthland said his wife is a first-generation American. Dal Cerro said he is a first generation Italian-American, adding that his father came to the U.S. with one suitcase in 1955.

“I understand how to be inclusive ...through my daily interactions,” Morthland said. “I will apply these principals to the city’s needs ...”