The rapid growth of Smyrna framed Monday’s debate for five candidates vying to replace longtime Mayor Max Bacon in next month’s election.
Alex Backry, Ryan Campbell, Laura Mireles, Derek Norton and Steven Rasin fielded questions from Whitefield Academy student moderators at the private school’s candidate forum. Bacon, who has been mayor for more than 30 years, is not seeking re-election to another four-year term.
The forum attracted hundreds of people to the school. Whitefield’s event differed from traditional debates in that the students posed different questions to each candidate.
Questions focused on mobility and growth. Backry, a resident who previously was an animal control officer for the city, was asked what he would do to ease traffic congestion in Smyrna. While he said he would be in favor of installing traffic signals in needed areas, he said he didn’t think widening existing roadways would produce any benefits.
“We’re kind of (between) a rock and a hard place on that,” he said.
Derek Norton, an incumbent city councilman, said he wanted to “pump the brakes” on dense development, as well as infill projects that replace older, single-family homes with one to two dozen townhomes.
“We’ve got to think a little more holistically and long-term,” he said. “Otherwise, we’re going to have the best mix of uses anywhere, but it won’t do anybody any good because we won’t be able to get to any of them.”
The candidates were also asked how they’d make sure Smyrna’s growth would not overburden the city’s existing infrastructure.
Campbell, an 18-year resident of the city who operates a restaurant with his father, said Smyrna is growing at about 2 percent each year, and that growth is straining roads and schools because city leaders have not planned for the expansion. From a planning perspective, Campbell said the city has to be consistent in enforcing its zoning ordinances.
Mireles, a community volunteer and small business owner, said the spike in high-density projects are occurring in areas where the roads “are already filled to capacity and the schools are bursting (at) the seams.” She also said the city needed to protect its tree canopy and do what it can to stop infill development that replaces single-family residential homes with “McMansions.”
Rasin, a retired Navy commander and airline pilot, added some of the high-density projects that have been approved are not affordable for some of the city’s residents. He also said adding more greenspace in and around neighborhoods would improve residents’ quality of life.
“We need more of those types of things in the city,” he said.
Smyrna residents can vote early this week and next week ahead of the Nov. 5 election at the Cobb County Elections and Voter Registration Office at 736 Whitlock Avenue in Marietta. Citizens can cast ballots from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 21-25 and Oct. 28 through Nov. 1. Another early voting site will open Oct. 28 through Nov. 1 at the Smyrna Community Center at 200 Village Green Circle. Voters can cast ballots there from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
No voting will be held Monday, Nov. 4, and polls open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 5 for Election Day. Voters will cast ballots at their assigned city precincts. You can verify your polling location by visiting the Secretary of State’s My Voter Page. For more information, including how to vote by mail, visit the county’s absentee voting website or call 770-528-2581.
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