SAFETY HARBOR — Three candidates for City Commission appealed to the lovers of small-town life, cheering for expansions of the arts, recreational offerings and library services.
But on the toughest question they faced at Wednesday night's candidate forum, the men revealed their differences.
Asked about their stances on the proposed redevelopment of the Firmenich property, they touched upon recent concerns over a proposed 296-unit apartment complex and retail space.
Robert Saltzman, pitching himself as a devout steward of residents' desires, firmly denounced the project and compared it to New York tenements: "I cannot see it working for us." He added, without providing a reason, that he didn't expect potential apartment residents would shop in Safety Harbor's downtown area.
Candidate Ray R. Irvin was concerned that no traffic study had been done to show the potential effect of the project on McMullen-Booth Road and State Road 590. The city is looking for a firm to conduct the traffic study. Without providing specifics, Irvin called for "appropriate" development that would suit Safety Harbor's long-term visions.
Candidate Richard Blake, a member of the Planning and Zoning Board that gave the proposal initial approval last month, tried to explain the development steps. Residential use, he believed, fit the property better than industrial use. He urged residents to welcome new projects that the city could later mold to its wishes.
Later in the discussion, Blake said, "If we start off everything by saying no, then we scare away outside money."
Hosted by the League of Women Voters and the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce, the candidates' sole forum before the Nov. 6 special election put them, for a night, in the very City Hall commission chamber chairs they want to assume. From the dais, the trio addressed residents' questions on quality of life issues and economic development in front of about 50 people.
One City Commission seat needs to be filled in this special election because of some shuffling. Mayor Andy Steingold announced he would resign to run for a Circuit Court judgeship, but he lost that race in the August primary. His resignation will still be effective in January. Vice Mayor Joe Ayoub ran for mayor unopposed and will be sworn in during January. The three candidates on the Nov. 6 ballot want to complete Ayoub's unexpired commission term. The winner will serve until March 2015.
Blake, 34, is a real estate consultant who grew up locally. Throughout Wednesday's forum, he advocated for ending the city's reliance on reserve funds, finding revenues from private sponsorships, and bringing together the city's neighborhoods for more unified efforts.
Irvin, 66, has previous elected experience in Indiana and worked extensively in government there. He said he wants to make Safety Harbor attractive to retirees, promote arts and culture, and base decisions on what residents want the city to look like decades in the future.
Saltzman, 65, retired from a career in customer service. He said he wants to move festivals away from brick-and-mortar establishments, advertise the city in the newspaper and eliminate street sweeping for cost savings.
Commissioners are paid $8,147.40 a year.
A video of the candidate forum can be viewed on the city's website at cityofsafetyharbor.com. It also will be replayed Mondays at 11 a.m., Thursdays at 10 a.m., Fridays at 4 p.m. and Sundays at noon on Bright House Channel 615, Knology Channel 15 and Verizon FiOS Channel 25.
Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or [email protected]