Voters crowded into Bryant Square Park Tuesday night to hear from the two candidates locked in a competitive race to represent the Uptown area on the City Council.
Urban planner Lisa Bender is challenging first-term incumbent Meg Tuthill in the Tenth Ward, which grew more renter-dominant this year when redistricting added the Whittier neighborhood and lopped off East Isles.
The forum, moderated by the League of Women Voters, was the first public meeting of the candidates since Bender won the DFL endorsement this spring. Tuthill pledged at the convention to suspend her campaign if she lost the endorsement, but later questioned the meaning of the word "suspend" and continued seeking re-election.
Also participating on Tuesday night was Pirate Party candidate Scott Hargarten.
Two questions regarding businesses and density, in particular, illustrated some distinctions between Bender and Tuthill's platforms.
How would you handle disputes between residents and developers or business interests?
Tuthill said "I've done this," citing her 2011 effort to handle Uptown patio noise. Her introduction of a citywide ordinance putting limitations on outdoor noise sparked controversy at the time. Tuthill said the effort garnered valuable concessions from businesses, such as money for extra cops, additional bike racks, and a sound engineer who studied proper decibel levels. Tuthill noted that several businesses now plan to bring the officers back during the holidays, when they have extra business, "for the safety of their patrons and also for balance in the neighborhood. It’s all about that balance.”
Bender said there needs to be a distinction between problem businesses and those who are "actually causing problems." She said in Tuthill's approach "all businesses were lumped in together." Bender said there was not enough support on the council for citywide restrictions on outdoor noise -- which Tuthill later refuted -- adding that many people prize the outdoor patio experience because "we only get a couple of months to be outside." Regarding developers, Bender said sometimes we "create too much conflict where I think people actually have shared goals." She said this could be alleviated by having more discussions about people's visions and goals for their areas.
Hargarten said that large institutions tend to win these disputes, and there are few ways for citizens to "stand up and win these arguments." He says he would help people organize on their own terms.
What is smart density and how would you address the transportation issues that come with growth?
Tuthill said that density makes the most sense along commercial corridors, which is where much of the transportation is located. She said any additional density inside the neighborhoods must be done "very, very carefully. Because part of what makes these neighborhoods beautiful and livable is our street scape.” She added that she would like to "preserve the housing stock that we have." Tuthill recently opposed a City Council decision to allow for smaller units inside residential projects. "I think we’ve got to go slowly and carefully," Tuthill said.
Bender said smart density is "development that contributes to our neighborhoods and is beautiful. It's lasting, it has a ground floor that makes people want to walk along it, to be near it." She said that has not been the case with many recent developments, and the city needs to do a better job of asking developers to ensure buildings contribute to the neighborhoods. She supported the decision to allow smaller units because "that’s what people want and need to live in." Regarding transportation, Bender said the transportation system is falling behind the ward's population growth. She advocated for stronger transit connections to downtown.
Hargarten said he doesn't "really know what smart density is," but said the logical answer would be to concentrate density "in a way where we actually get the most from our growth and don’t lose our unique communities.”