Walkable West Palm Beach candidate Questionnaire – Twelve questions with Cory Neering
Many thanks to Cory for taking the time to answer the questionnaire.
- What is your approach to economic development? Do you favor ‘economic hunting’ or ‘economic gardening’, and which approach or combination of approaches would you pursue if elected to office? Would you consider certifying West Palm Beach as a Level II economic gardening program to support existing businesses and entrepreneurs?
We must take a combination approach to economic development in the city. While it is imperative that we find ways to bring new businesses to WPB, we cannot forget the businesses that have already chosen our city. My initial approach would be to take the time to speak with informed and experienced people like Ike Robinson and Chris Roog. I appreciate Mr. Robinson’s many years of service to our city as a Commissioner and I know that he will be a valuable resource. Chris is in a great position as our city’s Economic Development Director to know both what is happening and what could be happening on our economic horizon. While I’m interested in knowing more about groups like GrowFL and the programs they offer, a lot of planning has already taken place. I want to know more about these details and the role the Commission plays on both a city and a CRA level to shape its economic future.
- How would you remove impediments and make it easier to build small projects, rather than the half or full city block development that is prevalent?
I agree that we should find a way to overcome impediments to smaller projects. West Palm Beach has a wealth of older and historic buildings. Finding ways to utilize our current resources will only benefit our city and ensure a unique feel. It is also imperative that we take the most efficient route to accomplish these goals as we maintain the quality of life our downtown residents currently enjoy.
- A City committee recently listed 17 action items that are ‘ready to go’ in the Jeff Speck study. Would you commit to implementing at least one of these ideas in your first 60 days in office, or do you believe more traffic studies are warranted before anything is implemented?
There is already a process underway to get the items on this list accomplished. As a city commissioner, I know that my role will be to work with the other commissioners and the Mayor to achieve that short list of recommendations as soon as possible. That implementation will be the result of a group consensus and I am anxious to become a part of that process.
- Is transportation planning best in the engineering department, or under Planning? Which department leads in the vision for street design?
It seems logical that both departments should be involved in the vision for street design. Each department has specific understandings and insights that are necessary for a realistic vision. Street design is greatly influenced by laws on every level of government, by opinions of the residents, the visitors, the commissioners and of the Mayor, by the budgets that are available and by the recommendations of experts like Jeff Speck and his peers. As a commissioner, I want to make sure that good recommendations can be seriously considered for our streets without regard to where they came from.
- In his downtown Walkability study, walkability expert Jeff Speck states that while palms can be beautiful, in an urban environment they do not provide the many benefits of street shade trees and therefore we should focus on street trees that provide shade in downtown. Do you agree with this assessment? How would you respond to the diseased palms on Clematis that were planted two years ago?
There is absolutely a need for trees and shade cover in downtown. In sunny south Florida, this is even more important than in other cities. I believe these trees have been removed, so now we must work to find a type of tree that fits our needs. Tree-lined streets provide positive economic benefits to businesses and residents.
- Street trees often suffer from maintenance neglect, despite the fact they are one of the highest returning investments a city can make in its urban infrastructure. It is common for city departments to ‘pass the buck’ in order to avoid responsibility. How would you correct the issues with maintenance neglect and ensure this valuable civic infrastructure is protected and nurtured? Who would be responsible?
Tree-lined streets provide positive economic benefits to businesses and residents. The maintenance of Street trees is imperative. Creating a clear plan which details the specific tasks and who will be responsible for each will go a long way in solving this problem.
- West Palm Beach has a strong track record of innovation in livable streets and walkability enhancements. A Transportation Concurrency Exception Area east of I-95 makes it easier to do livable street design without Level of Service obstacles. Would you consider assigning a Livable Streets Transportation Engineer, such as West Palm Beach had in the past, to manage these areas in order to insure we continue to make our city more livable and walkable?
As commissioner, I don’t see myself assigning city employees to specific tasks. I would leave that to the Mayor and the Department Managers. I do see my role as working with the other commissioners to make our city more livable and walkable.
- Would you favor implementing a parking wayfinding signage program for downtown immediately? Or would you wait to create a master plan for the entire city before acting? How would such a program be funded?
I love the wayfinding signage recommendation. There is a perception that there is a parking shortage downtown which in turn has a negative effect on our businesses. This signage would alert people to where parking is available. This is a low-cost recommendation and would have a positive effect on downtown. The funding would be decided by the budget.
The wayfinding signage program, that included parking, has been started and stopped in Downtown West Palm Beach several times over the past 8 years. Different levels of funding have been available, but a consensus has not been achieved. I admit that I am amazed that this has not been accomplished … yet. I am very much in favor of finding a positive way to make this a reality.
- Where do you stand on the Broadway corridor and South Dixie Corridor efforts? Do you believe the priority for this right of way should be the convenience of drivers passing through it, or enhancing the potential of properties and neighborhoods located adjacent to it?
Enhancing both the Broadway and South Dixie corridors would improve and even expand the downtown area. Our plan for the entire city should be balancing the convenience of drivers while improving walkability. We have accomplished this in other parts of Downtown; I would look to see what worked and how we can implement that in these areas.
- In a 2012 “Face of the City” proposal, 10 new tree planters were planned on Clematis Street in order to accommodate new shade trees on the street. Doing so would have meant the loss of 7 on-street parking spots. How would you balance the important placemaking and economic benefits of street trees against the parking needs of downtown?
I believe that a city commissioner has the obligation to consider the frequently conflicting opinions of diverse groups that are entitled to opinions on issues that are determined by the commission. Trees on Clematis are a good example. My vote will be determined by what I feel is in the best interests of the City on that particular issue. I do not have a predetermined way to balance conflicting issues because the specifics are important. I can only give my best opinion.
- Okeechobee Boulevard is a real liability for the city. To encourage non-motorized mobility across the boulevard, and then not strive to provide safe passage, is a serious problem. How would you work to make Okeechobee Boulevard east of I-95 a more inviting place for people on foot and on bike, and how would you propose to fund such plan? Would you consider a local match using City funds such as CRA TIF dollars if it would move the project ahead?
With All Aboard Florida on its way and the new hotel going up next to the convention center, making that area walkable is imperative and a priority! Increasing walkability will be beneficial to all parts of our Downtown. I would definitely want to explore the use of the downtown trolleys for visitors as well.
Since that section of road is under direct control of the State, we must work in collaboration. We need to get this done for many reasons. I would support any efforts the Mayor or the commission could initiate to make that happen.
- The Northwest neighborhood is harmed as a result of being disconnected from the rest of the urban fabric. Banyan Boulevard, the FEC railway, and the Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard bridge serve as ‘border vacuums’ that blight adjacent properties and inhibit redevelopment. Would you make this removing these impediments a priority? Would you consider the creation of connector streets between Douglass and Division Avenue to tie into the greater downtown urban grid network? How would such improvements be funded?
As I have previously stated, as a commissioner, I will evaluate the specifics of the issues that come before the commission and vote in favor of what I consider to be the best interests of the City. The Northwest neighborhood has certainly been harmed by some of its borders. I want to help it become a better place for the residents and the businesses. The specific answers will emerge from the detailed proposals that are made. A good proposal with the support of the commission and the Mayor has an excellent chance of finding the funding that will make it a reality. I look forward to being able to show the before and after results that such a project could bring to the Northwest neighborhood.