BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Tiffany and Joshua Vandersall moved to Waterville eight years ago to get away from the “crammed” feeling of Perrysburg and found a close-knit community that still has enough growth to keep it exciting.
“We want to be part of the community,” said Tiffany as she finished listening to four candidates for city council and mayoral candidate Tim Pedro speak about their thoughts on parks, development, finances and even the April 8, 2024 solar eclipse during an October 19 forum.
“We think it’s great that everyone in the city is so engaged, even though it’s been contentious,” Joshua said, referring to the amphitheater project that’s dominated community discussions for over a year. “This is a great problem to have. People have an interest, and they are engaged. Contentions over development will always be the case, but the end product is you’re getting everyone involved in the process – as long as people are civil.”
About 70 attended the forum, hosted by the Waterville Area Chamber of Commerce and emceed by board member Brenda Mossing at Browning Masonic Community. Audience members posed questions to Pedro and council candidates Rob Allen, Todd Borowski, Rod Frey and Anthony Garver. Not present were mayoral candidate Tim Plowman and council candidates Matt Harrell and Wayne Wagner, who plan to host a separate event at Conrad Park on Wednesday, November 1 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Garver, Harrell, Wagner and Plowman entered the race following a council decision to allow a conditional use permit for an amphitheater to operate on South Pray Boulevard. The would-be operator, Hunter Brucks, has since pulled out, but the developer continues to look for a new operator for that project.
It was seeing what he called a “lack of communication from council chambers” during the process that prompted Garver, a 35-year Air Force veteran with leadership experience, to run for office.
“Now that I’m retired, I wish to continue my service … I can give it my full attention to help improve the process,” Garver said.
He plans to improve communications with quarterly town meetings, a more intuitive and updated website and an updated, more frequent Canal Post.
Allen also became interested in running after participating in meetings about the amphitheater, but he has a different standpoint – noting that council followed the law but listened to citizens by adding several conditions to the amphitheater permit.
“I understand the law. A lot of people are confused about the level of authority the city has – especially zoning and permitting. I will stick to the facts,” Allen said, noting that council couldn’t deny the amphitheater because the land is appropriately zoned.
Borowski said he still thinks that the council made the best choice for the city with their vote in favor of the amphitheater permit. While he’s felt the anger of many in the community, Borowski, a self-described “people person,” said he’s found opportunities to forge relationships with many others.
Getting the city on social media has been a major focus during his first term, and Borowski has seen the launching of Facebook pages for the police and fire departments and – coming soon – one for the city as well.
“We listen, but sometimes it’s not the answer you agree with,” Pedro said, promising to harness the energy – both positive and negative – that’s come out this past year to move the city forward.
Both Pedro and Frey touted the successes that Waterville has seen in the last four years.
“The city ended the year with a $4.2 million balance and has added 19 new businesses since 2020,” said Frey, who has 43 years in banking and finance. He noted that the city has received the state auditor’s award for its excellent financial reports. To keep the city in sound financial shape will require increasing revenue to meet the known increases in the budget, including personnel, health insurance and operations in general.
“I can guide the city in the right direction,” Frey said.
The audience asked about improving the downtown area, ideas for city-owned land on Choctaw Drive and managing development in order to bring in needed revenue without hindering Waterville’s small-town feel.
The 120-acre lot on Choctaw was purchased by the city over 20 years ago, and a few years ago, council considered rezoning a portion for industrial use. Nearby residents came to council and protested those plans, so council decided instead to look at other uses, such as additional housing.
That housing could include villas and rentals and extending Wilkshire Drive to connect to Dutch Road to alleviate traffic, Frey said. The area under the high-tension wires would be ideal for a park or sports fields, he added.
Allen suggested relocating the recycling bins as a possibility – since he’s been working with the county to find a new location after Kroger sold to Auto Zone the land where the bins once sat. Borowski disagreed, citing concerns about smell. Instead, he suggested a Mayberry Square-type entryway off Dutch, with small businesses, an ice cream shop and a diner.
“We need a balance of housing, business and commercial,” Pedro said, adding that industrial growth should take place in Farnsworth Industrial Park on Waterville-Monclova Road, where the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority purchased 48.5 acres to market an expansion.
Some of these ideas will be discussed in more detail as the city embarks on an update of its land use plan, he said.
As the discussion segued into increasing corporate tax revenue, Pedro added that working with regional site selectors will help bring in the right companies to Waterville.
“Twice a week, I get a call from someone who wants to build something,” he said.
With an average household income of $80,000 and proximity to the U.S. 24 bypass, Waterville shouldn’t have a problem attracting new business, Garver agreed.
“Growth will happen. How we manage that growth is what’s important. Do we want companies that employ people or self-storage facilities with no employees?” Garver asked, suggesting that the city should work to attract restaurants and sports complexes while offering tax incentives for companies when possible.
Frey pointed out that it costs more per rooftop to provide services to residents than is collected in property tax revenue.
“That’s why we need balanced growth and corporate revenue,” Frey said.
Allen said the upheaval of the last year has given Waterville a reputation as “not business-friendly.”
“We need to change that,” Allen said, noting that he’s spoken to developers about the amphitheater and opportunities for sports complexes and ancillary businesses.
Frey said he, too, sees that the turmoil of the past year has turned away some potential investors, but he and Pedro both see opportunities especially with the Downtown Redevelopment District, in which the incremental increase in property values is invested back into the downtown area.
“Downtown definitely needs some help,” Frey said. “We need to work with investors and potential businesses and bring them together with the property owners.”
Garver said he’d like to focus on getting some of the downtown properties – particularly those being used for storage – put into active use.
Borowski agreed that the city could offer incentives to have downtown property owners fix up their buildings and rent them out. He also would like to see an effort to create aesthetically pleasing entryways into downtown.
Hiring a full-time zoning inspector would also go a long way into maintaining the integrity of existing and future businesses and therefore building trust when issuing permits with conditions, Garver said, adding that it shouldn’t be the job of the police chief or public works director to make sure those permits are followed.
One area that all candidates agree on is the value of volunteers. As ideas such as a larger YMCA, a senior center, youth activities and sports complexes arose, Pedro encouraged residents to come to a council meeting to present ideas and possibly form a committee. He’d like to gather community groups – including the chamber, Rotary Club, churches and Anthony Wayne Area Arts Commission – into one meeting to plan events and share ideas for the city.
He noted that the recent pre-Roche de Boeuf party was chaired by the Fallen Timbers Family Recreation Center, which retained a portion of the proceeds. Rotary Club does this with its annual Blues, Brews and Brats Festival – supplying volunteers to staff the event.
“We do support these events. If someone is spearheading it, we’ll support you,” Borowski said.
A possible gathering for the Monday, April 8 solar eclipse will be on the agenda for an upcoming meeting, said Pedro, as he donned a pair of solar eclipse glasses.
“This is an opportunity for Waterville to shine,” he said.