MOUNT VERNON — First-time political candidates Stacie Zinn Roberts and Richard Brocksmith are squaring off against longtime Mount Vernon City Council member Dale Ragan for the council’s at-large position.
The top two vote-getters in the Aug. 1 primary advance to the Nov. 7 general election.
It has been 18 years since more than two candidates have faced off for a seat on the council.
Roberts said her experience as a small-business owner will make her a successful council member.
“I know what it means to be fiscally conservative and to put your people first,” she said.
Brocksmith said his 17 years of experience working for interlocal groups such as the Skagit Watershed Council have taught him how to bring people together and find common ground.
“I’d be representing 35,000 people, and almost as many different opinions,” he said. “I’ve got to find common ground.”
Ragan is in his 16th year on council. He is also a dike district commissioner and has a long history of public involvement.
“Community involvement is extremely important to me,” he said.
For Roberts and Brocksmith, affordable housing and homelessness is the biggest issue facing the City Council.
Brocksmith said he has a seven-point plan to address the problem, starting with updating housing development regulations.
“It’s the number one thing we need to do,” he said.
Ragan said his focus on making the city more attractive to businesses overlaps with housing, specifically in a city-owned property south of College Way.
“Some of the potentially highest value land in Mount Vernon is being underutilized,” he said.
The city uses the property to store equipment, he said, and if it sold the land it could be redeveloped to bring in business or housing.
The candidates see the city’s two planning efforts — the Downtown Redevelopment Plan and the South Kincaid Subarea Plan — as a way to bring affordable housing into the city.
Roberts highlighted her experience as a reporter in Florida, where she covered two similar revitalization projects.
Having design standards that make downtown look contiguous will make it a destination for tourists and business owners, she said.
Ragan said he sees potential in mixed-use projects, or developments that have commercial uses on the bottom floor and residential apartments on the upper floors.
This way, he said, the city can expand its multifamily housing and commercial space without contributing to urban sprawl.
“Let’s look to go up and keep sprawl down,” he said.
Brocksmith said a mixed-use requirement could make the city less appealing to developers, who generally specialize in either commercial or residential projects.
Due to the need for new affordable housing, Brocksmith said removing obstacles makes more sense than putting up more.