Four candidates will vie for two, open Lewes City Council seats in an election set for 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, May 11 at City Hall.
One-term incumbent Fred Beaufait and candidates Nancy Joseph, Dennis Reardon and Candace Vessella recently responded by email to questions related to Lewes. Answers were limited to 125 words. Each candidate also provided a brief biography.
With a new Lewes Public Library in the works, the old library building, which is owned by the city, will be vacant. What possible uses do you see for the building?
Beaufait: The current library building was made possible by the citizens of Lewes. Whatever purpose the council decides for the building, it must be for the benefit of our citizens and our city. I’m sure that the Council will solicit ideas and input from the people of Lewes as an integral part of the decision process. With the development of the new library and trail head, this complex, which includes Stango Park and the current library building, will become a major center of activity for Lewes. Hence, the current building must be an integral part of this campus. As part of the decision process, the investment necessary to integrate the building into the campus and its impact on the city’s budget must be taken into account.
Joseph: Knowing Lewes’ longstanding tradition of embracing the arts, my idea is a combined Lewes Arts & Philosophical Center. With this option, the building would continue benefiting both citizens of Lewes and the community at large without requiring major renovations. It would complement Stango Park, the new library, trailhead and surrounding properties without adding too much traffic. Revenue could be generated from renting wall space for art exhibits, rooms for classes, lectures and small meetings, and the large, downstairs area and courtyard for small, intimate performances. I’m excited to hear what others envision. As more ideas are floated, the best use of the building will become clear. I’m also looking forward to upcoming discussions about how to use the Savannah Road school building.
Reardon: The first of the core values states, “Lewes has a special and historic relationship with the sea.” The city is presented with a unique opportunity to utilize this space for the benefit of present and future generations. We are fortunate to have the Lewes Historical Society, the Overfalls Foundation, the University of Delaware campus and the presence of the State of Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs. There is a significant collection of documents and artifacts regarding the history and legacy of Lewes in the city. Space to adequately house and display these materials is at a premium. If possible, with appropriate funding a partnership among these groups to form a Historical, Maritime and Educational Center would greatly enrich the City of Lewes.
Vessella: Once vacated by the Library, it should remain a public building used for civic and cultural purposes. The land was donated by the City of Lewes. The Library Board and the Friends of the Lewes Public Library raised the funds for the building in the 1980s and the wings in late 1990s. Several organizations have approached mayor and city council members about its use. One possible approach might be a “request for proposal” process. The organizations would describe their proposed use of the building along with an explanation of how the building maintenance and operating costs would be funded. The city’s annual budget process is rigorous and thorough. It is important that the future use does not become the sole responsibility of the residents.
Lewes and the surrounding area have many new single-family homes and communities, constructed and planned. City officials have long talked about a need for housing that would be economically feasible for middle-income earners, but it hasn’t happened. Do you think the city should play a more active role in making affordable housing a reality? If yes, why and how? If no, why?
Beaufait: While council has long recognized the need for housing that is affordable for middle-income families, it is not something that council can mandate. We do live in a free society and landowners have the right to decide what market they want to address. What the council can do is to promote an environment that makes it feasible for a landowner to address this market, working with potential developers to understand their needs as well as the impediments to the development of affordable housing in Lewes. I ask, “What might council do to encourage land owners to develop affordable housing within Lewes?”
Joseph: Yes, requiring a percentage of Lewes’ housing units to be affordable for middle-class families and to encourage the same in developments outside the city would be nice. Lewes is not buildings, its strength lies in its people and we’re losing our historically diverse communal identity. It’s such a dichotomy. High property values are a good thing for those of us fortunate enough to already own property here; but it’s creating an elitist Lewes. It’s easy saying, “Let’s require developers to….”, but is it fair? Who among us would opt to sell below market price simply to allow nice, middle-class families to buy? No one I know. I see it as a moral/ethical decision for developers, which a relaxing of density requirements might help incentivize.
Reardon: Yes, a mixture of income levels is one of Lewes’ core values. However, young families and many city employees do not have the income to afford homes in the city. The affordable housing within the city is limited to a few areas. There is a need for mixed housing and the city has several undeveloped parcels that have the potential to meet this need. Also, if the Showfield development comes to fruition it would present an opportunity to require the developer to provide a variety of housing options. I would encourage the formation of an Ad Hoc Committee to take a comprehensive view of all the available options.
Vessella: Lewes has become a popular destination. As a result, the price of homes has increased significantly over the last ten years and the average price of a home in Lewes is beyond the means of middle-income earners. There are very few vacant parcels of land within the city limits of Lewes. Given space limitations and the real estate market, it is unlikely that new affordable housing can be introduced into the existing city footprint. But it could be a part of future annexation negotiations for adjacent land areas. The city of Lewes annexation process is complex. The voluntary process is negotiated between the land owners/developers and the City government. Affordable housing could be an element considered in those negotiations.
Busy days and quiet nights is one of the city’s core values. Do you think the city’s cultural climate would be improved if there were a facility that also made busy nights possible if it raised enough revenue to support itself? Would it contradict the city’s core value?
Beaufait: While it would be good if Lewes had a meeting hall that was of adequate size to accommodate a large group, say three or four hundred, I am not sure that it would provide sufficient return on investment to cover the construction and operational cost. Let’s not forget that we do have a beautiful auditorium at Cape Henlopen High School, two of our churches have good size auditoriums that have been available for public events, and there is the Virden Center.
Joseph: Busy nights? Oh gosh, maybe I’m getting old; but quite honestly, busy days and quiet nights work in Lewes. It’s what we’re all used to, the ebb and flow of our daily schedules. Even our restaurants close early. I think most of us are busy heading towards our recliners by 10 p.m.. Seriously, at the present time I don’t think we need to devote resources toward building a facility within Lewes to make our quiet nights busy. However I do believe the beach community at large could easily support a 1500-2000-seat concert venue, maybe someplace just outside of town, but not within Lewes City limits.
Reardon: Yes, I believe the city’s cultural climate would be improved with a Convention Center that would be self-sustaining. It would provide a forum for a host of cultural events, i.e., art exhibits, diverse concerts, plays, business and educational seminars. Such an indoor facility would not have a negative impact on the quiet nights of Lewes. It would also have a positive economic impact on the city. Some of the challenges are location, parking and construction cost. A possible location is the city owned land adjacent to New Road that borders Canary Creek. This area could also provide parking. Since the city owns the land a public/private partnership with incentives, such as, minimal rent and time specific lower taxes is a consideration.
Vessella: The City of Lewes’ cultural climate is a wonderfully diverse one. The Lewes Chamber of Commerce calendar has no fewer than 189 public events listed for the 2013 calendar year. Coastal Concerts, Historic Lewes Farmers Market, city concerts in Stango Park, Lewes Historical Society events, Fort Miles tours, parades, Little League games… The list is long! City revenue from seasonal tourism activities and fees makes up about 17 percent of the city’s annual budget. I am hard pressed to think of a new “evening facility” that would be needed or improve the busy Lewes city life given current parking constraints and scheduling considerations. The list of public events grows every year. That said, we do like our “quite nights.”
Fred Beaufait, 76, is an incumbent who is seeking his second term. He holds a doctorate in structural engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute. At the beginning of his career, Beaufait worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in Vicksburg, Miss.; L.E. Gregg & Associates, an engineering and material technology firm in Lexington, Ky.; and as a visiting instructor at the University of Liverpool, Liverpool, England.
He has served as a professor at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.; visiting professor, University of Wales, University College, Cardiff; professor, department chairman and associate dean, West Virginia University, Morgantown, W.Va.; dean of engineering, Wayne State University, Detroit, Mich.; and president of New York City College of Technology, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Beaufait and wife Lois Erdman, have two adult children. The couple lives on Blue Heron Drive.
Nancy Joseph, 58, has lived in Lewes 50 years. “My political leadership was spawned early within a family that valued common sense, volunteerism and leadership.”
In 1969, she was among a group of activists who stopped bulldozers from leveling what is now the Great Dune Overlook in Cape Henlopen State Park. She is a Cape Henlopen School graduate and has attended Delaware Tech, University of Delaware and Wilmington University.
Joseph is former owner-publisher of local guides “Best Places in Town” and “Delaware Beach Weddings.”
She has been a Lewes Historical Society docent; served on Lewes Pedestrian Safety Committee; and Lewes Chamber of Commerce board of directors. She is a longtime member of Bethel United Methodist Church. She recently became a licensed realtor and is employed at Crowley Associates Realty in Rehoboth Beach. Joseph has two adult children. She and husband Charlie live in Bay Breeze Estates.
Dennis Reardon, 72, lives with wife Allison on Bay Avenue. Reardon is a La Salle University graduate and holds a law degree from the University of Baltimore School of Law.
He worked 22 years for the State of Delaware, serving primarily as administrator of the Master’s Unit, a statewide agency presiding over civil matters and criminal trials.
Reardon worked 18 years in the private sector as director of admissions for AdvoServ, a residential, educational program serving people with developmental disabilities in Delaware, Florida and New Jersey. He currently serves on the Lewes Planning Commission.
Candace Vessella, 57, lives on Devries Circle with husband Adrian Nakayama. Since election to the Lewes Board of Public Works in 2011, she has served as board vice president and also serves on the Lewes Planning Commission. Vessella is president of Friends of the Lewes Public Library.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Southern Connecticut State University, and a master’s degree in international relations from the American University.
Vessella has also attended Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government; Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania; and Templeton College, Oxford, Oxford University.
Vessella worked in intelligence for 10 years with the Defense Intelligence Agency, and later worked for Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems in government relations until retiring in 2009.
Vessella served in the U.S. Army and then U.S. Navy Reserves from 1982 through 2008, retiring as a navy captain.
Her final military assignment was commander, Navy Reserve Intelligence Command, managing more than 850 naval personnel in the Washington, D.C. area.