PoliticsThe Examiner

Trio of Candidates Square Off for Two Trustee Seats in Pleasantville

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Incumbents Nicole Asquith and Paul Alvarez will be looking to hold onto their seats on the Pleasantville Village Board next Tuesday as former Mount Pleasant councilwoman Francesca Hagadus entered the race. It is one of the few times in the past decade when there has been a contested board race.

Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. at one of three polling sites in the village: the Emanuel Lutheran Church at 197 Manville Rd. for election districts, 13, 31 and 43; the Pleasantville Recreation Center at 48 Marble Ave. for voters in election districts 14 and 20; and the Daniel P. Hayes Hose Company at 134 Bedford Rd. for Election District 15.

Paul Alvarez

Alvarez is running for his second term as village trustee. He moved to Pleasantville from Ecuador with his family over 30 years ago and he is the first native Spanish-speaking resident to serve on the board.

As an attorney specializing in immigration law, Alvarez said becoming involved in politics was part of a dream to help everyone.

“I want to encourage people like me, people who are minorities and I wanted my fellow neighbors to say, ‘Hey, he’s one of us. He’s been around here forever. He knows how things were in the past, and he has an interest right now,’” Alvarez said.

New development downtown has felt as though it has happened quickly, he said.

“I think that’s the problem we face here, and we need to look at the village Master Plan to see its main purpose,” Alvarez stated. “We wanted a more vibrant downtown and a walking town. I look at my predecessors who put the Master Plan into place and I don’t think they were wrong.”

New development downtown is what contributed to creating a building moratorium, which Alvarez said was essential, but it shouldn’t go on too long.

“We listened to everyone when we decided to have the town forum and we decided that we needed a pause to reassess what’s going on,” Alvarez noted. “We need to look at the traffic patterns, the impact of more development on our resources such as our volunteer fire department and first responders.”

The availability of affordable housing in Pleasantville is important to Alvarez who said that many young people and empty-nesters can no longer afford to live here. In short, living in Pleasantville has become out of reach for many.

“This is something that all of us are also concerned about and figuring out how we can have more than 10 percent of housing units in a building be affordable,” he said. “Can we raise that number so more people can afford to live in these places?”

As vice president of the Pleasantville Chamber of Commerce, Alvarez said he has seen an uptick in new business owners in the village.

“When we ask all these new business owners why they decided to come here they tell us because there’s so many people, because there’s restaurants, because we know there are new places coming in. It’s allowing people to invest into this amazing village.”

“Communities in the area like having lots of restaurants and Pleasantville may seem like a restaurant hub that draws people in,” Alvarez added. “Then they get to see what else is available in the community.”

Alvarez was able to assist organizing outdoor events on Wheeler Avenue, which closed off the street to traffic.

Environmental-related initiatives over the last few years by the Village Board included a plastic bag ban and regulating gas-powered leaf blowers, which Alvarez said was a decision based on resident input.

“We sent out massive notices to everyone about the gas leaf blower ban asking them to let us know what they thought and we had multiple meetings about it,” he said. “We read over 400 e-mails ranging from support to opposition. Decisions like these aren’t made on a whim, they are decisions made by a thoughtful process and by listening to our constituents. “

Alvarez said the board’s mindset is trying to do more to help the environment, including more charging stations.

“We’re being progressive in the things that we’re doing,” he said. “We might not be the first, but we’re definitely not the last.”

Alvarez said he has a lot in common with Pleasantville residents and would like their vote for another three years.

“Whether it’s because we have younger kids, because you lived here in Pleasantville for a long time or because you’re a professional trying to balance the life of working and family, there’s so many things that we can connect with,” Alvarez said. “I’m personable and always going to give you a time to speak. For my first term there was a lot to learn about how things work. For my second term, I want to start pushing more of my agenda. The goals I have will be big game-changers for the public.”

Nicole Asquith

Asquith, seeking her third term on the board, helped usher in a local law banning fuel-powered motorized leaf blowers during certain months of the year and is looking to continue other environmental programs.

“Last spring, we rolled out a rebate program for electric lawn equipment so people who wanted to switch from gas to an electric lawn mower were able to get a rebate,” she said. “We’ve always made it as easy as possible. When you buy a new electric lawn mower, you send us a copy of the receipt through e-mail, and bang, you get a rebate in the mail.”

Asquith is working with the village’s Parks & Recreation Department to convert all of its landscaping equipment from gas to electric, a program that is funded by state grants. She has also been instrumental in starting the village’s food scrap program and has worked with the Climate Smart Task Force studying Pleasantville’s greenhouse gas emissions and setting certain goals to reduce those emissions in the future.

New development and the current building moratorium have presented issues, she said, including how to increase the number of affordable housing units, traffic impacts and reinvigorating the downtown.

“The moratorium is an opportunity to think about the future of Pleasantville and revisit the 2017 Master Plan and the goals it laid out,” Asquith said. “Affordable housing is an issue that’s come up a number of times in conversations we’ve had with the public. Right now, we have 10 percent required affordable housing for new projects. I think in Pleasantville it’s difficult for certain people to afford to live here including people who work in volunteer groups, such as emergency services and firefighters.”

Asquith believes downtown residential development should be encouraged to create vibrancy.

“I agree that too much development is too much, but I think it is important to have some residences downtown because it brings foot traffic in, which means customers, particularly for the restaurants,” she said. “We don’t want to have empty storefronts. There are two apartment buildings going up and I’m curious to see what will happen when those are filled.”

The issue of traffic in the village is very complex. Asquith said people are driving more and work schedules have changed. There have been proposals to offer busing for the school district, but she doesn’t believe that’s the way to go.

“School buses are quite expensive and I don’t think it’s reasonable, particularly for people in our village who would not benefit from school busing,” Asquith said.

Village traffic raises the question of pedestrian safety, particularly for children.

“I have a 12-year-old and a 14-year-old and they frequently walk around town and I’m always crossing my fingers and hoping that they will be safe,” she said. “I think improving pedestrian safety and slowing down traffic in certain areas can actually discourage some traffic that comes through Pleasantville and maybe reduce it somewhat.”

Asquith has long been a proponent of the proposed civic space at the northern end of Memorial Plaza, which can help toward creating a community feeling downtown. She’s encouraged that it’s not going to cost the village much because most of it will be paid for by a state grant.

A village recreation center that would accommodate senior and after-school programs is always being considered, according to Asquith.

“It’s something that we’re continually looking at but there are some limitations and constraints we deal with such as state limitations on staffing,” Asquith said. “But I think that we’ve been very responsive to the community in this regard, and we’re constantly trying to help people out the best that we can.”

Asquith sees herself as a good listener and a responsive trustee and would like to follow through with many of the initiatives she has taken on in her six years on the board.

“I want to know what people are thinking and where people are coming from,” she said. “I want to do my research to make sure we’re doing the right thing. I’m somebody who is responsive and responsible as well. That’s really what I bring to the board as a trustee.”

Francesca Hagadus

Hagadus, a 30-year village resident, is a retired French and Spanish teacher who served for one year on the Mount Pleasant Town Board after winning a 2018 special election for an unexpired term.

Hagadus said she is neither opposed to development nor against having accessory apartments in single-family homes, but she is critical of Gov. Hochul’s housing proposal to build more residential units around transit hubs.

“The idea of having more housing that’s accessible to transit, which will lower the impact of cars, is good,” she said. “It needs to be thought out community by community. The danger is the NIMBY issue. I believe everybody needs a place to live but it has to be done right so that the community in which you live is not negatively impacted.”

Pleasantville mandates that 10 percent of a project provide affordable housing.

“I have a son who lives in an apartment here and I know what the rents are like, and luckily he can afford the rent,” Hagadus said. “But it is not cheap to live here and there needs to be an affordable component.”

That traffic is backed up three and four times a day is an issue that needs to be solved, Hagadus remarked.

“We have people going to work, going to school or picking up from school,” she said. “I know that there was a traffic study but don’t know what the traffic study has found and what are the possible solutions. That needs to be publicized more.”

Hagadus criticized the Village Board for failing to communicate more effectively with residents.

“Communications need to happen more frequently,” Hagadus said. “It can’t be a Facebook page that goes on for paragraphs; it needs to be a weekly newsletter that’s readable, especially for those of us who are seniors, those who are not on Facebook or don’t know how to sign up for a website. They need to receive a newsletter in their hands, on paper.”

Attracting new and different businesses to the village is key to keeping Pleasantville’s downtown viable.

“We need to think outside the box and see what kind of businesses will attract people other than delis and restaurants, which are great but we have to complement them,” Hagadus said. “Unfortunately, the retail sector has gone internet happy, but having places to go downtown that meet the needs and interests of people is a way to look at it.”

Closing off Wheeler Avenue, especially on weekends in warmer weather, is one way to attract more people downtown, she said. Hagadus explained that outdoor dining became popular during the pandemic because people saw how much fun it is to eat outside.

“It would be wonderful to close down Wheeler Avenue and have it become a pedestrian walkway,” she said. “During the colder months we could get creative. One of the solutions would be to restrict delivery hours.”

Parking in the village must be addressed, Hagadus noted. Commuting patterns and routines have changed and the village must fully understand how that is impacting the downtown.

The need for a recreation center for all ages is an obtainable goal, Hagadus noted.

“I think that parcel of land next to the pool could be developed into a community area or the Methodist Church could be developed as well with just a little tweaking to bring it up to code,” Hagadus said. “It could be a recreation center used by all ages, and feeds into the before- and after-school child care.”

The village’s new leaf blower ordinance was a positive step toward a cleaner environment, but Hagadus is curious to see how it is going to be enforced. It begins May 1.

Hagadus is very appreciative of the Pleasantville Police Department, particularly since she has a child who is neurodivergent.

“We have had to use the police force and they have been compassionate and supportive to the extent that they greet him, they follow up with him, they chat with him and they chat with me,” she said.

Hagadus said she has seen many changes in Pleasantville over the years, and would work for more positive change.

“I have already served in government and know how government works,” Hagadus said. “I know about constraints, about issues and how residents feel, and that they want things done now. If you elect the right people, then you will get things done faster than by complaining about it on Facebook.”

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