Steve Vasilion: Candidate Profile
Batavia City Council Ward 5 (4-year Term)
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Note: Answers provided have not been edited for grammar, misspellings or typos. In some instances, candidate claims that could not be immediately verified have been omitted.
Office sought: Batavia City Council Ward 5 (4-year Term)
Family: Married, three adult children, two adult step-children and our dog, Rexi
Occupation: Architect for 30 years, 22 at Vasilion Architects (www.vasilion.com). I am proud of my work: The Peg Bond Center Bandshell, Fox Valley Orthopaedic's new facility in Geneva, and the Regional Cancer Care Center at Provena Saint Joseph Hospital, in Elgin.
Education: Bachelor of Architecture, with Honors and High Distinction in Design, University of Illinois at Chicago, 1978
Civic involvement: I have served on Batavia's Historic Preservation Commission since its inception in 2003, serving as its Chairman for four years. I chose to serve on this Commission because I believe it is important to preserve Batavia's rich architectural history while also respecting the rights of individual property owners. My goal has been to create win-win scenarios. We created and wrote all the guidelines, which are crafted to preserve our historic buildings, while also recognizing advancements in energy efficiency. We also administer the city's facade grant program, annually allocating up to $50,000 in grant money to various applicants who wish to improve their buildings and our downtown. I created a mentoring program for high school students interested in pursuing a career in architecture. Over the last 10 years, I have had the privilege of working with dozens of students who learned firsthand what a career in architecture entails. The success of the program has been defined not by how many students become architects, but rather by providing them with enough firsthand knowledge to decide for themselves if this is a career they want to pursue.
Elected offices held: none
Have you ever been arrested for or convicted of a crime? If yes, please explain: no
Key Issue 1
CREATING A VIBRANT, HEALTHY DOWNTOWN The 5th Ward encompasses most of Batavia's downtown. Batavia's downtown is beautiful, with many amenities to attract restaurants, stores, and businesses. However, I know from firsthand experience that City Hall is difficult to work with on projects. For example: it took more than half a decade for McDonald's to obtain approval to replace their existing downtown location. Similarly, Walgreens is already two years into an effort to gain approval to build a new store to replace their antiquated downtown location. Both of these businesses have been good neighbors and contributed significantly to the economic health of our downtown. I can help address the obstacles that stand in the way of successful downtown development: 1. The City Council and administrative staff often do not work cooperatively. As alderman, I will work to create a culture of collaboration between these two bodies, with a goal of establishing a policy that encourages economic opportunity. 2. I have seen that City Council members are often not involved early enough in the dialogue about prospective projects. Frequently, they do not see the details of a project until it comes to them for a vote. I want to see the Council become involved earlier in the planning process. A healthy downtown requires a shared vision that permeates all levels of city government. It then requires an attitude of cooperation that actively and constructively engages business owners to create win-win scenarios. With vision and collaboration, we can do better.
Key Issue 2
SUPPORTING THE FINE ARTS COMMUNITY Batavia is home to a growing fine arts community. Water Street Studio has quickly grown in popularity and become an attraction that draws visitors from throughout the Midwest. However, the area around the Studio lacks adequate parking, safe sidewalks, and sufficient lighting. The Fifth Ward includes the arts district. Water Street Studios, Kiss the Sky Music Store, and the summer farmer's market are businesses located here. Other businesses, such as restaurants and retailers, could be attracted to this location if amenities such as adequate parking, safe sidewalks, and sufficient lighting are provided. As alderman, I will secure support for these amenities. By supporting our local entrepreneurs, we can do better.
Key Issue 3
TRANSPARENCY IN GOVERNMENT Batavia has invested in a downstate coal plant to provide for the city's electrical needs. The investment will cost Batavia taxpayers an estimated $246 million over the life of the agreement -- the largest single investment in the city's history. Yet, most citizens know nothing of the agreement, nor anything about the terms, many of which appear to be detrimental to the city. The city has not done enough to make this information public, to educate the citizens, and engage in a public discourse. The citizens of Batavia deserve to know what issues are being addressed by their civic leaders. They need to be allowed to provide input into the important decisions that may affect their lives (and pocketbooks) for years to come. This also affects business owners, including those considering relocating to Batavia who need to know their potential operating costs. I believe in full disclosure and transparency. For example, details about the utility contract and the coal plant's operation are difficult to obtain. I believe the city should share as much of this information as possible: post it on the city's website, put it in simple language, and educate the customer. Further, when considering difficult issues (or issues beyond an alderman's experience), we should tap into the expertise of our citizens. As alderman, I will utilize the rich resources available within our community. By utilizing all our community resources and making decisions in the light of the public eye, we can do better.
Does the city council spend the right amount ot time and attention on downtown issues? Explain.
The city council devotes a considerable amount time and attention to downtown issues. But I find much of the time and energy misdirected. What I find unacceptable is the position held by some who seem unconcerned with losing the largest sales tax generator in the city (Walgreens) and who required the second largest sales tax generator (McDonald's) to go through a seven year process in order to replace their existing building. These businesses have been good neighbors who have enhanced our downtown. Their presence allows other businesses to thrive and prosper. They generate the tax revenue that allows the city to provide improvements and the amenities that benefit all of us. The council's attention should be focused on: a) creating an environment that encourages businesses to relocate here, b) streamlining the review and approval process and c) continuing to be responsive and supportive to these businesses once they relocate here.
How should money collected in the city's tax increment financing districts be spent? Is it time to end the TIFs?
This is an excellent example of what is lacking in transparency: TIFs are a tax increase, a portion of which every citizen bears. The city could do better to make citizens aware of the impact of TIF districts. Potential tax increases, such as creating or renewing TIF districts, should be part of a public forum. It is a question that is best put before educated, knowledgeable voters.
What is your view of the city's business incentive programs?
As one of those responsible for administering the city's facade grant program (through my service on the Historic Preservation Commission), I have seen firsthand the positive benefits. Owners who would not otherwise have the resources to improve their buildings have been able to create attractive signage, improve lighting, repair their masonry facades, and replace deteriorated and inefficient windows.
Talking with your friends and neighbors, what seems to be their biggest public safety concern? Explain the concern as you see it, and discuss how you think it should be addressed.
One public safety concern that needs to be addressed is pedestrian safety within portions of the Fifth Ward. The city wants a walkable downtown, yet in the Water Street Studio area there are unsafe sidewalks (none in some areas) and the lighting is inadequate. Many are unwilling to walk this area at night because the poor lighting leaves them feeling unsafe. Local businesses have offered to partner with the city to improve parking, sidewalks and lighting, but have not received city support.
What's one good idea you have to better the community that no one is talking about yet?
We need to revamp and streamline our planning, permitting and approval process to become more welcoming, more conducive to those trying to create a vibrant, healthy downtown. This process often takes only months in other communities but can take years in Batavia. I will address this in several ways: - I will work to involve aldermen and commission members earlier in the planning process. As an architect, I have seen firsthand the delays that arise because information isn't shared openly throughout the planning process. - I will propose a study to compare Batavia's planning/permitting/approval process with those of other communities. I believe that college students could perform the study at no cost as part of an educational curriculum. We will identify where the bottlenecks occur in our process, then propose ways to improve it. - I will create an advisory board comprised of citizens who have specific expertise in areas of finance, business development, renewable and sustainable energy. With the input of local experts, I can help the city avoid costly and unnecessary delays.
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