Four candidates in the running for Wilmington Town Council
WILMINGTON — There are five local positions up for election in Wilmington this year: town supervisor, town clerk/tax collector, highway superintendent and two town council seats.
Only one of those races — for town council — is contested. Town Supervisor Roy Holzer, clerk candidate Dawn Stevens and Louis Adgragna, highway superintendent, are all running unopposed.
The Lake Placid News sent questionnaires to candidates running for town council. Below are their responses. One candidate, Republican Stephanie Gates, has her name on the ballot but plans to give up the job if she garners enough votes. She recently took on new responsibilities in her role at Northwood School and was unable to get her name off the ballot in time.
Early voting starts Oct. 23. The closest polling station will be at the Lake Placid Beach House on Parkside Drive. Election Day is Nov. 2.
Occupation: I was recently licensed to practice law in New York and will start practicing law after Election Day. I also operate a very small business, Esther Mountain Press.
Q: What are your qualifications?
A: Bachelor’s degree in Government (Georgetown University, 2004), law degree (Vermont Law School, 2020), attorney (licensed in New York and Vermont).
Q: What are your main goals?
A: One, to preserve Wilmington’s character. Two, to prioritize Wilmington residents’ quality of life above all other considerations. Three, to represent longtime locals and fulltime residents. Four, Wilmington’s community is currently split, with most of the town in the Lake Placid school district, and the rest in the AuSable Valley district. Is unifying Wilmington within one school district something the community strongly supports? We should hold a non-binding referendum on the issue. (In general, it would be helpful to have more non-binding referenda about important or controversial topics, so that the town has a more accurate sense of public opinion.) The legal process to unify Wilmington within a single school may not be as insurmountable as one might think. Five, to ensure that the wages of full-time town employees keep pace with the cost of living. We don’t need to raise taxes to do this. The money is there. It’s a question of priorities.
Q: What do you think are the three biggest problems in the town, and how do you propose solving them?
A: First, the most important issue in the region is the lack of housing for local workers and families.
Town Supervisor Roy Holzer’s idea for a municipal land bank dedicated to “Homestead Housing” –areas in town with relaxed zoning; affordable, and owner-occupied houses; deed-restricted titles; and some support from the municipality — is a good approach to alleviating the “workforce housing crisis.”
We should seek grant money for Homestead Housing, but there are also potential local and regional sources of funding: Fees on short-term rentals (paid either by the guest or the property owner); Essex County has sources of revenue beyond property taxes, such as bed-tax money; Essex County should consider a 1 or 2 percent tax, paid by the buyer, on all real estate sales above $500,000 to fund municipal land banks and Homestead Housing.
The biggest reason for the region’s housing shortage is AirBNB. There are currently more than 100 short-term rentals active in Wilmington. I don’t think anyone takes issue with a homeowner renting out a single spare room or a garage apartment, and I don’t think anyone objects to the operation of commercial entities within the areas of town zoned for commercial use. Those scenarios are not the problem.
The real issue is the conversion of long-term rentals and owner-occupied homes into hotels. This trend is a primary cause of a housing shortage that is pushing local workers and families out of their own hometowns.
Non-owner-occupied STRs — particularly those outside of the commercial center of town (the area defined in the zoning code as the “hamlet”) — should be discouraged.
Second, around a decade ago, our land-use codes were loosened to spur development.
Even those most invested in the tourist trade should remember that Wilmington’s wholesome, winsome character is one of our greatest sources of appeal. Last week, Wilmington had 67 open building permits. Wilmington is growing, and will almost certainly continue to grow. Dollar General is eyeing Wilmington. The next generic chain may not be far behind. I’d like to tighten our land-use codes – so that we can, at an absolute bare minimum, control the appearance and size of multinational businesses looking to “serve our community.”
To the extent that we seek development, we should channel that development in the direction most urgently needed: housing for local workers and families.
Occupation: MOA, Adirondack Medical Center EMT
In response to a questionnaire from the News, Preston wrote:
“I feel privileged to run for council member in an area where I was born and have lived my whole life. I have raised two children and my family has a strong bond to this community going back to my parents and grandparents before them.
“I’m very community and volunteer strong and I feel this time in my life is a good time to run for Wilmington Town Council. I have been serving this community currently as a member of our local rescue department for 15 years being an EMT 14 of them, CYC Connecting Youth and Communities Board Member, 15 years Lake Placid Lions Club member, Wilmington Historical Society Whisky Run. Over the years, I have served on the Zoning Board for six years, Up Hill Foot Race, Bike Race, Ironman, member of High Peak Kiwanis for eight years, holding president and secretary positions; director of Teen Camp, providing food for the elderly during COVID-19, Wilmington Volunteer Auxiliary, Adirondack Neighbors, suicide prevention and Relay for Life, and coordinator for several fundraising events. Sunday school teacher, caravan and vacation bible school teacher.
“I have over 35 years of experience in the business field, from operations manager to owner/operator of four businesses over the years; heading human resources, A/R, A/P, scheduling, OSHA, insurances, contracts, sales, installation and subcontracting. Over 38 years experience in customer service working with individuals dealing with comments and concerns on a daily basis.
“I like to learn new things and take on new challenges, volunteering has increased my knowledge on a variety of local topics. As I have met with many residents over the past several months, we have discussed property taxes, housing both long term, vacation, looking at vacant business lots for future use. I would like the chance to bring this information and knowledge to the board and help our amazing community continue to grow, however, still remain Wilmington Beautification and Charm. We do not want to become out of control and yet we do not want to die, we need to come together communicate and unite.
“Please take the time to vote Nov. 2. Together we can make a difference.”
Michelle L. Preston
Age: No answer
Occupation: Operations manager, Whiteface Visitors Bureau
Q: Why are you running for this position?
A: My desire to run for Wilmington Town Council comes from my 20-plus years of service in Wilmington. I feel this is one more step I can take to show my neighbors that I am here for them and truly love our town. I am excited to see what new directions our town will take while keeping Wilmington community based.
Q: What are your qualifications?
A: Although not originally from the area, I am proud to call Wilmington my home for the last 20 years. During that time, I have raised my four children, volunteered for countless events and organizations and worked full time. I am currently the operations manager for the Whiteface Visitors’ Bureau, a position I have held for the last 14-and-a-half years. While this position is not a town job and is run by an independent board, I have the opportunity to work closely with the town on many events and projects. I am the widow of former town Supervisor Randy Preston. While I won’t take credit for the work he accomplished, I had the pleasure of working behind the scenes on many projects with him therefore gaining inside knowledge and still remain in touch with many of his political contacts. Through my position at the Visitors Bureau and my time with Randy, I have had the opportunity to attend numerous seminars and conferences and plan to continue to do so. I believe these are important to build relationships with key players to draw attention to Wilmington and help fund projects. I am registered as an Independent and feel I can work well with both parties, representing everyone. I bring high energy and dedication in everything I do.
Q: What are your main goals?
A: My main goal is to represent the whole town and its residents. I have no personal agenda. I have attended monthly board meetings on a regular basis for years and sadly only a handful of residents attend unless there is a “hot topic” on the agenda. I would like to see more involvement from the community on a regular basis. The supervisor and town board can only do their part if they know the desires of the residents they serve. “It takes a village.”
Q: What do you think are three biggest problems in town, and how do you propose solving them?
A: Over the last few years, I have seen our town become reactive instead of proactive in regards to potential issues that may arise. One such example is the potential building of a new retail chain store that sought building in a residential area of town. This created strong opinions on both sides. I would like to create both a strategic and comprehensive plan outlining where residents want to see Wilmington in the next 5-20 years. More specifically by updating our codes/zoning regulations, new business discussions, sewer possibilities, school boundaries concerns, and the overall look and character of our town.
Another item I see on a weekly basis is people who are looking to come here and work yet can’t find affordable housing. It’s a vicious cycle. Our businesses are struggling due to lack of staff; however, people can’t afford housing to live and work here. I’m looking forward to working on the Wilmington Homestead project and am willing to seek out help from government agencies to see how we can implement new programs to assist with this matter.
Wilmington has a very diverse demographics. We have several senior citizens, retirees, commuters, those who work from home, young families and more. I would like to see more programs either started or expanded upon for our seniors, teens, preschoolers and families. Wilmington has so much to offer in regards to history, outdoor recreation and sports. We need to utilize this within our own community for our residents.
Q: Other comments to voters?
A: I want to thank the Lake Placid News/Adirondack Daily Enterprise for allowing me this opportunity to share a bit about myself. Whether you were born here or chose to move here, I promise to respect your feelings equally. I understand the need for growth yet the desire to keep our hometown charm. I value our unique community and I welcome your ideas and interests. Remember, it isn’t geography that makes a town or community, it’s the people. We are all here together because we love this place we call home. Thank you for your support. Please exercise your right to vote on Nov. 2.