On the issues: Belfast City Council Ward Three Candidate Brenda Bonneville

Mon, 11/04/2019 - 2:30am

    Penobscot Bay Pilot has posed questions to each candidate running for the Belfast City Council Ward Three seat, providing the opportunity for the public to better understand their position on issues important to the town and region. The candidate responses are posted as they are returned, and are collected on the Pilot’s Elections Resource Page.

    Short biography: Please tell us a little bit about yourself: where you live, what your background is.
    I am 55 years old, born and raised in Southern California by my mom and grandparents, and have a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of California San Diego.

    My family and I have called Belfast home for the last 14 years. Our daughters have gone through the entire public school system here, my husband and I started three year-round businesses, we love the community, and feel deeply rooted and connected to Belfast in so many ways.

    In addition to opening AMBIANCE, a lamps & shades, antiques and home decor shop right on Main Street in Belfast, I also co-founded an online arts and culture magazine, maineartscene.com.

    Prior to opening my shop, I worked in the Marketing Department at Unity College and before that, I was a freelance writer in marketing and public relations. In coordination with the Belfast Historical Society and Museum, I gave historic tours of Belfast and recently, I fulfilled my 9 year tenure as a director on the board of Waterfall Arts.

    What are Belfast's greatest strengths, and how do you hope to maintain them?
    One of Belfast's strengths is our town's diversity. Belfast is a mix of people who are deeply rooted to this area as well as others who have been here for a long time. There is also diversity in terms of income, age, skills, jobs, backgrounds, interests and political affiliation. Belfast is really quite a melting pot! I hope that we will continue to attract a mix of people while being mindful of the history of Belfast so that we can maintain a good balance of continuity and innovation.

    Another of Belfast's strengths is resilience and adaptation. Over the years, Belfast has had a variety of industries from ship building to chicken and fish processing to shoe manufacturing, to banking and healthcare. Throughout, as these industries have come and gone, Belfast has faced adversity and managed to bounce back. Today, Belfast is a vibrant and thriving community because of a diversified economy (a good mix of manufacturing, services and retail) which puts the town less at risk of an economic depression. If elected, I will continue to support and will encourage a mix of businesses and industry that make up the fabric of Belfast's economy and provide jobs for everyone.

    And Belfast has a plethora of natural beauty, history and uniquely preserved architecture. Our pristine and picturesque town sits adjacent to a thriving downtown made up of year-round shops and restaurants. We are respectful to our history (Belfast has a working waterfront with businesses such as Front Street Shipyard and French & Webb) and we strive to preserve our Main Street (many of Belfast's commerce are housed in historical and architecturally interesting & important buildings) while also are looking towards our future. For ten years now, Belfast has been a Main Street certified community with ongoing efforts to maintain our town's unique character and resources. If I am elected, I will work in close coordination with organizations such as Our Town Belfast, the Chamber of Commerce, the Belfast Historical Society and Museum and others in order to ensure that we continue to preserve and promote our important natural and historical assets.

    What are Belfast's greatest problems to address? 
    The main issues that Belfast faces are high property taxes, affordable housing, and jobs that pay livable wages. I know that these issues are right at the top of the current City Council's list and we have a lot of work to do in order to address them. I'm excited about the possibility of helping tackle these problems as well as other concerns that Belfast faces.

    There has been much discussion recently about smoking and littering in public areas. How would you plan to address those concerns?
    Some signage might be helpful as a reminder to residents and visitors that smoking is permitted in certain areas only, but I don't think that we should completely prohibit smoking in Belfast. I think it would send a message to people that they if they smoke, Belfast does not welcome them to visit, shop, dine and relax. If anything, Belfast is a very open and tolerant community.

    Unfortunately, littering in public areas is rampant not just in Belfast, but everywhere. Belfast has an annual day for picking up trash, and in addition to our day-to-day mindfulness of not littering in general, perhaps we could work on ways to get more people to participate on that designated day and maybe have businesses offer incentives to encourage their employees to help with the effort.

    Does Belfast need to adjust zoning to accommodate business growth, housing construction and industry expansion?
    Zoning was recently adjusted in Belfast and I think as a result, we are now moving forward to address the issues of housing as well as business and industry expansion. I look forward to working to ensure that we maintain a mindful balance of growth, expansion and construction and that we make decisions carefully.

    Should Belfast be more receptive to alternative housing proposals, such as shelters?
    We are increasingly seeing the need for many types of housing including low-income & varying income, mixed use, and lodging for those who might be in between permanent housing situations. I think that Belfast is a very progressive and welcoming community and I am confident that as we look to expand accommodations for people with various housing needs, we will work towards providing a mix of viable, comfortable living opportunities.

    What is the importance of local government, and how do you see yourself, as a city councilor, in it?
    Local government is important because with communities facing various issues and citizens relying on assistance in many ways, it is the people at the local level who can answer questions, work on issues, listen to ideas, and help clarify information.

    Currently, Belfast is facing various issues (some more contentious than others), such as the Nordic Aquafarms proposal, high property taxes, economic development, and urban planning, just to name a few. If elected, I intend to work efficiently and in harmony with the other councilors, the mayor, city officials and the public to figure out best ways to move forward on these and other issues.

    How do you see Belfast fitting into the greater regional economy and culture, and how would you like develop that?
    The fact that we are adjacent to many other towns makes Belfast somewhat of a “hub” for outer lying communities including Freedom, Liberty, Morrill, Monroe, Brooks, and Searsmont, to name a few. And because of our location, Belfast is fortunate to enjoy a reciprocity of wonderful food, entertainment, people, cultural activities and more. I would like to continue to nurture and develop our ties with other communities, making sure that they remain in the fold that make up the uniqueness of Belfast.

    Where are your favorite places to spend time in the Belfast community?
    I take daily hour-long walks and enjoy the vistas and views, the beautiful Penobscot Bay and talking with the many people I meet along the way. Also, I am a regular at Belfast's wonderful dog park and I like going to the number of arts and community events that we have in the area.

    What is your position on the proposed Nordic Aquafarms project?
    I’m not opposed to the Nordic Aquafarms Maine proposed project for the following reasons:

    1. Belfast is a city that has gone through growth and change over the years since it was first incorporated. Boat building, canning, chicken processing, shoe manufacturing were a few of the first businesses that supported the town's economy. Later, there was MBNA, and then Bank of America and Athenahealth, Front Street Shipyard (...). Economic growth and development are inevitable and if we don't continue to incorporate new businesses and industries into the fold, Belfast would suffer. 

    2. Our property taxes are high and Belfast needs organizations that can offset the burden. Nordic Aquafarms has that potential as well as adding job opportunities. We all want what is best for Belfast, and part of ensuring that our town continues to grow in appropriate and mindful ways is to provide ways for people to work and live here and in the surrounding areas.

    That said, if I am elected as City Councilor, I will make sure that we monitor the Nordic Aquafarms project closely and that the company adheres to the promises and agreements made including: sensitivity to the environment; financial commitments to Belfast and to the neighborhood; and clear and accurate reporting and communications with the public and the City Council.

    I also have empathy for neighbors who would be impacted by the Nordic Aquafarms project, having had a similar experience when a large building was erected in my neighborhood, literally in my back yard. However, just as we found out then, when concerns such as zoning and EPA were removed from the equation — which is also the case here — a businesses like Nordic Aquafarms should also be given a fair chance at succeeding and becoming good neighbors.

    Based on the many conversations I have had with voters, it seems that most people in Belfast feel the same way I do —  they generally support the Nordic Aquafarms proposal but also have some legitimate concerns. Assuming the project continues to move ahead, I look forward to working hard with everyone to make sure that it is a success (business-wise, environmentally, and financially) for all of Belfast.

    Free space! Anything else you'd like to say to the voters that we haven’t considered?
    Thank you for the opportunity for me to answer these thoughtful questions, and for taking the time to publish all of the candidates' opinions. It's important to get out on November 5 — every vote counts!