Controlling development a key issue for Wallace in re-election bid
When Jen Wallace was elected to city council two years ago, she took her place on the dais next to council members she had often challenged as a frequent attendee of council meetings and leader of the advocacy group Newark Residents Against the Power Plant.
The transition proved to be eye-opening, she said last week.
“I have a better appreciation for the work it takes to be a council person,” Wallace said. “It’s very easy on the other side of the dais to judge and say they’re not doing enough.”
On Tuesday, Wallace will seek re-election to the District 3 council seat. Running against her is former city employee Ricky Nietubicz.
Wallace, a 46-year-old resident of Barksdale Estates, works as membership and marketing coordinator for the American Society of Cytopathology and as a freelance writer. She moved to Newark in 2000 and gained prominence in 2013 as a leader in the fight against the data center and power plant that was proposed for the STAR Campus.
In 2016, she ran for the council seat being vacated by Rob Gifford and won a convincing 84 percent of the votes, defeating firefighter Arlynn Hall.
Wallace said the main issue in her district is development, as many residents feel encroached upon by student-focused projects.
“They’re surrounded,” she said.
That issue was on full display recently as council debated a proposal to replace a vacant building in the Park N Shop with 12 apartments and retail space. Wallace, whose district includes the shopping center, was one of several council members who voiced concerns about the project and ultimately voted to table it so the developer could revise the plans.
“I don’t want to say what it would take for me to support it,” she said. “What I would hope is we could see units with less bedrooms.”
The current plan consists mostly of four-bedroom units that are common among student apartment complexes. Smaller units would be more likely to appeal to tenants other than students, Wallace said.
She acknowledged that with UD planning to expand by more than 5,000 students over the next few years, some development is inevitable. However, she said, it’s important to have places for families, seniors and young professionals to live as well.
“Students do need housing, but we need to figure out how to provide housing for ever yone else,” she said.
Changes need to be made to Newark’s comprehensive plan because UD’s expansion plans have made the current version out of date, she said.
“We need to go back to the drawing board,” she said.
Wallace said she is pleased council has taken steps toward better fiscal responsibility but believes there is still room for improvement.
“We do need more critical thinking about spending and prioritizing,” she said, adding the city also needs to find more sustainable funding sources, rather than relying on electric service revenue.
On the long-discussed issue of downtown parking, Wallace said the city still needs more data before making a decision on a big project like a parking garage. She praised the recent installation of signs that show a real-time count of open parking spaces.
“I’m not against a parking garage, but I’m not real crazy about taxpayers paying for a parking garage for the benefit of a small group,” she said, adding council should exhaust its options for smaller, less expensive measures first.
Wallace said her proudest accomplishment in her first term was helping promote open government, such as pushing for an earlier start to the budget process and asking the planning department to post proposed development projects online.
“I’ve worked to bring more transparency to city council,” Wallace said. “That’s something District 3 is sensitive to in light of recent years. That’s gone a long way in restoring trust with residents of the city.”
She said her experience over the past two years best qualifies her to serve District 3.
“Now is not the time for a leadership change,” she said. “We need people who have been here to choose the next city manager.”
She said that while she respects Nietubicz’s friendly personality and communication skills, she doesn’t believe he has a track record in the district.
“I’m not sure he’s shown he has been as involved and engaged as a resident,” she said.
District: 3 Age: 46 Address: 19 Sue Lane Occupation: Membership and marketing coordinator with the American Society of Cytopathology and freelance writer Civic experience: Councilwoman since 2016; former leader of Newark Residents Against the Power...