By Willie Howard
Lantana Councilman Malcolm Balfour and challenger Anthony Arsali shared their views on the state of the town, including plans to develop the former A.G. Holley hospital site, during a Feb. 18 candidate forum at the town recreation center.
Arsali, a 29-year-old lawyer, said residents need a fresh voice on the council and more community involvement in planning the town’s future, while Balfour, a 78-year-old retired journalist, said residents should be pleased with the current Town Council and its recent work to attract new development.
“It’s a very, very healthy town,” said Balfour, who has lived in Lantana since 1972 and was first elected to the council in 2013. “I’ve never seen a better town council than the Lantana Town Council.”
Balfour said residents should be proud of work that the mayor and council did to put the A.G. Holley site back on the tax rolls and attract a private company to develop it.
The council recently approved a site plan for Water Tower Commons, a mixed-use development planned for the site that will include stores and restaurants along Lantana Road and dwellings on the north side of the property.
Balfour said residents should be pleased with the new baseball and soccer fields, built at no cost to the taxpayers, that replaced old fields demolished along with the 1950s-era tuberculosis hospital.
“I think most people in Lantana are highly satisfied,” Balfour said, noting that the council held the town tax rate at $3.24 per $1,000 taxable value, even when property values were depressed following the housing bust.
But Arsali, who moved to Hypoluxo Island in 2014, said the Town Council can do better and needs to start with a town vision developed by the community.
“We need a jolt of energy,” Arsali said. “We need a new voice on our Town Council.”
Arsali said the town needs more homeowners and fewer renters as well as a transportation system, such as a trolley, that would connect residential areas to Lantana Beach and the restaurants and shops along Ocean Avenue.
He said the council should push for fewer apartments and more owner-occupied dwellings at Water Tower Commons. A site plan for the residential portion of the project is expected to come before the council later this year.
“It’s a shopping center,” Arsali said, referring to the plan for Water Tower Commons. “All I’m suggesting is we could have put a little more thought into it.”
Arsali said stricter code enforcement should be used to clean up the look of the town. Balfour said the town’s code enforcement officers are “on the ball.”
Both men acknowledged that parking along Ocean Avenue is a problem.
Balfour’s Group 2 seat will be the only one on the March 15 ballot. Nobody challenged Councilman Lynn Moorhouse for the Group 1 seat, so he was automatically re-elected to another three-year term.
Council members earn $400 a month. The council recently approved a salary increase that will boost their monthly pay to $600 beginning in March 2017.
Forum moderator David Arm, president of the Greater Lantana Chamber of Commerce, urged the 50 or so people attending to vote on March 15 and to encourage their neighbors to vote, too.
A second debate was scheduled for March 2 at Heroes Sports Bar & Grill.