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2024 Candidates' Forum group 3 Bridget Moran and John David Corey

Our Town by William Kelly: Growth and traffic are top concerns at Civic Association candidates’ forum

The two candidates running for a Town Council seat in the March 19 election faced one another Monday before a standing-room-only audience at a Palm Beach Civic Association forum.

John David Corey and Bridget Moran avoided criticisms of one another and focused their remarks on issues facing the town, including commercial development and traffic congestion.

They did not appear far apart in their positions on the issues in a contest that could boil down to how individual voters perceive the candidates’ respective judgment skills or personalities.

Corey said his priorities as a council member would be implementing zoning reform in the North End, addressing construction concerns and Midtown intensification, maintaining shore protection, and supporting residents’ opposition to a state plan to widen State Road A1A in the South End. He also pointed to public safety and “quality of life” challenges as top concerns.

“I promise to be your voice on the Town Council with endless energy and a can-do, positive attitude, that can pull all of us up,” he said. “Transferring ideas into reality is my strongest suit, and I do think I have the track record to prove it.”

Moran said her goals would be to quickly implement solutions to traffic congestion, prevent development that harms the character of the town, prioritize public safety, maintain fiscal responsibility, and reach the best decision on the town’s future potable water supply.

“I’ve been a leader in every position that I have served on, as a volunteer,” she said. “I’m a good listener. I’ll collaborate and work with members of the staff. I know what the issues are. I will not micromanage. I will ensure we have the best leaders and I will hold them accountable.”

Moran and Corey are vying for the Group 3 council seat held by Margaret Zeidman, who is retiring in April after eight years on the council.

More than 200 people attended the 76-minute forum at the Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea. Michael Williams, news anchor and reporter at WPTV, moderated. Questions were supplied by the Civic Association staff, Williams, and through written submissions from the audience. Each candidate was also permitted to ask one question of their opponent.

Both Moran and Corey are Midtown residents and Civic Association directors.

Corey is serving his seventh year as a member of the Architectural Commission. A certified master gardener who enjoys bicycling around town, he founded Palm Beach Walks, to advocate for more pedestrian spaces, shortly after moving onto the island in 2012.

A real estate investor and former developer from Boston, Corey more recently co-founded Friends of Lake Drive Park, a neighborhood group that pushed for preservation of open space next to the Town Marina when it was under reconstruction.

He spearheaded the replenishment of the palm tree canopy in Midtown in celebration of the Civic Association’s 75th anniversary about five years ago.

Moran is serving her third year as a member of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

During her 25 years as a town resident, she has raised a family and volunteered for many organizations, including Rosarian Academy, the Palm Beach Police & Fire Foundation, and the Town of Palm Beach United Way.

Moran is a director of Safeguard Palm Beach (formerly known as Palm Beach Crime Watch) and a member of the St. Edward Guild and Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach.

She said she has attended every council meeting that she could during the last two years to help prepare herself to become an effective council member.

Moran said she is proud to have earned the endorsement of more than 200 residents and town leaders in her bid for a council seat.

Commercial redevelopment

The candidates were asked for their views on how to manage growth on the island and protect it against overdevelopment.

Both cited the importance of the comprehensive land-use plan, which contains a vision for the town’s future and acts as a guide for the zoning code.

“If we just pay attention to the rules and know where we want to be, and have good leaders making good decisions, that might be the best way to make sure Palm Beach is Palm Beach,” Moran said.

The state requires the town to update the comprehensive plan every seven years and submit it for state view. It’s currently being revised by the town, which Moran said provides an opportunity to correct past mistakes and strengthen it going forward.

Corey said the comprehensive plan calls for town-serving regulations, protecting Palm Beach’s residential character, and guarding against overdevelopment.

“These are for me the hooks we can use in town government to push back on projects that may be out of scale,” he said.

Williams asked the candidates if they were willing to name development projects that they think the town should push back against.

Corey cited the Paramount Theatre restoration and redevelopment project, where owners Lester and Trent Woerner originally proposed to build four multi-story townhouses and an underground parking garage where there is currently a parking lot adjacent to the historic theater building. The theater was to be renovated for new uses including a private club and two restaurants.

“I think that project is completely beyond the pale,” Corey said.

The Woerners recently dropped those plans after bumping into opposition from the public and council members concerned about building heights and traffic in the already congested area.

Moran named the Paramount Theatre and the Wells Fargo Bank Site, where the Frisbie Group has proposed a major residential redevelopment that council members have said needs to be scaled back. In both cases, Moran said, the developers “are just asking for too much.”

The Woerners recently resubmitted plans that call for expanding the proposed social club to 475 members. (The building is currently used for retail and office space. Tenants include the Civic Association and Palm Beach Police & Fire Foundation).

Corey said the question for the town is whether the 475-member club would intensify use of the theater site and worsen traffic congestion. “If there’s any intensification of that site, I can’t go for it,” he said.

Moran said the issue is less about the membership and more about the number of seats the town would allow to limit use of the site at any given time. “If you have an event space and you allow 100 seats, I’m going to expect that amount of cars,” she said.

Williams asked each candidate to explain in 15 seconds why voters should select them over their opponent.

“I’ve been here longer,” Moran replied. “I’m more qualified. I know the town better. I’ve been working to invest in it. I hang out at Town Council. I find this stuff fun.”

Corey responded by referring to his founding of Palm Beach Walks, then said, “My experience and my proactive, roll-up-my-sleeves, get-things-done approach.”

Moran lives on Dunbar Road with her husband, Tim Moran, a retired business executive who is president and co-founder of the Palm Beach Police & Fire Foundation.

Corey lives on Australian Avenue with his husband, Miguel Rosales, an architect and bridge designer.

You can watch the full forum video here.

 

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