Monday, January 30, 2023

City Council Candidates Q&A: Benming Zhang

Benming "Benny" Zhang, a senior at the College of William & Mary, is running for City Council.
Benming “Benny” Zhang, a senior at the College of William & Mary, is running for City Council. (Nicole Trifone/WYDaily)

WYDaily sent an identical questionnaire to each candidate running for City Council.

Benming Zhang, a senior at the College of William & Mary, is among a field of five candidates vying for three seats on council.

Zhang’s answers are unedited and presented below.

The election takes place May 3.

Read a completed questionnaire from the other candidates:

1. What do you feel are the three major issues facing the City of Williamsburg right now? What are your ideas on how to address those issues?

Our three biggest City issues are affordability, both in housing and cost of living, job opportunities, and long term investment of our resources. We need to address affordability in Williamsburg so it will continue to be a destination for all who want to enjoy the wonderful amenities our city offers. The next City Council needs to specifically focus on housing affordability in order to attract young professionals that will help move Williamsburg forward.

Creating more job opportunities is imperative to this goal. Diversifying our economy will produce more opportunities that will attract citizens from all walks of life to Williamsburg. City Council also needs to be mindful of where we direct taxpayer dollars and how we use our limited land. Our current investment must look towards the future to assure our quality city services remain that way amidst a growing and aging population.

2. Talk about the relationship between the city and college and what changes, if any, you would like to see. How can you achieve those changes through City Council?

We definitely need to strengthen the city’s relationship with the College, but not just with the administration. One of City Council’s main jobs is listening to constituents, but they have largely overlooked students in the past. We should strive to bring Williamsburg city officials to campus to ensure students have proper representation. I want to bring the police chief, city manager, and other administrators to campus town halls to start important conversations necessary to our growth as a community. Instituting programs like these on William & Mary’s campus will better town-gown relations.

3. What is your vision for the Arts District? What steps need to be taken to achieve your vision?

Unfortunately City Council lost sight of the original goals for the Arts District. I plan to make it a more vibrant area of the city, providing a place besides downtown for residents and tourists to enjoy Williamsburg. To achieve this goal, we need to be bold in our approach to land use in the Arts District and creative with our development. We should include the redevelopment of the Williamsburg Shopping Center and Super 8 Motel in our discussions of how to create a better Arts District. Another specific way we can attract more attention to the area is by exploring the idea of student-run, co-op businesses with William & Mary.

Specifically, student art galleries and “creative enterprise” businesses will improve the Arts District by increasing foot traffic to the area. Co-ops are a great way to showcase the character of Williamsburg as an academic and artistic city. They are, however, just one suggestion. To properly develop the Arts District, City Council needs to involve the whole of the community to decide exactly what should be there. This will ensure we have an attractive District that is more than just statues on a field.

4. Members of the James City County Board of Supervisors have not been in agreement regarding the need for a fourth middle school in Williamsburg-James City County Schools; the current City Council members agree there is a need. Do you believe the school division should move forward with its plans? Explain.

The Williamsburg-James City School District needs a fourth middle school to continue providing its quality of education to our students. City Council should continue to provide the resources for the WJCC Board to do its job and also continue to collaborate with JCC supervisors on this project. The City of Williamsburg benefits greatly from a fourth middle school. I have full faith in our representatives on the School Board to represent the city’s interests and I support their mission to sustain a first-class school system.

5. The city has made building and implementing redevelopment strategies a priority. How much influence should City Council have in reshaping select corridors in the city? What tools are available to the city and how should they be used?

Our corridors are vital to the City’s well-being. They provide the first impressions on our City’s character for visitors, tourists, incoming students, and residents. We want that impression to be a positive one. I will take a flexible approach to zoning, specifically by considering more special land use designations. We need to revitalize each corridor, specifically considering the expertise of the individuals who work and live in each area. The Northeast Triangle focus group took a step in the right direction by engaging local business leaders and residents living in that area. Council needs to continue to collaborate with our local leaders and residents and make redevelopment a more open process.

6. In what ways should City Council support local efforts to spur tourism to the area?

Designated tourism zones are an excellent way to encourage development of our tourism economy. Tourism-zones give tax breaks to certain businesses to allow them to reinvest in their growth. I also want to see continued cooperation with the Greater Williamsburg Chamber & Tourism Alliance, as well as Colonial Williamsburg and the tourism industry to regrow our tourism economy to pre-recession levels. I will encourage programs, like the marketing campaigns put on by the Chamber and CW, to work towards this goal. Ultimately, this will grow our tourism revenue and attract businesses that benefit the entire community.

7. Name specific goals you would like to set for City Council to achieve over the next four years.

I want to see City Council increase transparency, involve more citizens, and fill more empty property over the next four years. A more inclusive government, in part, means allowing our community to see how we govern. Over the next four years City Council should work to televise our Architectural Review Board meetings and Economic Development Authority meetings to create a more open environment.

As a city councilman, I will be proactive by reaching out to all parts of our community to gain their input on the issues that matter. The new City Council needs to involve a greater number of our citizens in the Goals, Initiatives, and Outcomes planning process. I will explore innovative ways to actively seek public input. Council should be as informed as possible by a variety of community perspectives.

I want to create a more vibrant Williamsburg, but that cannot happen with so many vacant spaces. City Council needs to implement policies that will attract a more diverse and more sustainable group of businesses. We should garner input from local business leaders, regional authorities, and citizen interests to further development in Greater Williamsburg. l want to see City Council doing whatever it takes to ensure our limited space is being used to its full potential. I will work to achieve our goal of making Williamsburg a more vibrant city.

Related Articles