Candidate Q&A: West Lafayette City Council Districts 2, 3, 4
Candidate Q&As with Democrats Michelle Dennis, Colin Lee and Larry Leverenz, all running unopposed for three West Lafayette City Council seats.
Democrats Michelle Dennis, Colin Lee and Larry Leverenz are running unopposed for seats on the West Lafayette City Council in the Nov. 7 election.
Leverenz and Lee are incumbents in Districts 4 and 3. Dennis is running for a District 2, where council member Peter Bunder is not running for re-election.
Early voting started Tuesday, Oct. 24.
Here, the candidates discuss their approach to the four-year position.
For more: Find bios of each candidate, along with a city council district map and information about where and when to vote at the end of this article.
Why are you running?
Michelle Dennis, District 2: I grew up in West Lafayette and my son is now the third generation to go through the West Lafayette school system, so this community is very important to me. I’ve become more involved through different boards, while also having a pretty amazing role model for community involvement through my dad. So, when Peter Bunder approached me about his retirement from city council and running for his empty seat, the timing seemed right. Additionally, the district I represent (comprised of near-campus neighborhoods) is undergoing a lot of pressure right now in terms of development and short- and long-term rentals and I want to be a part of the discussion. Not to mention, I think we need more women in local government.
Colin Lee, District 3: I grew up in another college city and have seen the importance of a city and university working together for planning and development. West Lafayette offers a unique opportunity for student involvement in local government with its District 3 seat.
Larry Leverenz, District 4: This will be my third term as District 4 Councilor. It’s an exciting time to be involved in city government. We’ve seen growth that is unprecedented over the past few years. That growth includes not only student enrollment at Purdue, but growth in the general population of the city. That growth is exciting, but it also comes with a challenge to the city. I want to help manage that growth so that the growth is appropriate and allows West Lafayette to stay the desirable place to live that it is.
How long have you lived in West Lafayette? And how did you land in the city?
Michelle Dennis, District 2: We moved here when I was still a baby, so I’ve lived here for nearly 39 years, with a few stints away for school. I was born in Ireland, and my parents moved to West Lafayette, my dad’s hometown, for work, as Ireland was going through a massive recession at the time.
Colin Lee, District 3: I have lived in West Lafayette since I started attending Purdue in August of last year.
Larry Leverenz, District 4: I’ve lived in West Lafayette since 1991, so for 32 years. I’ve been in the same house in a great neighborhood for that whole time. Purdue was the reason I left the University of Iowa and came here. The position I had at Purdue was a combination of Clinical Professor and Director of Athletic Training Education and Clinical Athletic Trainer for Purdue Athletics. For 13 years, I was the athletic trainer for men’s basketball. I also worked with ootball, baseball, tennis and women’s basketball before retiring in 2017.
Name two of your top priorities for the district. And how will you handle them?
Michelle Dennis, District 2: The top priority is balancing the demands of developers and neighbors. The city has a housing shortage for both students and families that is particularly felt in District 2. I will work with APC and BZA to see what options we have to have more influence on planning decisions, while also working with the city to develop measures (policies, plans and incentives) that help to implement our vision of what the district could become. This ties into my second priority: community-building. If we want more families to live here, we need to make it a place they want to live. I would work with city departments and neighbors to identify ways to incentivize permanent residents buying homes in the district.
Colin Lee, District 3: My main priority for my district is to strengthen the relationship between Purdue and the city and maintain open channels of communication. I have already met once with the Purdue student trustee to start developing that relationship. Another main priority currently is finding a solution to the Veo scooter issue. Many students rely on these scooters for transportation around campus, but it is important that we find a way to continue to allow scooters but also be able to ensure they are not left cluttering and blocking sidewalks and roadways potentially leading to hazardous conditions or ADA issues.
Larry Leverenz, District 4: The two top issues, and, therefore, priorities, for me are planned industrial growth and housing. These issues go hand-in-hand in that with industrial growth comes an increase in population and a need for housing. West Lafayette is desirable to high tech and research and development industries through the association with Purdue. We’ve seen that with Saab and Rolls-Royce. We will have the possibility of other similar industries coming to town. We can’t just open the door to whoever want to come here. We must make sure that our infrastructure and resources can handle the industry. Also, that industry will bring workers. We must make sure we have the housing to accommodate the increased population and provide them with the services we all now enjoy.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for the district? And how do you proposed to solve or deal with it?
Michelle Dennis, District 2: See above, re: housing
Colin Lee, District 3: District 3 is mostly made up of Purdue students. Since Purdue is a public university, taxes are not assessed. Additionally, the 2020 Census, which plays a key role in federal funding, set the city population at 49,668, despite there being approximately 50,000 students attending Purdue. The majority of Purdue students were not considered residents of the city. As a result, it is important that we find ways to generate funds to offset the loss of revenue.
Larry Leverenz, District 4: The greatest immediate challenge for West Lafayette is growth. The growth we’re seeing is a good thing in that it brings business and a strong economy to the city, but it must be growth at a speed that matches our resources, our schools and our infrastructure. It, also, must be appropriate to the environment of West Lafayette. Therefore, the developers and the city need to work together to bring appropriate business, industry and housing to locations and in a way that allows West Lafayette to retain its desired qualities.
How well do you think the city has handled issues of available and affordable housing? What is the most pressing issue related to housing and how would you address it?
Michelle Dennis, District 2: The city has done a good job of increasing high-density housing near campus to move students in this direction and make more homes available to families. Purdue is also stepping up here. Currently, the most pressing issue is short-term rentals (Airbnbs). We’re land-locked and losing available homes to short-term rentals. And, our current option of the city and neighbors letting the BZA (who determines each of these permits) know that we don’t want them increasing in key family-driven neighborhoods isn’t working. I would work with the city, its legal team, city council and the local planning organizations to develop policy infrastructure that allows us to have more decision-making authority in these situations.
Colin Lee, District 3: This depends on how affordable housing is defined. If we look at low-income affordable housing, then our role would be to work with developers in the application process to make sure the housing corresponds with city needs and development. If we look at private developers, I would be reluctant to incentivize private investments that do not result in sustained jobs and revenue sources for the city.
Larry Leverenz, District 4: Affordable housing is an issue throughout the county. In West Lafayette, we have the issue of affordable housing for students and, also, for the general population. For students, the increase in available housing is evident with the construction of the new apartment buildings close to campus. Additionally, Purdue is building a new residence hall as well as purchasing space in current buildings to help alleviate the housing shortage among students. With all of that, though, the cost of student housing will not go down until the demand is met or exceeded. For those families moving to West Lafayette, the problem is similar. Supply and demand will dictate much of the market. Therefore, the city must work with developers to build safe and desirable affordable housing on the available land within the city limits. Most of that availability is along the U.S. 231 corridor.
What, if anything, should the city do about the Indiana Economic Development Corp.’s plans to build a water pipeline from Tippecanoe County to feed developments in Boone County and in communities along the 35-mile route?
Michelle Dennis, District 2: I should say that first, I’m not against the LEAP District in theory. I see the benefits it could bring West Lafayette and Purdue by providing a key anchor to the Hard Tech Corridor between West Lafayette and Indy. Nevertheless, I am confident that we — at the city or state level — don’t have enough data to support carte-blanche the proposed water pipeline. And, unfortunately, it’s a minefield when it comes to managing water resources in Indiana. I hope that the recent resolution passed by City Council shows the state that more research, planning and local engagement has to be done to effectively design LEAP and manage our water resources long-term. Depending on how cooperative the state/IEDC becomes, it’s also not clear what if any recourse the city has on this. It would be great for the city to find a way to have a seat at the table in these discussions and analyses moving forward.
Colin Lee, District 3: I personally am against the plans for the pipeline, but to my understanding, the city does not have any real say in the IEDC's plans to build the pipeline. We can do our best to ensure that the opinions of the people are heard and be open to listen to possible solutions for the issue, but other than that, we do not have any control over the pipeline. The city may have to consider lobbying at the Statehouse to get the legislature or administration to assist communities like West Lafayette in protecting their natural resources.
Larry Leverenz, District 4: West Lafayette and its citizens should keep a close watch on the development of this project. Transparency has not been a hallmark of the IEDC and this project, so we must make sure we know what is happening and when. Both the city and its citizens should be writing their legislators to let the them know that the legislature doesn’t have the information needed to make an informed decision on the long-term effect and consequences of pumping millions of gallons of water out of the ground for the next 50-plus years. Bottom line, we need to keep talking as loud as we can about it!
Rate the city’s relationship with Purdue. What, if anything, should be or could be done to improve it?
Michelle Dennis, District 2: I think it’s better than it’s ever been, and efforts such as the Joint Board are helping to ensure university and city goals and projects align. Beyond finding ways to have continued, open dialogue with university leadership, I think we’re better off than most university towns.
Colin Lee, District 3: I have not lived in West Lafayette long enough to fully understand the history of the relationship between the city and Purdue, but I want to focus on making sure the relationship is strong moving forward. As mentioned above, I have already met with the Purdue student trustee and will be committed to continue to work on strengthening the relationship in the future.
Larry Leverenz, District 4: Right now, I believe the city has a good relationship with Purdue. Both Purdue and West Lafayette have the mechanism in place to regularly meet and discuss issues. We may disagree on some items, but we have the communication structure in place to work any differences out.
West Lafayette will have a new mayor for the first time in 16 years? What changes, if any, would you like to see in the city’s focus?
Michelle Dennis, District 2: Though I may be biased, I think the current mayor (my dad) has done a pretty darn good job, focusing on both responsible growth and quality of life. I’m very excited to work with Erin to build on that foundation.
Colin Lee, District 3: Again, being new to the city, I don't know entirely what the main focus has been in the past. As mentioned earlier, it is important for West Lafayette to help fund services for Purdue students despite not receiving federal funds or property tax revenue from Purdue. This is why the city and university must have a strong relationship so they can work together to find solutions for these issues.
Larry Leverenz, District 4: Mayor Dennis has led this city into a new era of growth and development. I want to see that continue and am confident it will under Mayor Easter. In working with Erin Easter in her role as director of development, I know she values the lifestyle of West Lafayette and works hard to bring new developments to the city while working with those developers to make their project fit the values of the city. The city is evolving. It’s one of the things that makes it an exciting place to live and work.
Name two specific things that separate you from your opponents and why they matter.
Michelle Dennis, District 2: n/a
Colin Lee, District 3: I am running unopposed.
Larry Leverenz, District 4: I don’t have an opponent, but I think I’ve expressed my concern for planned growth and development while retaining the “feel” we’ve all grown to love in West Lafayette. Protecting our resources, maintaining our services, and providing the environment that is West Lafayette are my priorities.
Occupation: Principal Project Manager, Purdue Office of Research
Education: BS in Management, Purdue University; BA in English, Indiana University; MA in Modern Literature, University College Dublin
Past elected positions, if any: none
Community boards or other community service: Area Plan Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals, Bauer Family Services Board of Directors
Immediate family: Son, Jonathan, 7 years old
Your campaign site online: n/a
Education: Sophomore majoring in Biochemistry at Purdue
Past elected positions, if any: none
Community boards or other community service: Founding member of the Sati-Babi Foundation, a not-for-profit targeting food insecurities
Immediate family: Jill and Chou-il Lee (mother and father)
Your campaign site online: No website
Occupation: Professor Emeritus of Health & Kinesiology, Purdue University
Education: PhD, University of Iowa
Past elected positions, if any: West Lafayette Common Council, 2015, 2019
Community boards or other community service: Tippecanoe County Area Plan Commission, Tippecanoe Board of Zoning Appeals, West Lafayette Police Merit Commission, St. Andrew UMC Lay Leader
Immediate family: Widowed, no children
Your campaign site online: n/a
ABOUT THE NOV. 7 MUNICIPAL ELECTION
WHERE TO VOTE AHEAD OF NOV. 7: Early voting started Tuesday, Oct. 24. Here are the times and locations. Voters should bring a valid ID.
8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 24,-Friday, Oct. 27: Tippecanoe County Office Building, 20 N. Third St., Lafayette.
8 a.m.-noon, Saturday, Oct. 28: Clarks Hill Christian Church, 9510 Pearl St., Clarks Hill.
8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 30-Friday, Nov. 3: Tippecanoe County Office Building, 20 N. Third St., Lafayette
Noon-6 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 2-Friday, Nov. 3: West Lafayette City Hall, 222 N. Chauncey Ave.; Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds, 1406 Teal Road, Lafayette; First Church of the Nazarene, 3801 Union St., Lafayette.
9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4: West Lafayette City Hall, 222 N. Chauncey Ave.; Tippecanoe County Office Building, 20 N. Third St., Lafayette; First Church of the Nazarene, 3801 Union St., Lafayette.
8 a.m.-noon Monday, Nov. 6: Tippecanoe County Office Building, 20 N. Third St., Lafayette.
ELECTION DAY POLLING PLACES: Polls will be open 6 a.m-6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 7. Registered voters in Tippecanoe County may use any vote center.
West Lafayette Wellness Center, 1101 Kalberer Road
Faith West Community Center, 1920 Northwestern Ave.
West Lafayette City Hall, 222 N. Chauncey Ave.
Evangelical Covenant Church, 3600 S. Ninth St., Lafayette
Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds, 1406 Teal Road, Lafayette
Northend Community Center, 2000 Elmwood Ave., Lafayette
Christ United Methodist Church, 3610 S. 18th St., Lafayette
First Church of the Nazarene, 3801 Union St., Lafayette
Gathering Point Church, 7201 Wesleyan Drive, Dayton
ON THE NOV. 7 BALLOT: Get a full list of candidates here.
CHECK YOUR VOTER REGISTRATION STATUS AND THE CANDIDATES ON YOUR SPECIFIC BALLOT: Go to the Secretary of State’s portal at www.indianavoters.com.
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