BURLINGTON — Burlington Mayor Jeannie Hefty, who’s running unopposed for re-election in April, is focused on growing the city’s industry and housing going into her next two-year term.
“I think you should always have growth of some sort in both areas,” she said. “I feel what Burlington has to offer now, with what we’re doing in the downtown and with the pool, people will be looking at Burlington very seriously.”
Hefty served as mayor from 1992 to 2000, then ran against then-mayor Robert Miller in 2016 and won.
During this most recent two-year term, she’s lead efforts to change the traffic light at the formerly troubled intersection of Pine Street and the Burlington bypass; started new downtown events such as Ice Festival and Fall Fest; spearheaded a Veterans Wall project in Echo Park; purchased new liquor licenses for the community; and helped get the ball rolling for the Burlington Community Aquatic Center, which is under construction at the former Community Pool site on Amanda Street and is set to open in May.
Hefty also led the emergency response and recovery efforts after the city experienced a once-in-100-years flood last summer. Fortunately, she and other emergency officials had undergone Federal Emergency Management Agency training just two months earlier.
“You can never get enough education,” she said. “I don’t care what you’re in.”
Drawing young people
Hefty said the motivation behind the festivals, liquor licenses and the pool project is to draw more young people to the community. She said that in conversations with new teachers at Burlington Area School District or graduating seniors, she’s learned that young people like that Burlington is a safe community, but they want more activities.
“We need to attract young adults to Burlington because they’re our future,” she said.
Hefty also believes the city has been to some degree stagnant and needs some new development.
“I feel you have to have some new growth of some form,” she said. “You have to have something new.”
Preparing for Foxconn
Now Hefty is facing the task of preparing Burlington for the arrival of the new Foxconn plant, which will employ an estimated 13,000 people and draw possibly hundreds of subsidiaries to the area.
Earlier in 2017, before it was announced that Foxconn would build in Mount Pleasant, the City of Burlington and property owners surrounding the Burlington Manufacturing and Office Park — just off Highway 83 on the city’s far south side — started developing a plan for expanding the business park, including mixed-use and residential development.
Since Foxconn’s plans were announced the BMOP project, which is going before the Planning Commission for the second time on Tuesday, has put Burlington ahead of the game in Foxconn preparation.
“I want us to keep being ahead,” said Hefty. “So (I’m) really focusing on getting that development rolling so if we do get a knock on the door from one of the 200 suppliers that will be servicing Foxconn, we’re ready.”
City Administrator Carina Walters said the city has a long way to go before the business park expansion gets underway. Many of the properties are currently part of the Town of Burlington and would need to be annexed before being developed.
Still, Hefty said, there’s going to be a lot of activity around Burlington. She said property owners have been coming to her and other city officials saying they want to sell off acres of their property for residential development. But Hefty said she doesn’t think this growth will get too out of hand.
“When you redevelop, it doesn’t mean overloading the school systems or changing the look of your city,” she said. “I always will like that small-town, city look. But we have to be sensible about, where’s the level of growth we want. And I don’t think we’re anywhere near there.”