Independent candidate Ralph Frey is running to represent Ward 7 on Conshohocken’s Borough Council. His opponent is incumbent Colleen Leonard (D) who is the council’s president. We emailed both candidates a set of questions with the promise to not edit them in any way. Below are Frey’s responses.
Leonard has not yet responded (the email with the questions stated we planned to publish responses on November 2nd). The election is on November 7th.
Why made you want to run for office?
The first part of that answer would be my desire to be further involved in our community. I’ve lived here for 13 years with my wife Sarah and two daughters, Quinn (7) and Willa (4). We’ve planted our family roots here, and I’d love to help make the neighborhood even better than it is today. The second part of that answer is to see if there’s any desire, for a borough that’s one square mile and broken up into seven small wards, to move away from party politics and towards a governing body that holds zero interest in anything other than representing what the people of their ward want. I believe we have a unique opportunity, since the size of each ward is relatively small, to truly reflect the will of the population you’re elected to represent. That will be achieved through direct communication with as many of the residents of my ward as possible.
I’ve been out door knocking over the past month, and I can say that this process shouldn’t be a once every four years practice. In order to improve direct communication, I’d commit to doing this process once a year to get feedback on how everyone thinks I’m doing or to better understand what issues people care about.
What do you feel is the biggest issue in Ward 7 and how would you address it if you are elected?
From my experience going door to door, the people I’ve met have listed several issues.
One is the overdevelopment of our area and the related traffic issues. The resolution in 2022 to limit residential building on the riverfront was a step forward and a positive one. We now need to remain consistent on it and prioritize the very real concerns of traffic safety for our families over the development of additional housing.
The second issue people have brought up to me is understanding why the council voted in a particular direction. One example would be the beerfest not being held in our ward. Some people are still unclear as to why it was voted down and would like more explanation around it.
My goal in running a fully self-funded campaign as an independent is to have the ability to provide full transparency to the people of the seventh ward on every vote I make without any outside considerations.
In 2022, the borough council voted to remove residential uses from the zoning districts encompassing the riverfront. Do you believe this was the correct decision or would you like to see more residential density within the borough?
Yes, I do believe it was correct, now we just need to remain consistent on that and prioritize traffic safety over the development of new housing. The recent Septa request for a developer who can explore building additional multi-family apartments is concerning given the vote in 2022. My hope is that council will give some clarity on the boroughs position and the project.
The legislative intent of the Residential Office District that was adopted in 2001 (and amended in 2005) was to “encourage the retention and preservation of existing Victorian and early 20th Century residences by permitting residential uses and conditionally allowing limited office conversions. Furthermore, it is the intent of this Part to maintain the existing residential streetscape of upper Fayette Street through regulations that allow these conversions only when front facades and porches are preserved and if building additions and parking areas are not constructed in the front yards.”
Are you concerned that the proposed “Main Street Overlay Draft Ordinance” if adopted as it is currently written could result in the loss of the facades and porches that exist along Fayette Street in the 7th Ward?
Any issue that impacts the character of our neighborhood deserves to be publicly discussed. Based on the council meeting I attended on 11/1 my understanding of the overlay is that the intent will be for the upper avenues to maintain those types of structures.
What was your opinion on the controversary over a proposed Wawa on Fayette Street in the 7th Ward?
The issue of Wawa was one of zoning; the area was never zoned for that use. In addition, speaking with my neighbors throughout the ward, there were concerns about additional traffic and new safety issues relating to a 24-hour gas station. Due to the proposed diesel pumps, it would have also brought more truck traffic to a heavily residential area. I’m in agreement with the consensus of my neighbors that Wawa was not the best option for that space.
In addition, our town is special because of all the amazing small businesses that we have on Fayette. Having a Wawa there could negatively impact those business owners as well as our residents.
The Conshohocken Beer Festival was held at A. A. Garthwaite Stadium in Ward 7. If elected, would you consider allowing it back?
I personally attended the event and live two blocks from the stadium. I never had any issues during the weekend of the event regarding trash, fights, etc., and as the father of two little kids, if that was an issue, I would have spoken up. While door knocking, I spoke with neighbors who wanted to understand why it was voted down, as their experiences were largely positive as well.
If elected, I would be all for the council having a public discussion regarding Beerfest and its future in the borough and our ward.
As with any issue, my goal is to try and reflect as closely as possible the consensus of the people of the 7th ward, and that would include any proposal for Beerfest returning.
What steps can the Borough of Conshohocken take to ensure that the office market in Conshohocken stays healthy during an overall period of decline coming off the pandemic and the popularity of working from home?
This is an issue that is not unique to Conshohocken. Many cities are adapting through hybrid approaches such as multi-use office and retail space. In our borough, it’s important to consider design and character when approaching a solution to these challenges. But above all, it’s the opinion of our neighbors that should matter most when offering any solution to a larger-scale issue.
What is one thing you hope to achieve over four years if you are elected to office?
If elected, I hope to inspire others to move away from party politics for borough governance. This area has a unique opportunity to show that we can operate in a space that has leaders of our community able to reflect the will of the people of the ward they represent with zero outside considerations other than your neighbors.
As this is your first campaign, what have you learned on the campaign trail that you didn’t expect?
When going door to door, I’ve met people who have been here for as long as 70 years and as little as 7 months. Running a fully self-funded, independent campaign can leave you feeling like an outsider and unsure of what the response will be when you knock on that door. But I can say nearly every person I spoke with (close to 300 residents of the 7th ward to date) has been interested and receptive to the idea of someone with no political affiliation being on council.
I can say I didn’t expect that, but to be honest, the people who live in this small area we call home are so amazing, I should have expected it.