In advance of Election Day on November 5, Charlottesville Tomorrow will once again mail out in-depth nonpartisan voter guides, featuring exclusive one-on-one interviews with all the candidates for Albemarle County Board of Supervisors and Charlottesville City Council. In the weeks before the election, we will also feature their responses to important questions about their qualifications, priorities, and key quality of life issues so that our citizens can compare candidates’ answers and make an informed choice.
Charlottesville Tomorrow’s 2013 Election Center website features links to the full written transcript and audio of candidate interviews, copies of our 2013 voter guide, information on where to vote, and more. All the following passages are excerpts from our interviews.
CHARLOTTESVILLE CITY COUNCIL, FIRST IN A SERIES
Private developers and the University of Virginia are currently implementing a City Council vision of a more densely developed West Main Street that dates back to the early 2000’s. Do you support this vision? Why or why not?
I support a vision of diversity and smart growth in appropriate areas that’s not going to be to the detriment of the neighborhood. We have corridors in the city that are prepared for that density. West Main Street is one of them, Preston Avenue is another. To a lesser degree Cherry Avenue is another. Fontaine Avenue and High Street are two others that will roll into it, and of course not to mention Emmet Street as well.
Now, West Main Street is a perfect place to get this started and as we see, here it is 13 almost 14 years later we are getting some stuff done. Student housing I would like to see stay west of the Amtrak Station. As well as mixed development on that whole corridor all the way to University. We can’t exactly predict what is going to happen cause we have to let the free market do what it is going to do. But I do support it, we do need to be considering how we are going to have the zoning not impact the neighborhoods north and south of that. Westhaven, Tenth and Page, Fifeville, Starr Hill, need to be protected at all costs. As I said earlier, neighborhoods cannot be damaged because of what is going on. So they need to be taken into consideration. Smart growth I call it. So I do support that and I’m happy to see what is happening right now.
Well density by itself should not be the determining factor in the West Main Street improvement discussion. With a predetermined real estate footprint for Charlottesville, building or redevelopment vertically instead of horizontally makes sense, but the capacity of our roads, utilities, fire and rescue capabilities should be considered as well. But perhaps the primary factor, not just density, but the nature of our community, a small Virginia town where people matter first, where the charm of our community is the biggest selling point. I think that is very important and that cannot be lost in this discussion.
Kristin Szakos (D-Charlottesville) * Incumbent
I do support the vision of targeted density. If we want to support viable transit, if we want to support affordable housing, if we want to really protect the surrounding rural environment by having more dense urban development rather than two acre lots all over the countryside, we need to have planned targeted development within the city.
The one concern I have on West Main is that the vision for West Main wasn’t just to have a lot of student housing along West Main. It was really looking at more of a mixed-use businesses and mixed income housing, with more of a community feel to it and a business feel to it. So the two projects that have sprung up at the western end of West Main Street are pretty much student housing....So as we look at developing the rest of West Main Street I want to make sure that we balance that, and don’t have it just be an extension of dorms up towards downtown.
I think some of the neighborhoods on both sides of West Main Street, across the tracks behind the hospital, and over on the other side in the Tenth and Page neighborhood have had a lot of impact from lack of development there. A lot of the rents have been driven up because students are renting in those neighborhoods. People subdivide the houses into apartments which makes parking a problem, people from the surrounding University offices and the hospital are parking in those neighborhoods so people have a hard time parking in front of their houses. There have been noise issues for the neighborhoods there. So I want to make sure the development we have along West Main incorporates the needs of that surrounding community, and makes it part of the city and not just a tunnel of development.
I absolutely do and I can tell you that it probably dates back earlier than 2000. I have seen studies on West Main going back to the 70s. Everybody’s been trying to figure out what to do with West Main Street, nobody seemed to know what to do. But about 10 years ago is when we rewrote the zoning ordinance and as I said West Main was one of the main corridors we talked about….The West Main corridor is particularly important because it really links UVa to the downtown area. It’s a natural link that should be there and should always be there. It’s nice to see the development going up now. If there are students living there, they can turn left and go to UVa and turn right and go to the Downtown Mall. Everything’s within walking distance as opposed to forcing a lot of students to live on the outskirts of the city that have to drive their cars in. I support that.
When I helped rewrite the zoning ordinance one of my major concerns was the boundaries between higher density on the corridors and the adjacent neighborhoods. If you look at the way they do development in the county they’ve got lots of green space and they build in natural buffers between their residential neighborhoods and the business areas so that nobody bumps right up against the back of a restaurant that’s dumping their garbage. We don’t have that luxury here so we have to be very careful about how we deal with those kind of boundaries. I know that right now the people in Westhaven are feeling like the development on West Main is shutting them out.
That gets back to my issues on the public housing. We have isolated those communities and they are feeling like this development is going to further isolate them and they are not part of that community. There is not an easy path or an easy access for them to be a part of that Main Street development. I think that needs to be addressed. So, yes I support the development. I have always thought West Main was ripe for this kind of corridor between UVa and Charlottesville and I have never understood why we didn’t get it sooner, and maybe it’s just the time is right. But we need to take a look at the neighborhoods that are nearby there and make sure they are not shut out.