The four candidates seeking three seats on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors took questions about environmental issues Thursday from the Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club.
Three of the county’s six magisterial districts are up for election on Nov. 7, but only the Samuel Miller race is contested.
“I would like to introduce myself to you as an environmentalist,” said Republican John Lowry, who is running against incumbent Democrat Liz Palmer. “We know our planet is severely challenged. There is too much stress on the environment.”
Palmer, who was elected in 2013, said she moved here in the mid-1990’s and was concerned about the environmental damage she saw in the area’s streams and waterways.
“I got very involved very quickly with trying to upgrade our facilities,” Palmer said, adding that she served on the Albemarle County Service Authority in order to help make decisions to improve water and sewer quality in the community.
Democrat Ned Gallaway is running unopposed in the Rio District following Brad Sheffield’s decision not to seek a second term.
Thursday was the first time Gallaway has appeared at a candidate forum this election cycle. He was elected to the Albemarle School Board in 2011.
“My passion has always been education, so that’s one of my primary issues,” Gallaway said. “I felt like Brad Sheffield was doing the right things to prepare our county and felt I could continue that and that’s why I stepped up.”
Democrat Diantha McKeel also is running unopposed for her second term representing the Jack Jouett District. McKeel said she has lived in the district for 41 years and served 16 years on the Albemarle school board before being elected as a supervisor in 2013.
“My highest priority is to lift the quality of life for our citizens,” McKeel said.
McKeel added that she believes that environmental protection and economic development are not mutually exclusive. She said she wants to work with the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission to prepare for climate change.
The first question asked if the candidates felt that increased population growth is good for Albemarle County. The Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia projects the population will increase from an estimated 105,715 in 2016 to 148,337 in 2045.
“I think it is bad if we don’t plan for the population growth," Gallaway said. "It’s contingent on those who serve in public office to understand that and then prepare.”
McKeel said the county has been increasing by between 1,200 and 1,500 people a year.
“That kind of growth is sustainable if we have growth management practices in place,” she said, adding that the county’s designated growth area must provide services that keep people from spilling over into the rural area.
Palmer responded that more people does mean more environmental impact.
“On a positive note, a larger population provides a critical mass for more entertainment and educational opportunities,” Palmer said, adding that the General Assembly will not allow localities to cap their populations.
“We do have to balance the needs of the people with the needs of the environment to sustain our needs for the future.”
Lowry said that increased growth may not happen due to controversies and protests over the summer related to Confederate statues in the city of Charlottesville.
“Some of that increase that we would have had isn’t going to happen,” Lowry said. “Some people that would have moved here will not because of our damaged reputation.”
Lowry said growth allows for better schools and more services for residents but only with wise stewardship from county leaders.
Candidates also were asked whether the county’s courts should be moved out of downtown Charlottesville, and what such a move might mean for the environment.
“The first option is to stay downtown and that is my preferred option,” Lowry said, but he added that the county should hire more staff to study the idea of moving rather than hire a consultant.
Gallaway said he has not made up his mind.
“There is still information to be learned so that issue will be ongoing,” Gallaway said. “The concern should be whether we are doing the right things to mitigate the environmental impacts.”
McKeel voted to study the possibility of moving the courts and the county’s administrative offices into the county, but she is awaiting further information from consultants hired to study the issue. There would be environmental benefits to moving, she said.
“We would probably move them to a mixed-use center where the county’s population center is,” McKeel said. “That would reduce the city’s traffic congestion and offer the opportunity to construct a new transit hub.”
McKeel said that a trolley line could be run between the two court systems in order to reduce the number of people driving alone.
Palmer voted against the study and said she believes any investment in the court system should bolster the justice system and not be about economic development.
“It’s clear to me with talking with those who work in our justice system… that colocation with the city is really important,” Palmer said. “Moving the courts has not been shown to save money.”
Candidates also were grilled on how the county can increase recycling efforts, how the city and county can better work together on environmental issues and how transportation can be improved in the community.
The next forum for the Albemarle supervisor candidates will be held by the Senior Statesmen of Virginia at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 11 at the Senior Center. However, only Lowry and Palmer have been invited because they are in the only contested race.
The candidates in the two contested Albemarle School Board races will be present. Katrina Callsen and Mary McIntyre are competing to replace Pam Moynihan in the Rio District. Julian Waters is seeking to unseat incumbent Graham Paige in the Samuel Miller District.
TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:
01:00 - Opening statement from John Lowry, Republican candidate for Samuel Miller District
02:45 - Opening statement from Liz Palmer, Democratic candidate for Samuel Miller District
04:35 - Opening statement from Ned Gallaway, Democratic candidate for Rio District
06:10 - Opening statement from Diantha McKeel, Democratic candidate for Jack Jouett District
08:00 - Question #1: Do you believe increased population growth is good for Albemarle County? Please explain your answer.
16:45 - Question #2: Do you support county membership in the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives and the Cool Counties program? Please explain.
24:40 - Question #3: How can Albemarle County incorporate recycling into the county's waste management program to ensure a higher rate of recycling?
33:10 - Question #4: Do you favor moving the Albemarle County court and office building into the county? If so, how would you mitigate the environmental impacts such as increased traffic and stormwater runoff?
41:40 - Question #5: How would you suggest Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville cooperate more effectively on environmental issues that impact both jurisidictions?
50:15: - Question #6: What is your vision for the future of transportation in Albemarle County and the city?
59:00 - Audience question #1: If some population growth pays for itself but harms the environment, should the environment come first?
1:03:40 - Audience question #2: Do you support the construction of additional cell towers on the campuses of more Albemarle County schools?
1:08:15 - Audience question #3: Animal agriculture is the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution. What does the county need to do better to deal with this growing problem?
1:12:50 - Audience question #4: Water restrictions due to drought conditions were declared today. How can the county prepare for population growth with a limited water supply?
1:17:10 - Audience question #5: What form of renewable energy has the largest potential to be expanded in Albemarle County?
01:21:45 - Closing statements