The five Democrats seeking their party’s nomination to two City Council seats spent two hours at Clark Elementary School Monday answering questions about several topics, including accessory apartments, leadership, and the Human Rights Commission.
The Belmont-Carlton Neighborhood Association sponsored the forum, which also featured the two candidates for Commonwealth’s Attorney.
One question from the audience gave the candidates a chance to weigh in on the city’s desire for increased residential density.
“We have a set of ordinances… which restrict homeowners from developing apartments in their own home,” said Belmont resident Rob Craighurst. “Could we reduce some of these restrictions?”
“I would support some sort of a permitting process because I think it could get out of hand,” said incumbent Kristin Szakos. “Generally when people are renting to somebody who will be living in the same building as them, they tend to rent responsibly.”
Wes Bellamy said the city has to be careful to protect students and other low-income residents from landlords. He lived with five of his friends in a six bedroom house while at South Carolina State University.
“One of the things I found out after I graduated was that the mortgage on that house was $900, but he was charging us $500 a room,” Bellamy said. “We don’t want landlord sharks, so we have to make sure we have some kind of limitation on it.”
Bob Fenwick said that each neighborhood should have the power to determine if it wants additional density in the form of accessory apartments.
“The Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association just recently voted to [rezone] to R1-U designation,” Fenwick said. “That’s probably something the [BCNA] can address as an organization.”
Fenwick also said that fees charged by Neighborhood Development Services are too high and are stunting economic development.
Melvin Grady said he has weathered harsh economic times by renting his basement to a cousin.
“I live in Charlottesville, I work, I served in the military, and I can barely afford to live here,” Grady said. “I agree with the right to [have accessory apartments] with permits.”
“The fewer restrictions that you have on your property, the more things you’ll be able to do with that property to everyone’s benefit,” said Adam Lees.
Filmmaker Brian Wimer pressed the candidates to explain what new ideas they would bring to Council.
“I rely on you guys to come in with a vision because if you are going to rely on people coming to you, then you’re just going to be representing the squeakiest wheel and that’s not democracy,” Wimer said.
“The very first thing that should be done tomorrow is to increase pre-Kindergarten education,” Grady said. “If you want to close the achievement gap and raise scores up, then have the children start earlier in preschool.”
“A one-way street is not how you have a vision for this city,” Lees said. “There needs to be a constant dialogue.”
“The big one is eliminating generational poverty,” said Kristin Szakos. “I think we have the resources at the University of Virginia and a strong economy… I don’t think you can stop all poverty, but the fact that you’re born poor in this community shouldn’t mean you grow up poor.”
Bellamy said he would work to implement the visions of entrepreneur Toan Nguyen, the owner of C-Ville Coffee.
“He has the Community Investment Collaborative and he has a new program called C’ville Central and what they do is hook individuals up to a peer network who can connect them to people who will train them,” Bellamy said.
Fenwick said he would rather be a representative, because he could implement other people’s ideas. For instance, he pointed to the campaign last year by local residents to get the Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority to use of granular activated carbon instead of adding chloramines to purify drinking water.
Fenwick said businesses looking to relocate here will find we have “the best and cleanest water in the state.”
The Democratic primary is on June 11. The deadline to register to vote is May 20.
The two Republicans running for Council, Mike Farruggio and Buddy Weber, will be invited before the BCNA in the fall.
Charlottesville Tomorrow and The Daily Progress will hold a city council candidate forum for the Democrats seeking election beginning at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 16 at the African-American Heritage Center at the Jefferson School. Doors will open at 6 p.m.