On September 27, 2017, the six candidates for the Charlottesville City Council took questions on traffic, affordable housing and how the city should respond to increased growth in Albemarle County’s southern growth area.
“There are a lot of profound and emotional issues that we’re addressing but there’s also some very mundane issues about running the city on a daily basis so we tried to get to a bit of both of that with these questions,” said Brian Becker, president of the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association.
That group joined with the Johnson Village Neighborhood Association to hold the forum which was held at Johnson Elementary School.
The first question asked candidates to explain how they would address traffic concerns.
“Neighborhood traffic concerns such as a speeding and not yielding to pedestrians at crosswalk… can be brought before the city and we can strengthen our laws to hasten the passing of new laws and ordinances,” said independent candidate John Edward Hall, a resident of the Fry’s Spring neighborhood.
Hall also said the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization can also play a role.
Democrat Heather Hill is president of the North Downtown Neighborhood Association. She said traffic concerns are a major issue among city residents and that city government is often unresponsive.
“There are gaps and inconsistencies in the way these concerns are reported, tracked and communicated,” Hill said. “There’s a lack of clear process for determining prioritization and getting resources assigned.”
Hill said she would increase the amount the city spends on new sidewalks from $200,000 to $400,000 a year.
Independent Kenneth Jackson is a native of Charlottesville and said Councilors need to go into neighborhoods to see the problem for themselves.
“Being born and raised here, I’ve watched our city streets become more like highways,” Jackson said. “Our City Council, and not just this one, have thrown up traffic-calming things that don’t work.”
Jackson said the city needs to better work with Albemarle and other surrounding counties to solve traffic problems but some of those solutions will be costly.
On the campaign trail, Democrat Amy Laufer said she has heard many people concerned about traffic that’s been generated by new developments in both the city and Albemarle County.
“It has caused congestion,” Laufer said. “If you drive through the city you see all of the development that’s going on. I’d be interested in hiring another [traffic engineer] and creating a clear process when complaints come in.”
Laufer said the city should combine forces with Albemarle County to apply for funding from the Virginia Department of Transportation for projects such as improvements for Sunset Avenue.
Before Independent Paul Long moved to the community in 1998, he worked to preserve transit service in a suburb of Philadelphia.
“Traffic has gotten ten times worse in the twenty years I have been living here,” Long said. “Charlottesville needs a public transit authority. There are too many cars. I’ve heard it expressed that the only people who use public transit are people who are too poor to buy a car. That attitude has to change.”
Long said Charlottesville can solve more of its problems if Virginia would allow its localities broader authority to raise taxes for more public transit. In 2009, the General Assembly declined a request to hold a referendum to fund a regional transit authority.
Independent Nikuyah Walker said City Council needs to listen to concerns and act to fix problems.
“I have had experience with public transportation and it not being friendly to individuals who are trying to use it as a mode of transportation,” Walker said. “It’s definitely something we can improve.”
Walker also said the city could also improve the coordination of traffic lights.
Candidates were also asked to share their thoughts on affordable housing.
Jackson said housing should be provided for people with extremely low incomes but not as a permanent solution.
“It also has to be a step to move people up and out,” Jackson said. “We have to get serious as a city government and work with agencies, nonprofits and religious organization to help make this happen.”
Jackson said builders are constructing too many “mansions” and not enough for people with more moderate incomes. He suggested the city should allow construction of “tiny homes” and modular housing.
Laufer said too many apartment buildings on West Main Street have been built for students and are too expensive.
“Unfortunately none of our people can live there,” Laufer said. “That [adds] to the congestion that we feel in our traffic. If we could have people living there, they wouldn’t have to be driving to UVa to work at the hospital or the university.”
Laufer said developers and builders should be required to construct affordable units rather pay into the Charlottesville Affordable Housing Fund.
Long said the city should require that all new residential development in the Strategic Investment Area should be created for below-market rates.
“I believe every single inch of vacant land should be reserved for affordable housing,” Long said, adding that the prices of these houses should be between $60,000 and $80,000.
Long said he hopes the federal government will eventually invest again in low-income housing but until then the city government must do what it can.
Walker pointed out that rent in a one-bedroom apartment in the new Beacon on 5th Street development starts at over $1,200. She said she is concerned that subsidized units at Friendship Court will disappear as the Piedmont Housing Alliance redevelops that property.
“We have to decide as a city what we want and whether want a strategic investment area or if we want housing that is equitable,” Walker said.
Walker said she is also concerned that developers are purchasing single-family homes in neighborhoods such as 10th & Page and displacing families that have lived there for generations.
“There are 32 low-income housing apartment complexes which contain 2,081 affordable apartments for rent in Charlottesville,” Hall said.
Hill said that while campaigning she met one woman in Fifeville who has had six members of her extended family living with her because they were priced out of their rental house.
“Too many in our community are cost-burdened,” Hill said. “We need to broaden our commitment on Council to address this crisis. Our city needs to leverage its own resources whether it is funding, land or grants and work in partnership with the housing authority, the private sector developers and other investments.”
Another question asked candidates to comment on relations with Albemarle County.
Laufer said the community should not forget that there is a pending lawsuit by the county against the city over bike trails at the Ragged Mountain Natural Area.
“We do have great partnerships with them,” Laufer said. “But we have to get real about regional issues.”
Laufer said the city needs to work with the county to address development occurring in the southern urban area along 5th Street Extended and Avon Street Extended.
Long said his experience as an addiction counselor would help him defuse tense situations with the county. He said he would have dropped consideration of bike trails at the Ragged Mountain Natural
“The land is in Albemarle County and they have the right to regulate how they want land to be utilized,” Long said. “I think we have to be willing to compromise sometimes.”
Walker said Councilors have to be respectful of elected officials in other localities.
“The county partnership is going to be essential in making sure we fix the issues with housing,” Walker said. “Charlottesville will not be able to fix that issue alone because we do not have the land.”
Hill said there are so many places in the community where houses on one side of the street are within the city and the other side’s houses are in the county.
“We need to have better and more proactive communication between the county and the city as we evaluate our current state and our future growth,” Hill said.
Hill said the city and county should collaboratively invest in infrastructure that affects residents of both communities.
Jackson said communication with Albemarle County is at a low point due to the lawsuit.
“We have to remember that Charlottesville has always been… the county seat of Albemarle,” Jackson said. “We have to learn as a city that Albemarle is an independent [locality] as well and they have to look out for their citizens as well.”
Candidates were also asked to weigh in on the city’s new parking meters around the downtown mall. The next Council will decide whether to extend a six-month trial of their use.
“It’s the worst thing that City Council ever did,” Jackson said, adding the city should build more parking garages. “It hurts low-income and regular working people.”
Laufer said she did not believe the parking meters are working.
“What we’ve done is allow Market Street Parking Garage to have one free hour,” Laufer said. “I’ve been talking to the parking attendants. Guess what? People aren’t staying there for two hours.”
Long called for the parking meters to be removed as soon as possible. Walker said she would not have voted to allow the pilot. Hall said the parking meters are not good planning and that the charge of $1.80 an hour is too high.
“Some consideration should have been given to the owners of the businesses to see what they thought before going forward,” Hall said.
Hill said the parking meters may be too complex to use, but said she wants to see the data on their usage before deciding what she would do.
Election Day is Nov. 7. The last day to register to vote is October 16.
TIMELINE FOR PODCAST
00:00 – Introduction from Brian Becker, president of the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association.
02:30 – Opening statement from Independent candidate John Edward Hall
04:15 – Opening statement from Democratic candidate Heather Hill
06:15 – Opening statement from Independent candidate Kenneth Jackson
08:30 – Opening statement from Democratic candidate Amy Laufer
10:30 – Opening statement from Independent candidate Paul Long
12:45 – Opening statement from Independent candidate Nikuyah Walker
15:30 – Question #1: How would you address and expedite neighborhood traffic concerns?
27:00 – Question #2: Please share your ideas for transportation in our neighborhoods, around the city and the region.
39:00 – Question #3: Please share your thoughts on what affordable housing means to you and your ideas for providing it in our community.
51:40 – Question #4: Please discuss your thoughts on the current state of communication with the county as it relates to the buildout of the Southern Growth Area and the impacts it will/is having on our neighborhoods.
01:04:00 – Question #5: What do you think about the way the City Council is currently operating and what do they intend to do when they get there?
01:16:45 – Question #6: Please address the City’s historical legacy and your vision for how to move forward.
01:31:00 – Audience question #1: What advice would you give to City Council to help the city forward after recent events?
01:38:15 – Audience question #2: What role should neighborhood associations play in determining development that’s permitted in our neighborhoods?
01:44:00 – Audience question #3: What do you think of the parking meters downtown?
01:49:00 – Audience question #4: How would you encourage more young people to become civically engaged?
01:55:00 – Closing statement from Nikuyah Walker
01:56:20 – Closing statement from Paul Long
01:57:40 – Closing statement from Amy Laufer
01:58:55 – Closing statement from Kenneth Jackson
01:59:50 – Closing statement from Heather Hill
02:01:00 – Closing statement from John Edward Hall