Four of the five candidates seeking two Democratic nominations to Charlottesville City Council gathered at Cherry Avenue Christian Church on Wednesday to explain how they would address issues concerning the Fry’s Spring neighborhood.
Incumbent Kristin Szakos was in Ghana visiting one of Charlottesville’s sister cities at the time.
The Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association hosted the forum, and it is the first event of its kind for this campaign season.
Melvin Grady, a lifelong resident of Charlottesville and teacher at Buford Middle School, is campaigning on a platform of increasing pre-kindergarten education and support for small businesses.
“I’d like to see more workforce development in Charlottesville, which leads to more skilled workers, which leads to better employment opportunities,” Grady said. “I’ve decided to run for council because I feel like I can be a voice for the community.”
Adam Lees is a doctoral candidate in foreign affairs at the University of Virginia.
“My three main priorities are to improve the public transit system, to increase the job opportunities for young adults in our community … and to find a dignified solution to homelessness,” Lees said.
Albemarle High School teacher Wes Bellamy, who also runs a non-profit youth organization, said he sees a City Council seat as an extension of the work he is already doing.
“I’ve given nearly 1,800 coats during two giveaways over the past two years … and I’ve done about six community days in which we’ve fed nearly 800 people,” Bellamy said.
Before the forum, candidates were provided with a list of 20 issues neighborhood residents would like the city government to resolve.
These ranged from city policies to support businesses on Fontaine Avenue to whether the neighborhood’s zoning should be changed to limit dense residential development.
Candidates were asked to take a position on each of the issues.
“Although a lot of these requests are great, some of them are going to be a little difficult to achieve,” Bellamy said. He suggested Fontaine Avenue should be turned into a “complete street” with adequate bike lanes and sidewalks.
Lees suggested that the neighborhood’s residents push for design guidelines to prevent oversized homes that do not fit in with the area’s streetscape.
Bob Fenwick, a local contractor who ran as an independent in 2009 and 2011, said empty lots could make pocket parks instead of being developed for new homes.
“You’re running into the infill [development] that some people are trying to do our community, so that’s a fight, and I’m willing to fight that fight,” he said.
Neighborhood association members also asked for the candidates’ position on transit issues.
Lees said he would not support extending Charlottesville Area Transit’s free trolley to the Fry’s Spring Beach Club, a position that
Councilor Dede Smith, who is a Fry’s Spring resident, has advocated. Lees added that he wants CAT and the University Transit Service to better coordinate their schedules.
Grady said the city’s bus system has been studied far too much, and it is time to get ideas from neighborhoods rather than paying consultants.
Another issue is whether the number of unrelated people who are allowed to live in a house should be reduced from four to three.
“I’m all for that,” Bellamy said. “We can’t have individuals who buy homes in Charlottesville and then turn those homes into cash cows.”
Lees said he did not support that change because of the potential for higher rents as a result.
“Oftentimes, apartments that do get rented are rented as two bedrooms and a lot of times two couples live in them together to reduce the rent,” Lees said. “Reducing that unrelated rule may in fact artificially decrease the supply of housing which will only compound the challenge of affordable housing.”
Earlier in the meeting, recording secretary for the neighborhood association, Republican Mike Farruggio, announced his City Council candidacy and he attempted to resign from organizations’ board of directors. He will remain at his post, as other members of the organization said they did not think his resignation was necessary.
Farruggio and his running mate Buddy Weber will address the neighborhood association at their next meeting on June 12, one day after the Democratic primary.
Charlottesville Tomorrow and The Daily Progress will hold a campaign forum beginning at 6:30 p.m. May 16 at the African-American Heritage Center at the Jefferson School. Doors will open at 6 p.m.