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Council candidates address concerns of Fry’s Spring

The four candidates running for two open seats on the Charlottesville City Council discussed policing, criminal law, and development at a wide-ranging campaign forum held Wednesday by the Fry’s Spring Neighborhood Association.

One neighborhood resident asked each candidate what their vision of development in Charlottesville would be.

“Neighborhoods are the building blocks and are the No. 1 asset for the city,” said Republican Michael Farruggio. He added that development is the “economic engine” for Charlottesville’s future, and the city should focus growth on corridors such as Preston Avenue, West Main Street and Cherry Avenue.

Democrat Kristin Szakos agreed with Farruggio about corridors and said more dense growth could ease traffic congestion.

“If we have more density, we can have more transit and fewer people in their cars,” Szakos said.

Democrat Bob Fenwick said the city’s department of neighborhood development services should be renamed ‘neighborhood protection services.’ He also said developers should pay more to defray the effect of new homes.

Republican Charles L. “Buddy” Weber said he worked on a committee that helped rewrite the city’s zoning code in 2003 that led to the potential for higher residential density.  He noted Charlottesville has not been able to expand its boundaries since agreeing to stop annexing Albemarle County in 1983.

“After … living within constrained borders, we realized we had to grow up,” Weber said. But he added that the same rezoning was designed to protect single family neighborhoods such as Fry’s Spring.

In a portion of the forum, each candidate was asked a targeted question designed to probe their areas of expertise.

Weber, a practicing defense attorney, was asked what changes he would make to the legal system to assist former convicts.

“There are some laws that need to be changed because they are impediments to people getting back on their feet,” Weber said.  For instance, he would push to eliminate a rule where non-payment of court fees leads to suspension of driver’s licenses.

“Whole lives can spiral downhill because there’s this thumb of court costs sitting on them,” Weber said.

Szakos said she supported Weber’s court fee idea, but said the General Assembly was unlikely to pass such a move.

Fenwick, a home repair contractor, said he has hired felons to help them get back on their feet.

Szakos, first elected in 2009, was asked what her position was on council’s deliberation of resolutions that did not specially address city issues.

“I’ve not introduced many of them, but I do have criteria for determining how I’ll vote,” Szakos said. “If it has a direct impact on our city, or if other cities are voicing similar expressions, then I will vote on them.”

However, Szakos said she voted against an anti-drone resolution as well as one to decriminalize marijuana because she did not feel the city had the power to affect change in those areas.

Fenwick also defended the practice.

“This is free speech that we’re talking about,” Fenwick said. “At council meetings, citizens have three minutes to talk about whatever they want. What does it hurt, as long as we take care of the budget?”

Farruggio said he would only support resolutions that honored achievements by city groups, but thought politically-motivated ones were a waste of time.

“Every time one comes forward, the city attorney’s office has to research it,” Farruggio said. “And a lot of time, we see these issues become divisive.”

Weber agreed with his running mate and said many resolutions often amplify “the voice of the few.”

Fenwick was asked what he thought of city building regulations.  As part of his response, he said the city should not prevent business owners from making improvements to their property, such as a winter tent erected every year at the Commonwealth Restaurant’s Skybar.

Farruggio, a 25-year veteran of the Charlottesville Police Department, was asked if grants from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security were well-spent or a waste of money.

“We’ve gotten body armor, rifles, an armored personnel carrier for the SWAT team to make rescues with,” Farruggio responded.

He added that he would continue the city’s direction towards community policing, which he said would lead to solving problems rather than create them. He also said he would like policies to help encourage police officers to move into the city, citing his own experience as a police officer since moving from Albemarle County.

Other questions dealt with civility at City Council meetings, how to deal with homeless, and why Charlottesville spends more resources on social issues than Albemarle County.