Lowry, Palmer talk economic development at Samuel Miller forum

The two candidates in the only contested supervisor race in Albemarle County met for the first time Thursday at a forum organized by the Cove Garden Ruritans.

Held at the North Garden Volunteer Fire Company, topics included economic development and the future of the county’s court system.

Republican John Lowry is challenging Democrat Liz Palmer to represent the Samuel Miller District on the Board of Supervisors.

“I would like to see us have a better balance for how we govern ourselves in Albemarle County,” Lowry said, adding he has served as chairman as both the county’s economic development authority and the board of equalization.

Palmer, a veterinarian who scaled back her practice to free up time to serve as supervisor, said she wants to stay on the board to serve constituents and to help continue planning for new infrastructure.

“These are the things I’ve gotten involved with and are the reasons I ran for the Board of Supervisors in the first place,” Palmer said.

Palmer said one of her accomplishments in office has been to help set up and to be appointed to the county’s new broadband authority.

Lowry said he would like to add more staff to the county’s economic development department, which has been without a director since Faith McClintic left the position last year.

Lowry said county government also needs to increase the percentage of commercial tax revenue relative to residential property taxes. He said supervisors have raised the property tax rate too many times in recent years.

Palmer said the current board has established economic development as a strategic priority and said her opponent wants to expand Albemarle’s growth area to increase the amount of commercially developable land. The 1980 Comprehensive Plan designated that only 5 percent of the county’s 726 square miles are for new development.

“There are currently a lot of areas in the growth area that we can develop,” Palmer said. “There are thousands of already approved residential units, and there is more property that we can develop.”

When asked by an attendee if he had a specific kind of economic development project in mind, Lowry said Albemarle should have done more to coax Oregon-based Deschutes Brewery into building its East Coast headquarters at the intersection of U.S. 29 and Interstate 64.

Deschutes eventually chose to locate in Roanoke despite the supervisors’ decision in September 2015 to expand the growth area to somewhat include land rumored to have been eyed by the brewery.

“It was an absolutely perfect business prospect and it would have been a tourist destination,” Lowry said. “We missed that opportunity on them coming here, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen again.”

Palmer disagreed with Lowry’s characterization of what happened.

“I was in the room on that one, and if you believe the myth that Deschutes was going to come here, I would have had to have raised your taxes to get it,” Palmer said, adding that Deschutes wanted incentives as they searched for an East Coast location for a second brewery.

A majority of the current board supports exploration of moving the courts out of downtown Charlottesville to a location elsewhere in the county. A stated reason is to boost economic development.

Both Lowry and Palmer disagree with that position.

“I can’t imagine it will have economic development value because it will close at 5 p.m.,” said Palmer, who said the land likely would be taken off of the tax rolls if it is for a public purpose.

Lowry also wants the courts to remain in place.

“The courthouse is a beautiful historic building,” Lowry said, adding that he wants to work with the city on a project to jointly locate the two jurisdictions’ general district courts in a restored Levy Opera House.

The two other races for the Board of Supervisors are uncontested. Democrat Diantha McKeel is seeking her second term to represent the Jack Jouett District. Democrat Ned Gallaway is unopposed in his bid to replace outgoing Rio District Supervisor Brad Sheffield.

Palmer was first elected in 2013 when she unseated Republican incumbent Duane Snow. Palmer had previously served on the Albemarle County Service Authority.

Lowry is a former member of the Albemarle County Economic Development Authority who ran as an independent for the Samuel Miller District in 2009. Both he and Democrat Madison Cummings were defeated by Snow that year.

Several other campaign forums are scheduled for the supervisor races.

The Piedmont Group of the Sierra Club will hold a forum at 7 p.m. Oct. 5 in Lane Auditorium in the Albemarle County Office Building on McIntire Road.

The Samuel Miller candidates will join the other Albemarle candidates, as well as City Council hopefuls, at a forum to be held by the Senior Statesmen of Virginia at 1 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Senior Center.

The North Charlottesville Business Council will ask questions at a luncheon on Oct. 18 with a location to be determined.

The League of Women Voters will hold an event at 6 p.m. Oct. 25, though a location has not yet been announced.

Election Day is Nov. 7.