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October 23, 2009

Albemarle candidates discuss transportation, economic development, and water supply

Reader comments (0) By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Friday, October 23, 2009

The six candidates running for the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors made their case before a group of Charlottesville business leaders Thursday. The North Charlottesville Business Council asked questions about transportation plans, the government’s role in economic development and the community water supply plan.

Podcast produced by Charlottesville Tomorrow * Player by Odeo

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20091022-NCBC-Forum

The candidates each had three minutes to make a brief opening statement.

20091022-NCBC-Sam-Miller Samuel Miller candidates, left to right: Madison Cummings (D), Duane Snow (R) and John Lowry (I)
Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller) pointed to his eight years on the Albemarle School Board. John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller) touted his chairmanship of the County’s Economic Development Authority. Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller) said he would apply the lessons he learned running a business to County government.

David Slutzky (D-Rio) cited his entrepreneurship and gave examples of what he has done to attract jobs to Albemarle County. Rodney Thomas (R-Rio) said his time as Chair of the Planning Commission prepared him to serve on the Board.

Dennis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett) faces no opposition, but said he should be re-elected in order to help maintain what he described as Albemarle County’s “fiscally-sound” local government. Rooker pointed to the County’s AAA bond rating, a tax-rate he described as low, and the transition to a five-year financial planning process.

The first question asked whether the candidates supported the adopted 50-year community water supply plan. All six said they agreed with the plan, but Thomas explained why he did not sign a pledge supporting the plan.

“I do support the plan… but I just want to see what the new designers and architects will come up with,” Thomas said, referring to the recent decision by the Rivanna Water and Sewer Authority to hire Schnabel Engineering to design a new dam at Ragged Mountain Reservoir. Thomas said he also wanted to know about why dredging of the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir was not selected as a way to add capacity to the water supply system.

Slutzky said that dredging will be more expensive than its proponents think, and that there are many logistical issues that may prevent that option from receiving federal and state permits.

“It might be possible to put the spoils in [a nearby] quarry, but it might not,” Slutzky said. “That quarry might have fracture zones in that will make it connect with an aquifer down below and the Clean Water Act isn’t going to let us just willy-nilly put a bunch of dredging [spoils] that might contaminate that.”

Lowry said he understood that many in Charlottesville are opposed to the plan because they don’t see the city’s population increasing. However, he said that could change as new information comes in from both Schnabel and the dredging feasibility study.

“My perception is that people in the City are getting the message that they’re going to need to be part of the plan because it’s the best alternative,” Lowry said. He said it was fair that County ratepayers pay more for the additional capacity that will be created under the plan.

Duane Snow said the elements of the plan should be built as quickly as possible. Madison Cummings said he did not want the plan to become another delayed infrastructure project, like the Meadowcreek Parkway.

The second question dealt with transportation. The NCBC, which is an affiliate of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, has been critical of the Places29 Master Plan over its potential to affect businesses along the U.S. 29 corridor. Chamber President Tim Hulbert asked what transportation improvement projects the candidates would support as Supervisor.

Lowry said he supports the parallel road network called for in the Places29 Master Plan, as well as a fourth lane on southbound U.S. 29 from Hydraulic Road to the U.S. 250 Bypass. However, Lowry said the main issue is getting the state of Virginia to resume paying for roads.

Snow said he supports the extension of both Hillsdale Drive and Berkmar Drive, as well as the widening of U.S. 29 from Polo Ground Road to Hollymead Town Center. Snow said he is opposed to the grade-separated interchanges called for in Places29.

“Before I would consider grade-separated interchanges, I think we should reopen the bypass discussion,” Snow said. However, he pointed out the idea was moot because there is no funding for any of the projects at this time.

Cummings said he also supported Hillsdale and Berkmar, as well as a grade-separated interchange at Rio Road and U.S. 29. However, he said a similar interchange at Hydraulic may not be necessary. Cummings also said that in his opinion the Western Bypass was dead.

20091022-NCBC-Jack-Rio Left to right: Rio District Supervisor candidates David Slutzky (D) and Rodney Thomas ( R) as well as unopposed Jack Jouett District candidate Dennis Rooker (I)
Thomas said he was against all of the grade separated interchanges because they would “destroy the businesses” along U.S. 29. He added that it was crucial that both the City and the County are on the same page concerning the stretch between Hydraulic Road and the U.S. 250 Bypass. Thomas said he supports the Western Bypass or the extension of Leonard Sandridge Road.

Slutzky said he is concerned that VDOT wants to turn U.S. 29 into an “expressway” in order to make it easier for through traffic to travel through Albemarle County. He said there might be a good case to be made for the Western Bypass, but raising “a quarter of a billion dollars” for the project would be difficult.

Slutzky said building parallel roads to U.S. 29 and expanding the transit system would help alleviate congestion on what he called Albemarle County’s Main Street. Slutzky said the only way Berkmar Road would be expanded is if the County expands its growth area to allow for development between Polo Grounds Road and Hollymead Town Center.

The final question sought to find out the candidates’ position on the role local government should play in economic development.

Slutzky said one thing the government should do is fund infrastructure. Thomas said local government should provide services such as police in order to attract businesses. Rooker said that a good education system is a requirement for companies looking to locate or grow here. Cummings said sometimes government should foster a climate for economic development, and sometimes government needs to stay out of the way. Snow said the role of government is to facilitate planning. Lowry repeated his call for the County to create an economic development department.

TIMELINE FOR PODCAST:
  • 01:00 - Introduction from L.F. Wood, Chairman of the NCBC
  • 02:15 - Opening comments from Madison Cummings (D-Samuel Miller)
  • 05:00 - Opening comments from Duane Snow (R-Samuel Miller)
  • 07:20 - Opening comments from John Lowry (I-Samuel Miller)
  • 10:45 - Opening comments from David Slutzky (D-Rio)
  • 13:30 - Opening comments from Rodney Thomas (R-Rio)
  • 16:10 - Opening comments from Dennnis Rooker (I-Jack Jouett)
  • 20:30 - Question 1: The Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce supports the Albemarle County and Charlottesville 50-year water supply plan. Do you support the plan?
  • 32:30 - Question 2: The north Charlottesville corridor houses 20,000 jobs and contributes for $800 million a year in salaries. There are lots of plans for transportation projects in the corridor. Which ones do you support? Which might you champion? Grade-separated interchanges? Western Bypass?
  • 49:00 - Question 3: What is Albemarle County's role in economic development?
  • 56:00 – Closing comments from L.F. Wood

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