Expansion of the county’s development area, single-use plastic and climate resilience planning were among the topics discussed at the Sierra Club’s forum for candidates for the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.
All candidates on the ballot — White Hall District incumbent Democrat Ann H. Mallek and Republican challenger Steve Harvey; Scottsville District candidates Republican Mike Hallahan and Democrat Donna Price; and Rivanna District candidate Bea LaPisto Kirtley, a Democrat — were at Lane Auditorium at the County Office Building-McIntire for Thursday night’s forum.
The candidates answered questions from a moderator, as well as a few from the audience of about 30 people.
When asked about the idea of growth-area expansion, only Hallahan supported any changes.
The Comprehensive Plan, the county’s guiding document for its long-term vision for land use and resource protection, includes designated development areas that make up about 5% of county land.
Hallahan said he wants to see a growth area around Interstate 64 at Exit 107.
“Look at Augusta County, look at Zion Crossroads in Louisa County — we’re being left behind,” he said.
He said he wants to expand the current development area to about a half-mile south of I-64 and all the way up U.S. 29 to Greene County.
“We need to roll the red carpet out to any tech job, any distribution center that wants to come into this county,” Hallahan said.
The candidates were asked what they thought was the best strategy to reduce plastic single-use shopping bags.
Mallek called it a “great idea” but said supervisors don’t have the authority from the state legislature to make any decision at the board level. She also said the board can’t do anything about bottles either.
“I’m certainly happy to try again on both those issues working with the legislature, and I hope that we will be successful sometime in the future,” she said.
Price said she would rather see people voluntarily discontinue use of single-use bags over enacting a ban.
“I prefer education, encouragement, discounts for reusable bags, promotion of reusable bags, things like that over arbitrary imposition of bans,” she said.
Harvey said he wants to promote businesses that are recycling bags or encouraging reusable bags.
“I think the best method we could utilize here would be to promote any businesses, companies, small businesses that are behaving in a way we think is best for the environment and the health of our landfill,” he said.
Hallahan said he would not support any taxes on bags or bottles.
“It’s all about personal choices,” he said. “And this is where I get back to the government’s getting too big. If the Board of Supervisors has to talk about plastic bags, government’s getting too big.”
LaPisto Kirtley said the county needs to educate its citizens.
“Informed citizens will change whether retailers in the area will continue to use plastic bags, cups and straws in their stores,” she said.
When asked if they would support work on a climate resilience plan in 2020, Harvey and Hallahan said they would not.
“No, I think that this is an inappropriate role for local government to take,” Harvey said. “I think that it is likely to damage the economy and drive business to the surrounding counties who will not be executing these sort of plans.”
“Climate change has been happening since the beginning of time,” Hallahan said. “It’s going to happen long after we’re extinct.”
Price said she “absolutely” believes that the county should work on a climate resilience plan.
“The responsibility of government is to prepare for when — not if — certain foreseeable events are going to take place,” she said.
LaPisto Kirtley and Mallek agreed.
“It is a core government service to do our best to protect our citizens who are or could be in harm’s way as a result of natural events,” LaPisto Kirtley said.
I think partnering with [the Local Energy Alliance Program] to leverage Dominion funds to provide weatherization services to low-income homeowners and renters ... is a terrific way to better living conditions in our less energy efficient housing stock, and enable people to use more of their limited funds for food rather than heating or cooling,” Mallek said.
In her closing statement, Mallek said she does not support and will not support in the future a stormwater utility fee, which also has been called the “rain tax.” Harvey, who also opposes the fee, has called the election “a referendum on whether or not the rain tax comes forward in some other form.”