The four candidates for three seats on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors answered questions Thursday night at the last forum before the Nov. 7 election.

Candidates answered questions about transportation, cooperation with the city and expanding the development area, at the forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Charlottesville Area.

Only one seat is contested, the Samuel Miller District, with Republican John Lowry challenging incumbent Democrat Liz Palmer.

“I am the candidate, I believe, who would best represent the interests of Samuel Miller voters because I’m going to be different than everyone else on the dias,” Lowry said. “All the members are a member of one party, I’m a member of the other party. I have a different philosophy, so i can engage in good discussion. I can bring a different point of view to the board.”

Palmer defeated incumbent Republican Duane Snow in 2013.  

“What I’ve most been interested in and concentrated on is water and sewer, I sat on the Albemarle County Service Authority board of Directors for eight years working with the water supply plan, master sewer plan and I now sit on that joint city county board,” she said.

Democrat Ned Gallaway, who served one term on the Albemarle County School Board, is running unopposed for the Rio District seat and incumbent Democrat Diantha McKeel is running unopposed for her second term representing the Jack Jouett District

Candidates were first asked in which areas they would work for increased cooperation with the city of Charlottesville.

Gallaway said memoranda of understanding between the city council and the board of supervisors are a good place to start.

“I would love to see our regional transit efforts grow into something that’s beyond just advisory, where there’s some authority to go, ‘OK, how could regional transit work effectively,’ and all parties impacted can be at the table and have some say in the matter,” he said.

Lowry said he would expand the question to include the University of Virginia. He said the new county executive represents a new opportunity to work with the city and UVa.

“I think that’s where the best discussions should be held, is in the top managers of the three entities, on a regular basis,” he said.

Palmer said the city and county already work together quite well on a variety of issues, but said three water and sewer entities could be merged.

“I think it’s really important for us to put aside some of the political problems with the city and the county and really sit down and try to find out how we can combine services within those particular organizations,” she said.

McKeel said there is a lot the localities do together, but could find more cooperation on public transit.

“As Albemarle County has urbanized, [Charlottesville Area Transit]’s not meeting the transit needs of our citizens, so the city has agreed to let us become a part of their advisory group, the partnership and Albemarle County will have an advisory status,” she said. “I’m hopeful that will work, but it’s certainly at least is the beginning of getting Albemarle County at the table around the governance of CAT.”

The candidates then were asked what they would do to increase public transportation, whether they support increasing bus service and how they would fund it.

Palmer said she supported increasing public transportation and that the county has been working closely with JAUNT on a variety of different services. Maintaining ridership and advertising services are critical.

“It really is piecemeal, it’s bit-by-bit, trying to first say, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’ get out to folks, let them know what we’re trying to do, and then getting going and having the board support that,” she said.

Lowry said that he supports CAT and JAUNT, but they face stiff competition from the private sector.

“It’s amazing these days, of course what private industry is providing, there’s Uber,” he said.

Some of the UVa students working on his campaign use Uber to meet him, he said.

“It must be cheap, because these students don’t have a lot of means to income, so there is private industry that’s providing transportation,” he said.

McKeel said the city and county must agree to work harmoniously on the Regional Transit Partnership, which has its first meeting on Monday.

“Transit for the urban area is going to require, probably, another transit hub, most likely up [U.S.] 29 north where our population center is,” she said.

“Our board is serious when we say we have to fix transit in this area for our community,” she said. “We need to be able to get them to their jobs, we need to get them to PVCC for workforce skills and ... we need to deal with the rural areas as well.”

Galloway said using the new advisory capacity, the county needs to figure out how to make transit more efficient for residents.

“While I don’t doubt the ease of Uber, I drive seven minutes from my house to my work and when my daughter needed [Uber] one time … it cost her $10 just to go seven minutes,” he said “Somebody that is needing public transit to get a job cannot be relying on Uber as a ... way to do that. It’s not going to be feasible for them.”

The candidates also were asked if they would they want to allocate more or less land to development.

“As it currently stands — 5 percent in the growth area, 95 percent in the rural area — we are not at the point of maximizing the use of the 5 percent, but I think it merits conversation of expanding the 5 percent to 6, 7, 8 or 9 percent,” Galloway said. “I think that day’s probably going to come, if Albemarle is successful with economic development and redevelopment in the growth area. I don’t have a crystal ball to say if that’s 20, 40, 60 years down the road.”

Lowry said the land is there, but that there are not places for businesses to “land.”

“We need to have places that the sites are ready and there’s zoning that allows business to land there and then we’ll have ... more contribution from the commercial base,” he said.

He said he believed there was a lack of leadership from the board of supervisors for this to happen.

“It’s not the land so much, it’s the leadership, the management from the top,” he said.

Palmer said she thinks the county has a vibrant economy.

“This is not a particularly dire situation,” she said. “We’ve been growing at about 1,500 people per year for many, many years now, and so ... I think that we can handle that much growth, but I would not want to stoke that.”

She said the board had been focusing a lot on redevelopment, especially shopping centers along U.S. 29.

“We’re looking currently at ways to promote and help developers develop those areas,” she said.

McKeel said she is extremely interested in diversifying the county’s tax base.

“Because what we have to do is create good, solid, mid-level jobs for our community, the people who are here in our community, allow our businesses to expand,and we need to figure out how to diversify that tax base so we don’t have to keep raising our residents property taxes,” she said.

She said that they received a report from staff that showed that there’s enough unused developable areas in the growth area to last until 2035 without expansion.

“As long as we have tired shopping centers an empty store fronts and areas that we can develop, I think we need to concentrate on those first before we start talking about expanding the development area,” McKeel said. 

County candidates grilled on transportation, cooperation at final forum 

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Allison Wrabel is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7261, or @craftypanda on Twitter.

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