I have attended many events in recent weeks. But this weekend was the first time I encountered a question I want to address here as well. The question was/is:
How are you different from the incumbent?
#1) I am a Proactive Leader. Too often, the incumbent has waited until a crisis to act. Our recent ARP/Budget debacle is a clear indication of how dangerous acting in this manner can be. How could this have been prevented? It’s hard to determine this as none of us knows all the details of how this emergency came about. However, one thing is clear to me: to protect the ARP from threat, our agricultural industry and the rural area that makes it possible must be valued by all of us. As well, the ARP must be understood as an invaluable preservation mechanism protecting our agricultural industry. We should trumpet, loud and often, the significance of our agricultural industry to our local and state economy and the role of the ARP in keeping it alive and thriving. That kind of agriculture industry and ARP “marketing” work needs to be vigorously done always and already and surely before the program itself is on the chopping block.
Another example of what I mean by proactive leadership has to do with what might be on the horizon for the areas in and around Pungo.
I began my volunteer work on the Transition Area/Interfacility Traffic Area Citizen’s Advisory Committee (TA/ITA CAC) in 2014. It was then that we took on the monumental task of amending the Transition Area guidelines in order to protect this area from the kind of high density development seen throughout the city. We aimed to create of this area a true buffer between the suburban areas to the north and the rural area to the south.
This work was a special challenge and undertaken with great urgency. A good deal of the above described dense residential and intense commercial development had already occurred or was already approved for development within the lines of the Transition Area, which only comprises 4 square miles of space.
We were behind the eight ball.
This position made our work especially difficult. With dense and high intensity development already in place, how could we argue for less going forward? We could not. But we could emphasize to better support aspects of the Transition Area guidelines already in place. In addition, we could shore up those that were too easily compromised as applications moved through the process of approval. We did this.
We fought well and hard for an amendment that would allow for creative and careful growth in this sensitive area, with features in keeping with the surrounding rural landscape (150ft road buffer for residential developments, for instance) and conservative density limitations. Our amendment was adopted by reference in 2015 and included in the approved 2016 Comprehensive Plan. This amendment should be viewed by all as an important part of the city’s future plans to address issues related to Sea Level Rise, recurrent flooding, and more frequent and severe weather events. It is also an indication of the city’s commitment to enhance open spaces for the physical health of its residents, to provide different housing types and lifestyle choices through diverse development patterns such as we see here, and to preserve the rural area for the future of our agricultural industry.
For me, this experience was a lesson. Do not wait for a crisis to act.
Yet, here we are again, today, with areas of the Transition Area available for development.
The City of Virginia Beach Comprehensive Plan, reviewed and revised by the Planning Commission in 2016, has an agenda for future action for the rural area. That agenda specifies formally delineating the Pungo Rural Village boundary and preparing a “Master Plan for the Pungo Rural Village to determine the type and form of future desired growth (Rural Area/1-139).” Throughout this year, the Planning Commission has been tasked to address future action area plans throughout the city. The Pungo Rural Village delineation/Master Plan recommendation is one of the few remaining plans yet to be addressed.
I have asked on numerous occasions to engage the public to work on this plan. I feel it is imperative we not get behind the 8-ball on this one. However, I have repeatedly been put off by the incumbent from beginning this work. I understand this is a monumental undertaking as there are many disparate views about what should happen to this special place. But if we don’t develop a plan for this area via public participation and stakeholder input, it could become someone’s else’s vision for the area.
I do not believe “chance” is the way to plan a positive future for the majority, nor do I believe the time to act on this is when we’re already in the cross hairs.
#2) I am a true independent thinker. This can be seen in my work on the Planning Commission. I urge all of you to view my work and my voting record on the Planning Commission (our sessions are taped and available at vbgov.com/planning). Both clearly illustrate that I think for myself, do work that is in keeping with my personal convictions, and come to my decisions through careful consideration of the myriad issues involved in each plan, project, or application.
My independent thought can also be seen in my recent outreach efforts. Although City Council elections are non-partisan, many would like me to claim allegiance to a particular party. However, I think it’s more important that I hear from as many members of both parties as possible. And this is why you will see me at both Democratic and Republican events held throughout the city over the next few months.
Finally, #3) I am a new voice with a fresh perspective. I value Ms. Henley’s years of service to this city. However, the time has come for a new way of doing business, a way free of long standing agreements and methods that put the Princess Anne District at odds with the rest of the city, a way forward that better balances the needs of our communities with the goals for our future, and a way ahead with the energy needed to get us there.