Democratic candidates for Charlottesville City Council got the chance to discuss land use, equity, economic development and other issues facing the city during a candidate forum Thursday hosted by the Free Enterprise Forum.
All three Democrats running for the council participated in the forum. Carl E. Brown, a nonprofit consultant; Brian Pinkston, a project manager at the University of Virginia; and Juandiego Wade, a current city School Board member, will battle it out for two Democratic nominations up for grabs in a June 8 primary.
The forum was moderated by Sean Tubbs, a local journalist and founder of Town Crier Productions, and Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum.
It was broadcast via Zoom from the Hillsdale Conference Center, where the moderators asked questions of the candidates, who tuned in from their homes.
Tubbs started the forum by asking the candidates about their thoughts on the draft Future Land Use Map, Affordable Housing Plan and Comprehensive Plan.
Pinkston said he supports increasing density in areas of the city to accommodate more affordable housing and thinks Cville Plans Together has done a good job undertaking this project in the midst of a pandemic.
“One of the things that they mentioned in there specifically is the issue of density, and the idea about increasing density, of course, is to improve or increase the amount of housing stock that’s available, so the idea is that you increase the supply and lower the costs,” he said.
However, Pinkston said it’s important for the city to be careful with how it goes about increasing density.
“There’s lots of people that are obviously very concerned about it when actually seeing the reality of how it might shape their lives,” he said.
Brown said that while it’s important to increase the amount of affordable housing, the city shouldn’t neglect the existing public housing facilities that need repairs and additional resources.
“Our housing units do need upgrades,” Brown said. “Just providing housing for individuals is one aspect of it but I think we can do a better job of providing resources within our community.”
He also said he wants Cville Plans Together to collaborate more with public housing and affordable housing groups to inform the plans, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I don’t see how we can go forward on something coming out of coronavirus with a plan that was already ahead of that and being able to say, ‘OK, we’re coming out, we’ll go forward with that,’ not looking at the complexity of this whole community right now, how much has changed and what kind of situations people are in and what we need to do,” Brown said.
He said he would also like to see the city collaborate with UVa when discussing land use.
Wade said constituents had reached out to him about their concerns with the Future Land Use Map, and he feels it’s important to take public input into account.
“I support density, but it has to be in the right place, and we have to make sure that we get the desired outcome,” he said.
Wade said he has a master’s degree in urban environmental planning and will bring that education and experience to the City Council if he’s elected.
“These plans really excite me. I like these different shades of land use and maps and things like that, but I’ve noticed it can be very intimidating to citizens who may not have a background in it. Whether you are in fourth grade or you have a Ph.D., if you’re not used to seeing it, it can be very intimidating,” Wade said.
Tubbs asked the candidates about their vision for economic development in the city and for their thoughts on the proposed Seventh Street Garage.
Wade said he wants to encourage more tourism and support local businesses.
“There’s a whole lot more that we can do, a whole lot more support that we can give our businesses, which will allow us to have more funds to build the housing, to build the schools and things that we want,” Wade said.
Wade said he thinks the city should hold off on building a new garage until the effects of the pandemic can be examined.
“I think we need to relook at all of those types of projects. I think that once the dust settles, many businesses will require their employees to come back to work, but they may only come in two days a week,” Wade said. “That reduces 40% of that person’s traffic footprint. There may not be the need for a parking garage at that size.”
Pinkston spoke in support of building the garage.
“Initially when I started running, I was like, ‘I’m not sure we need a parking deck,’” he said. “Since talking to [Chris] Engel[, director of the Office of Economic Development], the folks in the Downtown Business Association, and looking at the data that I’m seeing, given the fact that the court’s coming and given how old the Market Street garage is, I think that we do need to make that investment in a parking garage.”
“I hate it. I wish we didn’t. I hate concrete, I hate cars, but I think [we need it] for us to keep that area working, and bringing in the money from tourists and so forth,” he said.
Brown said he wants to invest in employing people in order to improve the overall economy, and also to provide more services to city residents, including improving public housing conditions.
“I think we need to be very, very aggressive in getting people back to work and being able to provide vocational skills and fiber optic technicians and be able to fill those voids locally,” he said.
“It becomes a community investment … I think we’re ready and it’ll really take off because we can put in housing developments and it’s much easier to navigate,” he said.
The two winners of the Democratic primary will compete against Mayor Nikuyah Walker and entrepreneur Yas Washington, both running as independents, for the two spots on the council currently held by Walker and Heather Hill.
Walker announced on May 21 that she is running for a second term.
Hill announced earlier this year she would not be seeking a second term.