council elections: the issues

Brent Finnegan -- May 9th, 2008

There’s been recent talk of who the city council nominees will be in the DNR, as well as on republitarian.com. The assumption is that Rodney Eagle and Charlie Chenault will run for reelection, accompanied on the ballot by Republican J.M. Snell and Democrats Richard Baugh and David Wiens (all from the Planning Commission).

Rather than have the candidates or the press dictate what the main election issues will be, what would you (the citizens) like to see the candidates address?

23 Responses to “council elections: the issues”

  1. Frank J Witt says:

    City car sticker pricing/policies, traffic (of course) on/around Port, especially Devon lane development and the chance to sit and talk with JMU officials about dictating who should be driving to classes everyday.
    Then the standard issues about crime, immigration, and just ow much help farmers are getting along with the responsibilities for a cleaner Shenandoah River.

  2. finnegan says:

    Well, don’t everyone chime in at once…

    This is a serious question: what do you want the issues to be? I will likely be doing a series of YouTube interviews with any/all candidates for city council who want to participate. This is your chance to help set the agenda.

  3. JGFitzgerald says:

    Smarter, if any, development. Slow down. No more strip malls unless the developer agrees to tear it down if it can’t maintain 50 percent occupancy. No more three-story, stick-built, code-minimum, student firetraps if the builder can’t prove a need. And copyright the Comprehensive Plan so that anyone who mouths the words to it like a cover band doing “Satisfaction” can at least be sued for unfair use since there’s no law against lying.

    It’s not surprising that nobody’s excited about the city election yet. Oddly, the deadline for getting on the Council ballot is almost five months before the election. Maybe in a year that’s not dominated by national, state, and district elections, City Council and School Board will get some attention. But not this year. The justification that moving the election to November will make people more interested will be a rather sad joke in 2008. And the money savings cited by some is about half a councilman’s salary for a year.

  4. Draegn88 says:

    I actually can agree with Joe’s first paragraph. However to this: “No more three-story, stick-built, code-minimum, student firetraps if the builder can’t prove a need” I would add any new building, for, there seems to be this unspoken rule in the area that if it’s “good enough for the students, it’s good enough for everyone else as well.”

    There’s no way that I’m going to be convinced that all these new townhomes being built in weeks are any better than the tinker toy student housing areas.

  5. Scott Rogers says:

    “There’s no way that I’m going to be convinced that all these new townhomes being built in weeks are any better than the tinker toy student housing areas.”

    Draegn88 — I’d love to get more of your thoughts and perspective on this. I am a Realtor, and am working with a few townhome builders in the area. Are you indicating that you think that townhomes in Harrisonburg are poorly constructed? Feel free to reply here, or e-mail me at scott@cbfunkhouser.com. Thanks!

  6. JGFitzgerald says:

    An expansion on what I wrote earlier. The Comprehensive Land Use Plan proposes zoning that is designed to, on one end, make sure you don’t have a gravel quarry next to an elementary school. On the other end, it recommends whether people in quarter-million dollar homes have a right not to have apartments close by, and whether large landowners have a right to a profitable use of their property. Balanced against that must be the rights of the entire city.

    When a change in zoning is proposed, a planning staff of trained professionals study the traffic, the density, the impact on schools and utilities, and whether the city needs the proposed change. They make a recommendation to a Planning Commission which hears public comment, visits the site, and often spends twice as much time on the issue as City Council will.

    Then you have two kinds of City Council members. One kind will have lunch with the developer , get the pitch for the change, and make up his mind. He’s the one who looks kind of glazed during the planning staff’s recommendation to council (if not during the entire meeting). The other kind will read or examine the sometimes dozens of pages of maps and information that come with each rezoning request; make a tentative decision or a list of questions, then wait for the public hearing.

    One council type puts the burden of proof on the builder who wants to change the comp plan. The other puts the burden of proof on those who oppose the change.

    These changes are at the heart of council’s power to control how the city grows, changes, and develops. Some will use those powers purely to aid “bid’ness,” because they believe a city must grow or die. But we’re not the chicken town with a girls’ school that we were thirty years ago. We can grow a lot slower and not die anytime soon.

    Instead we need the kind of council member who reads, thinks, considers, and studies, and who is open-minded enough to acknowledge that his constituency is the whole city, and not just those who elected him or gave to his campaign.

  7. Scott Rogers says:

    JGFitzgerald — thanks for that explanation of the rezoning process, and two main ways City Council members make decisions. That is helpful!

    Given the original post . . .

    >> Rather than have the candidates or the press dictate what the main election issues will be, what would you (the citizens) like to see the candidates address?

    . . . one thing I hope the candidates address is creating transparency in the governance process. For example, it would be great to have an online list of past and pending rezoning matters, along with supporting documents.

  8. Draegn88 says:

    Scott, what I have seen is that every time JMU issues a statement saying that there will be X number of new students added, that there is a rush to build off campus housing for them. It is built in the cheapest way possible in order to make as much money off the students in the shortest amount of time.

    The people that build these student traps build the rest of the housing in the area as well. How many times has there been a fire along Port Republic road that instead of burning down only one dwelling has spread to burn down 3 or 4?

    The people I know who live in townhomes have the same complaints over and over.

    They hear the neighbors through the walls.
    They can smell the neighbors laundry detergent.
    Hear water running through pipes.

    A quality built place should not have those problems.

  9. Bubby says:

    JGF: Agreed. Who are you endorsing.

  10. JGFitzgerald says:

    Bubby,

    Baugh and Wiens, but keep in mind that I’m a vice chair of the local Dems. Of the six people likely to be on the ballot as of today: Baugh, Wiens, and Snell have voting records on Planning Commission; Chenault and Eagle have voting records on City Council; Evans is an unknown. Research would show who takes a measured approach and who doesn’t.

  11. cook says:

    “Rather than have the candidates or the press dictate what the main election issues will be, what would you (the citizens) like to see the candidates address?”

    I am not a “citizen” of Harrisonburg so I cannot vote, but as the owner of a small business I am a city BPOL taxpayer.

    I’d like to hear the candidates’ plans for downtown.

  12. >> Scott, what I have seen is that every time JMU issues a statement saying that there will be X number of new students added, that there is a rush to build off campus housing for them. It is built in the cheapest way possible in order to make as much money off the students in the shortest amount of time.

    I agree — and this time I think student housing may be a bit overbuilt, relative to the growth over the next 2-3 years.

    >> The people that build these student traps build the rest of the housing in the area as well.

    “Student traps”?? :) By “the people that build” do you mean the developers are the same (many current new construction student housing projects are being built by out of town developers, so I don’t think this is the case), or do you mean that it is the same HVAC contractors, plumbers, electricians, framing contractors, etc?

    >> How many times has there been a fire along Port Republic road that instead of burning down only one dwelling has spread to burn down 3 or 4?

    I have only been in Harrisonburg since 1996, but I don’t remember very many of these. Can you jog my memory?

    >> The people I know who live in townhomes have the same complaints over and over. They hear the neighbors through the walls. They can smell the neighbors laundry detergent. Hear water running through pipes.

    Are these (mostly) newer townhomes (built since 2000), or townhomes built prior to 2000?

    >> A quality built place should not have those problems.

    I agree!

  13. Lowell says:

    Excellent commentary and discussion!
    Joe offers a clear view based on much experience, relevant and recent, in the very process being discussed.
    I’m not currently living in the city either, but Harrisonburg is the heart of the area, and we all are very vested in the health and future of the City. The issues brought out in this campaign will be both a continuation of unresolved situations, and future challenges, and the elections in Harrisonburg will contunue to play a great role when Byrd and Frank must choose whether or not to run again shortly.
    The direction and future of the county/city are intertwined, as much as it may pain some folks in both areas to admit. So we must all consider very carefully, the candidates and their visions, and their records of community investment, city and county.

  14. JGFitzgerald says:

    Lowell, edited: What specifics do the candidates offer about county-city cooperation, especially when it can save money for both localities?

  15. finnegan says:

    In terms of county-city relations, the elephant in the room is the expiration of the annexation moratorium. It’s currently set to expire in two years. Either the city and county folks in General Assembly hammer out a deal next session, or the dike is down, leaving counties unprotected to cities that have “run out of room.”

  16. Bubby says:

    I want me some of them City sidewalks, and Bus service out here in the County! Throw in a bike trail to downtown and I’m in.

  17. Gxeremio says:

    The city budget has more than doubled in the last five years. The current numbers for next year are something like $212 million. Even adjusted for inflation and population change, the average amount spent per city resident is growing every year. What are the causes of this huge increase and what can Council do about it?

  18. JGFitzgerald says:

    Gx and others: The budget figure can be misleading. For instance, a large project like a new school has to go into a particular year. A more accurate guide is to compare individual categories or departments, separate capital and operating expenses, and try to ascertain if personnel increases are for salaries or benefits. Generally, the huge projects are discretionary, insurance costs aren’t.

  19. David Miller says:

    To answer Finn’s request for issues that I care about

    1:) How do you plan to help Harrisonburg avoid its fate as the next Northern Virginia hell hole? (perhaps you could word that better:)

    2:) How do you plan to pay city employees (specifically Police Officers and Teachers) a living wage that is above or at least competitive with surrounding communities? Are you willing to commit to this cause?

    3:) What measures are you planning for Downtown that will move current policy of infrastructure rehabilitation towards retail rehabilitation once HDR has achieved its goal in the infrastructure area?

  20. Josh says:

    Additional issue: So whatever happened with that high speed / IPv6 internet project? Is the city still hoping to pursue this?

  21. charlie chenault says:

    I will try to start answering these in the morning. Brent indicated he was going to do web broadcasts with the candidates on selected issues which I certainly look forward to. One comment today – my sole purpose for pursuing moving the election to november was to increase voter turnout, not saving money on the may election, not trying to dilute single issue candidates, not try to guage the interest of the electorate, etc. In fact, I have suffered more from the criticism of some members of the Republican party on this issue than anything else (poor me). I firmly believe that trying to judge the quality and motive of the electorate is a very slippery slope. If that were the case, I might not be able to vote myself. Let’s just say I enjoy a good joke. If they qualify, register and want to vote, then make it as easy as possible. Sometimes I am not interested in going to work, but I do it.
    See you soon – Charlie

  22. kai says:

    When I announced my candidacy at Clementine, attendees discussed their thoughts, concerns, and ideas regarding Harrisonburg. They are posted here.

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