Planning commissioner from Ashville Park running in Princess Anne District to join Virginia Beach City Council

Dr. Karen Beardslee Kwasny, an educator who serves on the Virginia Beach Planning Commission, seeks the Princess Anne District seat on the Virginia Beach City Council. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

VIRGINIA BEACH — Dr. Karen Beardslee Kwasny, an educator from Ashville Park who serves as a Virginia Beach planning commissioner, will challenge incumbent City Councilmember Barbara Henley in the Princess Anne District.

In Henley, Kwasny will face someone she once viewed as a mentor and with whom she said she shared a number of views. These include support for rural communities, a focus on addressing differing flooding challenges in suburban and rural areas, and defending the embattled agricultural reserve program, or ARP, which purchases development rights to keep farmland viable for crops.

“These people matter to me,” Kwasny said, speaking of citizens in rural communities. “I don’t think you have to be a farmer to represent the area.”

Henley, who has been active in local politics for four decades, is a farmer. Kwasny said she had meant to run if Henley chose not to do so, but ultimately decided the time is now.

“It will be a race based on merit,” Kwasny said. 

The Virginia Beach registrar’s office confirmed that Kwasny filed paperwork recently in what will be a crowded race. Three other challengers are in the mix – tactical equipment firm sales manager Tim Worst of Lago Mar, sheriff’s office sergeant David Fowler of Hillcrest Farms and the Rev. Pieri Burton of Strawbridge. 

Worst and Fowler have filed at least some paperwork to run. Burton, who challenged Henley four years ago, has not yet filed with the registrar, but he told The Independent News this past week that he in the process of doing so. 

Kwasny represents the Princess Anne District on the Virginia Beach Planning Commission, to which Henley nominated her. Kwasny’s term began in 2015 and ends at the end of this year. Kwasny declined to discuss her working relationship with the incumbent in detail, but she said being reappointed to the commission was not certain. That was part of the decision to run because she wanted to remain active in shaping the city. 

“Barbara and I share in substance a great deal,” Kwasny said. “We differ in style.”

Kwasny said a difference is she will be proactive while Henley, who declined to comment for this story, “is sometimes reactive.”

“I pride myself on a broad representation and fresh perspective,” Kwasny said.  

Kwasny, 52, grew up in a rural part of the Lancaster, Pa., area. Her path in academia included a decision that she did not want to conduct scholarship “in a vacuum,” leading her to multicultural literature studies and a doctorate in English from Temple University. [Ed. – Kwasny’s poetry has been published in The Independent News, which modestly compensated her.]

She was teaching in New Jersey when she and her future husband met online, and that led her to Hampton Roads, where she now serves as assistant professor of English at St. Leo University. A move from Courthouse Estates to Ashville Park in 2011 led to Kwasny becoming active in her community after she saw a zoning sign for the then-incomplete Ranier Village portion of the neighborhood. It had been delayed by financial issues with the initial developer and due to the economy. 

That was also how she met Henley, who came to meet with residents. Kwasny later got involved with a committee assembled to review issues in the transition area between suburban and rural areas of the city and the interfacility traffic area, or ITA, between Naval Air Station Oceana and Naval Auxiliary Landing Field Fentress in Chesapeake. 

In Ashville Park, Kwasny disagreed with some extra density credits given for Ranier Village, which were supposed to have been based upon age restrictions. Yet the change was approved by the City Council in 2012 — over Henley’s opposition. Kwasny said the change ultimately led to young families entering the community and becoming involved. 

“It’s not what it was intended to be,” she said, “but it’s a super neighborhood.”

Kwasny is an advocate for helping Ashville Park fix its drainage problems, but she said funding those improvements should not come at the expense of farmland preservation.

City Manager Dave Hansen’s proposed budget would end the ARP, which buys development rights in order to keep farmland active, shifting nearly $4 million per year from the program to storm water projects. 

About $3 million of that money was slated in the coming fiscal year to fund improvements in Ashville Park, according to David Bradley, the city’s director of budget and management services.

Kwasny reiterated her support for the ARP, and she said the proposal to end the program “feels like an attack on the rural community.” [Ed. — An agreement that would save the program is part of the ongoing budget discussions.]

She said conflict over the program may be a good thing because people who do not understand it are getting an education. Among other priorities, Kwasny said she also supports completing a plan for Pungo recommended in the 2016 comprehensive plan update.

© 2018 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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