SANDBRIDGE – Big real estate names in this rental-driven residential resort are backing up opposition to City Councilmember Barbara Henley with campaign contributions to one of the incumbent’s challengers, campaign finance records show.
Recent donations to the political coffers of Dr. Karen Beardslee Kwasny, a member of the Virginia Beach Planning Commission who is facing Henley and two other candidates in the Princess Anne District, come as contentious efforts to regulate short term rentals in Virginia Beach continue.
It has been a divisive topic in Sandbridge, and various proposals have been discussed, studied or considered by the City Council and the Planning Commission, among others, over the past few years. Members of the Sandbridge business community have opposed rules they worry might destabilize the vital rental market in the community.
There was even a law passed this year in Richmond meant to protect Sandbridge amid recent talks to regulate short-term rentals throughout the city. Some real estate companies have corresponded directly with their clients, providing updates about policy and — in some cases — candidates.
More than half of about $35,600 in direct donations to Kwasny’s campaign reported in a June filing came from people or businesses involved in the real estate industry in Sandbridge. That sum includes $10,000 each from Sandbridge Realty and Siebert Realty, the records show, as well as smaller donations from real estate, building and management officials and companies.
During an interview, Kwasny said short-term rentals is only one issue of concern for a community that has not always felt adequately represented.
“I think they have watched what I have done during my tenure on the planning commission,” she said, “and they think I take in a broader perspective and do my best to represent a majority, not a special interest group.”
She noted that the agencies that have donated represent a lot of people in the community.
“I don’t make any promises other than I’ll do a really good job representing a wider perspective,” Kwasny said.
Patrick Keenan, president of the Sandbridge Beach Business Association, said the business community believes Kwasny will take a sensible approach to the issue of short-term rentals.
The association is among the endorsements listed at the Kwasny campaign website. Keenan is also president of Siebert Realty, and he has contributed $1,000 to Kwasny’s campaign, campaign finance records show.
“We’re perfectly fine with getting regulation presented to us, but we don’t want to upset what has made Sandbridge so successful,” Keenan said.
Keenan said a number of property owners may support Kwasny’s candidacy this year. He has encouraged them to do so. He said the business community is concerned about possible limitations to the number of rentals allowed per week, among other constraints. A number of people from Sandbridge have spoken during recent meetings on the topic.
Kwasny faces Henley, a Pungo farmer who has represented southern communities in the city for most of the past four decades, and challengers Tim Worst, a Lago Mar resident who sells tactical equipment, and the Rev. Pieri Burton, a Strawbridge real estate agent and pastor who ran against Henley four years ago.
Henley declined to discuss the donations to Kwasny. “I’m just going to run this campaign and not worry too much about those kinds of things,” Henley said.
The incumbent had raised about $950 since her 2014 campaign, though she had about $10,500 on hand in her campaign fund as of her most recent campaign financial disclosure.
Worst has raised about $7,550, and he had about $660 on hand, his records show. Among other things, he has spent $3,000 to date on legal services from Woodfin Law, according to the filing. Worst said it was to have someone familiar with election law ensure there were no issues with campaign paperwork.
“It made me feel better that we had an attorney looking over all of our paperwork,” said Worst, who, like Kwasny, is running for public office for the first time.
Regarding the money from Sandbridge in the race, Worst said the community is important to the district and the city, and he added that short-term rentals are a big topic.
“While I’m disappointed they’re not supporting me, so be it,” he said, adding that he was surprised when he learned there are no limits to donations in Virginia elections.
“I can’t say that I would turn that down,” he noted, speaking of some of the larger donations given to Kwasny. “Unfortunately, you’ve got to raise money to get your name out there, to get your signs out there, to make sure enough people hear you in the city.”
© 2018 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC