CREEDS – The three candidates for the Princess Anne District seat on the Virginia Beach City Council appealed to voters during a forum at a rural hub within the district, joining a number of local candidates this past month at the Creeds Ruritan Community Complex.
A main topic was support for the agricultural reserve program, or ARP, which purchases development rights to keep farmland being farmed. Flooding and concern about preserving rural communities also were discussed.
Virginia Beach Farm Bureau and the Creeds Ruritan Club hosted the forum on Thursday, Oct. 18. The Independent News helped sponsor it. Jake Jacocks, the former Virginia Beach police chief, served as moderator.
City Councilmember Barbara Henley, a farmer from Pungo who has represented the area for much of the past four decades, faces challengers Dr. Karen Beardslee Kwasny, a college professor from Ashville Park and a member of the Planning Commission, and Tim Worst, a Lago Mar resident who works as a school bus driver and at an automotive store.
A fourth candidate, the Rev. Pieri Burton, has withdrawn, though his name still appears on the ballot.
Henley first came to office 40 years ago in the old Pungo Borough, and she has represented rural communities for most of the time since then.
“Keeping our rural area and agriculture strong has been my mission for many years,” she said. “Knowing that agriculture must have farmland in order to continue, that was the first big obstacle we had to meet because sprawl was eating up our lands. With the ARP, we have conserved nearly 10,000 acres for agricultural use and we have prevented building 867 houses. Think how different this area would be if we had not adopted that program in 1995. …
“We’re looking at ways to strengthen the ARP because we’re realizing it’s a good tool for addressing the flooding and sea level rise issues,” Henley said. “Some of the land that has not been eligible is still valuable farmland even though it really shouldn’t be developed.”
The city’s open space program might also be a tool to help address flooding, she said.
Kwasny said she remembered reading about the city’s Green Line after moving here, and having a conversation with her husband. “I said, ‘They’re going to destroy that.’
“Flash forward to 2011, and we moved into Ashville Park where I was very quickly introduced to both flooding and an orange sign indicating there was going to be a request for increasing density on our development property. And I was automatically involved.”
She got involved with city processes.
“Preserving rural heritage and the land beneath the Green Line is our first priority,” Kwasny said. “It’s followed by other sub-priorities that are equally important because they all link together. I’m on the transition area committee. We work to create a buffer between suburban Virginia Beach and rural Virginia Beach.”
Kwasny also mentioned her work on the rural chapter of the city comprehensive plan. Kwasny said she engaged the public to strengthen rural areas and limit development.
Kwasny said “interconnected elements that can help us make a difference in preserving our rural heritage” include diversifying industry throughout the city to grow revenue and deal with flooding.
“It’s going to take a united will,” Kwasny said. “It’s going to take a regional effort. It’s going to take state and federal funding. And the solutions are going to be expensive. We also have to think about developing vertically. And we have to think about redeveloping, revitalizing and repurposing our aging office and retail space. When we do these things, it becomes possible for us to preserve our rural heritage for the future.”
Kwasny said supporting the ARP and enlarging it “to take in more land” are priorities for her. “I’m already working for this area,” she said. “I’ll keep working.”
Worst spoke about growing up in Arrowhead, noting that the trip to Munden Point Park seemed to take two days back then.
“It doesn’t look the same now when you make that drive,” Worst said. “My promise to you is I want Pungo and Blackwater and all these areas to look just like they do now 20 years from now, 40 years from now. …
“That Green Line is the Green Line. You don’t pass it. If there’s a line right here in the concrete, when they put a line in front of something, you don’t pass it.”
Worst was among the candidates who spoke about the Green Line as a stopping point for growth, but recent development near Pungo is below the line in the transition area between suburban Virginia Beach and rural communities. For example, the proposed Harvest Farms development near the Pungo light is below the Green Line but above Indian River Road, a city services boundary. In an interview, Worst said he wants to listen to residents about building below the Green Line.
“I like the ARP,” Worst said during the forum in Creeds. “People want to know that answer from me all the time. I like the ARP for farmers. I believe in it for you farmers. I don’t like how it’s taken advantage of and used as a way to make money. But I do like the ARP.”
In a letter published in April by The Independent News, Worst wrote that “the ARP should probably go away for several reasons,” and he criticized the program as a subsidy.
“Is it fair to ask homeowners in Windsor Woods, Princess Anne Plaza and Ashville Park who suffered flooding damage from Hurricane Matthew to subsidize the ARP, even as they have been told by city officials it will take 15 years to resolve their drainage problems?” Worst wrote.
In an interview with The Independent News on Thursday, Oct. 25, Worst said his position about the program has changed dramatically since then.
During the forum in Creeds, Worst discussed other priorities as a potential member of the council, including support for public safety personnel and doing more for small businesses, as well as dealing with flooding.
The Princess Anne District is the main coverage area of The Independent News, but the forum at the Creeds complex included most candidates for the City Council seats up for election this year, including candidates in the special election for the Centerville District and the special election for mayor.
Audio of the forum in podcast form is available in two parts, PAINCast 103 and 104, by clicking on this link.
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