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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Feld, Gross battle over transit, development, and deer

Mason Supervisor candidate David Feld proposed so many new ways to spend money at a debate last night, Penny Gross asked, “are you sure you’re a Republican?”

That comment came after Feld proposed building more affordable housing in the county, although he also talked about other costly projects.

When asked how he would pay for all that, he said the Metro extension to Dulles “doesn’t need to happen now.” He suggested redirecting those funds to relieve traffic congestion inside the beltway. “That will be my first priority.”

The debate, sponsored by the Mason District Council and League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area, drew more than 80 people to the Annandale United Methodist Church.

Feld told the audience he’s running because he wants to change things he doesn’t like, such as traffic congestion, fees to use county parks, zoning inspectors with too many cases, an inadequate investment in transportation, and communities proposing speed humps because there aren’t enough cops writing speeding tickets.

Gross, the Democratic incumbent who is vice chair of the Board of Supervisors, says some of the things she wanted to improve when she first ran for the board in 1995 are still priorities, such as improving citizen involvement and the quality of life of county residents.She also said she supports more funding for affordable housings, schools, human services, and stormwater projects.

When asked how they would help neighborhoods address such issues as overcrowding and property maintenance and help strengthen communities, Feld said he would expand the Mason District Council and make it more of a consulting group, noting that “communities are the source of our strength.”

Gross talked about how the strike team, created by the board of supervisors in 2007, has been so successful in addressing such issues as multiple-occupancy homes and other violations, that it has been transformed into a county office of code compliance. “More cases are going to court now than ever before,” she said.

“Where are these people going?” Feld asked about people forced to vacate overcrowded houses. They are just moving to other overcrowded houses. “That is not a solution. We need to stop the strike teams,” he said and instead “invest in more affordable housing.”

The subject of how to reduce the deer population also drew a sharp contrast between the candidates.

Feld called the county’s bowhunting operation “a terrible program” that is unsuccessful and inhumane. “The way we treat our wildlife is a reflection of the way we treat ourselves,” he said, adding that there are better solutions. He called implementing a deer contraception program one of his top priorities.

Gross said the “managed hunts are very successful,” resulting in the elimination of about 800 to 1,000 deer a year. She said contraception would be too expensive—it would cost $500 per animal—and has to be done every year.

The two candidates also differed on how to deal with traffic congestion caused by the BRAC-133 project. Gross said she is working with VDOT on a new ramp from I-395 to Seminary Road and set up a task force to develop recommendations for improving traffic patterns on local roads.

It is “ludicrous” that local officials could have stopped the project, Gross said. Feld disagreed, calling the failure of county officials to act “a failure of leadership.”

Gross said the Columbia Pike Transit Initiative, which will bring streetcars to Columbia Pike in  2017, will help relieve traffic around the Mark Center.

Feld said articulated buses would be better option. He called streetcars “a pipedream,” noting they are too expensive and they won’t come all the way to Annandale.

When asked about their position on infill and higher-density development in older, established neighborhoods, Feld said, “when a person moves into a neighborhood they should expect the neighborhood to get better, not worse. It should be up to the neighborhood to decide how to develop.”

Gross said a property owner should have an opportunity to develop in accordance with the county’s comprehensive plan for land use. She acknowledged that the Area Plan Review process, which serves as a guide for new development, could be improved.

Feld says the APR process should be more transparent and that property owners should be involved if changes are proposed for their property. Gross noted that “no zoning or rezoning has gone forward in the past 16 years where the owner of the property is not involved.”

Gross said one of her top priorities is continuing the ongoing revitalization of older areas like Seven Corners and Annandale, which would bring new jobs to the area. Feld suggested more ambitious redevelopment needs to take place and said such projects as replacing a motel with a storage facility are not much of a help.

When it comes to revitalizing central Annandale, Gross pointed to the new stores that have opened recently and said there will be more development when the economy improves, including a project on property already rezoned that is now occupied by a bowling alley.

Feld said what’s needed is high-speed transit, a municipal parking lot, streetscape improvements, and a community center, possibly in the building that used to be the old Annandale Elementary School.

Gross said that building, occupied by ACCA, already houses a day care center and a center for senior citizens. “That’s a great example of the re-use of an existing building,” she said. “I would be loath to kick those programs out to operate a community center.”

The candidates were asked about the sources of their campaign funding, and in particular, Gross was asked about the influence of a $12,000 contribution from 8500 CDC, a limited partnership development company. “When people contribute to my campaign, they know they are getting good government. That is the only deal,” Gross said.

Feld said he will not accept any contributions from anyone he would do business with.

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