Blue Ridge Leader Q&A with Tia Walbridge
Tia Walbridge is a small-business owner and mother of two, raising her daughters on their small sheep farm in Round Hill. With deep roots in Loudoun County, Tia serves on the Virginia Agricultural Council, Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Loudoun County Farm Bureau, and is a founding member of Save Rural Loudoun. She also serves on the board of the non-profit Dandelion Meadow, which helps women battling addiction.
Blue Ridge Leader: Western Loudoun is booming with new event-based businesses in close proximity to homes. How do you protect residents from the noise and traffic that these businesses generate?
Tia Walbridge: We face the tough challenge in Blue Ridge of needing to demonstrate Western Loudoun’s economic viability to the rest of the County so that we can maintain our rural character. While we’ve done well to create a booming rural economy, our notoriously lax zoning code has welcomed a number of event-based businesses that generate negative externalities of noise and traffic in traditionally quiet, residential neighborhoods.
We need to tighten our zoning code and then enforce it with sizeable fines, so that we no longer attract businesses who choose to set up shop here, because they know we treat our zoning code as more of a guide than a rule, and treat violations with a slap on the wrist.
We also need to come together and have a conversation as a community about what we’re willing to live with in order to improve our economic viability. This is a tough balance to strike, and we need as many voices at the table as possible to decide where we want to draw lines.
BRL: What is a priority/need common to the eastern and western residents of your district?
Walbridge: The issues that matter most to Loudoun residents all stem from our County’s slow response to our break-neck rate of growth: Overdevelopment encroaching on our green spaces and threatening our active agriculture, overcrowded schools built five years too late, and overburdened roads that result in unbearable traffic. The solution is not as complex as it might seem: We must plan for our growth and invest in our communities before we start digging, not after.
Proactively planning for our growth means building schools as we need them to prevent overcrowding; implementing conservation programs to preserve our land before it’s sold for by-right development. It means planning thoughtful, well-connected communities, so we don’t build houses without building the roads and infrastructure needed to support them.
BRL: Do you believe the many developer-funded studies that say Loudoun County’s economy will fall behind if we don’t add tens of thousands of residential units to our housing stock?
Walbridge: As a matter of fact, residential units are cash negative for our County. Each roof we add in Western Loudoun costs our taxpayers $1.60 for every $1 generated in taxes. Instead of building out the west, we ought to add density along major transportation corridors where water, sewer, and all infrastructure necessary for growth already exist.
If we’re going to stay ahead economically, we must focus on attracting businesses that create jobs and pay taxes. Attracting more businesses like Orbital Sciences, which employs people right here in Loudoun, builds on our economic growth, and alleviates congestion by reducing the number of commuters in our County. By some estimates, more than 60 percent of our working-age population commutes out of our County for work every day.
BRL: Do you support opening up the Transition Policy Area to more and more data centers?
Walbridge: I do not support opening up the Transition Policy Area to more and more data centers. Data centers have been helpful in keeping our tax rate low, but we have reached our capacity for them countywide. Fifteen percent of our County’s overall income is generated by data centers. It is risky to rely so heavily on an industry that only creates a handful of jobs and on a technology that is likely to become obsolete in the near future. We must be strategic about our reliance on data centers, and have a plan to diversify our economy with other industries.
BRL: What is your approach to working with the eastern Loudoun County Supervisors to get what you need for your district?
Walbridge: We all choose to live in Loudoun for many of the same reasons: the ample green space, world-class schools, and great jobs. We make memories taking our children strawberry-picking at Wegmeyers, biking the WO&D trail, and bringing our friends from out of town to our local wineries and breweries.
We all have a stake in preserving Western Loudoun’s economy and rural character. I’ve been working with current Supervisors and candidates from every district in Loudoun for over a year. We all want the same things for our County: to preserve our rural and suburban balance, improve our schools, and support our thriving economy. When our Supervisors put residents’ interests before their own political interests, we don’t have to choose between “Eastern” and “Western” Loudoun. We can make collective decisions that benefit our entire County.
BRL: What is the most interesting thing about you as a candidate and a person, that voters in your district should know?
Walbridge: I am not a politician. I’m running to represent our community because I understand first-hand how the policies made from our Board impact our families every day, from the farmers in Round Hill to the teachers and County employees in Brambleton.
Over the past several years, I’ve joined numerous boards and committees in an effort to get the best understanding of the issues that matter most to our community, to trace the root of our biggest problems and pinpoint the most effective, creative solutions. From my seats on Virginia’s Agricultural Council, Loudoun County Farm Bureau, Save Rural Loudoun, and Soil & Water, I’ve accumulated an in-depth and comprehensive policy knowledge that makes me the best candidate to represent our beautiful and unique district as we fight to preserve our green spaces and active agriculture, improve our roads, and alleviate traffic congestion, and support our public schools.