Loudoun Times-Mirror: Blue Ridge District Candidate Q&A: Tony Buffington (R) vs. Tia Walbridge (D)
Tia Walbridge's responses
What would be your top three priorities if elected?
The issues of greatest concern in Loudoun all stem from our county’s reactive response to a break-neck rate of growth: Overdevelopment encroaching on our green spaces and threatening our active agriculture, overcrowded schools built five years late, and overburdened roads that result in unbearable traffic. The solution is not as complex as it might seem — we must proactively plan for our growth, investing in our communities before we build houses, not after.
Proactively planning for our growth means building schools as we need them, so we don’t force our children to switch schools three times before fifth grade. It means 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.
We need a Board of Supervisors with a broad, long-term vision for Loudoun County that serves as the lens through which our supervisors view each proposal that comes before it. We need a board that makes decisions based on the expected impact on our residents and on our county’s future, rather than on petty politics.
I’m running for Supervisor to bring integrity, in-depth policy knowledge, and a long-term vision for our county to our local governing body. We need to start thinking bigger and more proactively if we want to protect the balance of rural and suburban landscapes and economies that makes our county such a wonderful place to call home.
How are you going to balance the different viewpoints and priorities between the east and west for the overall benefit of the county?
The narrative that residents of the rural “west” and those of the suburban “east” have intractable competing interests is overblown. I believe this narrative is the result of a lack of will to collaborate and to build coalitions among Supervisors and stakeholders. Whether we decided to raise our families in the suburbs or on rural land, most of us chose to settle down in Loudoun for the same reasons: world-class schools, accessible open space and beautiful landscapes, and good job opportunities. And many of us share the same challenges: overcrowded classrooms, traffic congestion, a high cost of living, and overdevelopment encroaching on our green spaces.
The Blue Ridge District straddles this “east-west divide” more than any other in the county, covering the Rural, Suburban, and Transition Policy Areas. The solutions to our issues are not isolated: they all stem from poor community planning, too much by-right development, and a lack of coordination and cohesion in our county.
Our Board of Supervisors must do better to collaborate to bridge these concerns, to find more innovative solutions, and to bring more voices to the table to make sure stakeholders from every pocket of Loudoun are represented in big decisions about our county’s future.
Do you support building another bridge from Loudoun County across the Potomac River? Explain.
The congestion relief provided by another Potomac River crossing would be huge for our county but remains an unrealistic expectation. Maryland’s elected officials have made clear time and time again that they are not interested in building the bridge. If they change their minds, I would be eager to pursue the project.
The 2019 Comprehensive Plan has been approved. Explain one thing you would have done differently?
Two programs that are part of the gold standard of conservation, used throughout the state and the country, should have been included in this plan but were not: a Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program and a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program. I am extremely disappointed in our western supervisors' lack of initiative and knowledge when it comes to advocating for these policies, which should have been included from the outset of the Envision Loudoun process over two years ago.
TDRs allow the county to transfer credits for development from rural areas to more developed areas, protecting our green spaces and active agriculture, which provide $1.7 billion in economic impact to our county annually and keep property taxes low for all of us, from Bluemont to Sterling. The PDR program benefits from cost-matching from the state, so not only are we failing to protect our rural lands by choosing not to make use of this program, but we are also leaving real money on the table.
Outgoing Vice Chairman Ralph Buona gave the Board of Supervisors a "B+" in his assessment of the current board. How would you grade the current board and why?
The current Board of Supervisors has left much to be desired. Our western Supervisors, in particular, dropped the ball repeatedly during the Envision Loudoun process, often choosing to let petty politics dictate their positions rather than the interests of the people they were elected to represent. It is inexcusable that we have neither a Transfer of Development Rights program nor a Purchase of Development Rights program to conserve our rural land.
My opponent voted against a proposal for a PDR program because of the party of the Supervisor who proposed it, forfeiting an opportunity to build a coalition of representatives that would support these programs in unity, had he shown the leadership to explain and defend their value and the economic implications of losing the Rural Policy Area for the entire county without them. He also refused to put in the effort to learn the details of these programs and has been on the record repeatedly confusing TDRs and PDRs.
The current board also voted not to fund the school budget three years in a row and voted against an agreement that would have provided distance-based tolling on the Greenway.
I think Mr. Buona was generous in his grade.
Explain if you agree or disagree with the board's decision to not add elementary school resource officers into the fiscal 2020 budget.
There is nothing more important than the safety of our students, but the motion to add elementary school resource officers into the fiscal 2020 budget was raised at the eleventh hour and resulted in a slapdash proposal that would come at a cost of nearly $3 million to taxpayers. If we want to have a discussion about putting real money behind improving school safety, we should study all of the available options, and move thoughtfully, methodically, and in conjunction with the school board to make a final determination.
Loudoun has grown significantly in recent decades. Should there be additional hard caps on housing?
The new Comprehensive Plan has laid out a general outline for future growth in our county. It is the job of the incoming Board of Supervisors to establish zoning that adheres to a vision of a balanced Loudoun County. We must tighten our zoning to encourage development around mass transit while focusing on preserving open space in both the Transition and Rural Policy Areas.
One of the major tasks for the next board will be overhauling the county's zoning ordinance. Explain one area the future board should consider revising.
Rehauling the county’s zoning ordinance will be the biggest and most important job for the next Board of Supervisors. We must tighten our zoning to limit by-right development in both eastern and western Loudoun. We must bring developers to the table to focus on building cohesive, well-connected communities instead of resigning ourselves to the false notion that we have no control over the by-right development of disparate groups of houses that lack the infrastructure necessary to support them and contribute to our worsening traffic problems throughout the county. We must also update our zoning ordinances to allow for redevelopment of underused areas of Loudoun.
Loudoun has done well economically in recent years. What will be your top priority to continue economic growth?
My top priority to continue our economic growth is to attract more large-scale employers in aerospace, tech, and intelligence to Loudoun, which will in turn alleviate traffic and lighten the burden on our infrastructure by reducing the number of people who commute out of our county each day.
We must simultaneously support our rural businesses, recognizing the importance of the farms that provide the viewshed to allow all of the businesses of western Loudoun to thrive. As an owner of two small businesses, one of them a farm, I know first-hand the challenges facing small-business owners in Blue Ridge. We are rapidly losing our farms, and we must consider a multi-pronged approach to keeping them alive and prosperous for future generations: an agricultural accelerator to help small businesses build capital, county-supported farmers’ markets, a farmland database connecting landowners with young farmers who want to lease property they can’t afford to buy yet, a thoughtful tax code for agricultural structures that doesn’t tax a hay barn at the same rate as a tasting room or wedding venue.
In a time filled with partisan rhetoric, please give a compliment to your opponent or opponents.
Tony Buffington has a lot to manage as a single dad working full-time in DC, alongside his job as Supervisor. He’s done an impressive job juggling a heavy load and has hired a good staff to help him out.