Windsor council candidates present views

Published 2:04 pm Monday, October 22, 2018

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On Thursday evening, five of the six candidates running for Windsor’s Town Council and the sole candidate on the ballot for mayor participated in a forum moderated by Stephen H. Cowles, managing editor of Windsor Weekly and a staff writer for The Tidewater News. The event was held in Windsor High School’s auditorium.

On the ballot for council are incumbents Tony Ambrose and Patty Flemming; George L. Stubbs, who serves on the town’s Planning Commission; Kelly G. Blankenship; J. Randy Carr and Carl J. “Jim” Laule Jr. The sole candidate running for mayor is Glyn T. Willis IV, who also serves on the Planning Commission.

Prior to the start of questions, each candidate was given time to make an opening statement as to why he or she chose to run for office. Willis said that he was born and raised in Windsor, graduated from Windsor High School, and moved back to the town with his wife in 2007. As for what he hopes to accomplish as mayor, Willis said that he sees it as critical for the town to work with the county on development in the Windsor development service district (DSD,) which includes the land surrounding the town’s incorporated borders, and to resolve the town’s sewer capacity issues.

Lauley said he retired from the military two years ago and moved to Windsor for its small-town atmosphere and safety. He added that he also volunteers at the Diamonds in the Rough horse rescue a few miles outside of town.

“I’m very fiscally conservative and believe we need to take care of what we have before growing anything else,” he said. “This town’s truly a diamond in the rough and truly Hampton Roads’ best-kept secret. I want to preserve that and help grow it in a common-sense way.”

His priorities, said Lauley, would include infrastructure improvements and getting more businesses along Route 460, specifically those of a type that could cater to some of the tourist traffic that passes through the area.

Carr, who is originally from Southampton County, also said that managing the town’s growth should be a priority.

“I have really watched this town grow, even when I lived in Southampton County,” he said. “I have seen it double in size, geographically, economically and in population. We’re growing … I want to be a part of it.”

Blankenship said that her motivation to run for council comes from a desire to ensure that the uniqueness that makes up Windsor is maintained, and also to ensure that the town pursues economic development opportunities. She added that she felt the town’s tax dollars should be spent on needs, not wants.

Ambrose said one of his priorities, if reelected, would be to fix the town’s infrastructure, and specifically, to get sewer service in the Lovers Lane area. He added that he felt the town should pursue trying to develop a downtown district somewhere off of Route 460, given the highway’s continual traffic problems.

“I fear that VDOT’s going to do something that’s going to drastically alter our town,” Ambrose said. “I don’t believe we should let VDOT control what we do as a town.”

Stubbs said that he chose to run for council after being approached by one or two current council members who said they were not running for reelection and suggested to him that they felt he would be a good candidate. He also mentioned managing growth as one of his priorities if elected.

“I do not want to see us become another Carrollton,” Stubbs said. “I do not want to see Windsor explode, but at the same time, we need business, we need to raise our tax base.”

Flemming, who could not be in attendance, asked her neighbor, Sam Askew, to read a statement on her behalf. That statement highlighted her service on the council for the past eight years, and said that whether reelected or not, she would continue to advocate for at least an addition to the town’s library if not a new library facility, as well as a new space for the town’s utilities staff, which she said would free up space in Garris Park. Some of the town’s accomplishments during her time on council, she said, included starting a Christmas parade, hiring quality police officers, collecting for welcome bags and installing a mini-Frisbee golf course on land slated for a new town hall and library.

One of the first questions posed to the candidates was their stance on backyard chickens in town. Ambrose said he had voted against the ordinance proposed by the town’s Planning Commission in 2017, which would have permitted chickens on lots zoned R1 or R4 with some restrictions, because 75 percent of the people who contacted him about the issue said they were opposed to the idea of backyard chickens. Ambrose added that although he personally did not see a problem with chickens, he felt he had an obligation to represent the majority of his constituents — but then added that he felt that most people in town did not care one way or the other about chickens.

Stubbs said that as a member of the Planning Commission, he had conducted research into the issue and learned that salmonella could become an issue if the coops were not properly maintained.

“I presented all that information,” he said. “Some people may maintain chickens in their backyards and they may keep the [coops] cleaned… but then you have those who don’t.”

Blankenship said that she felt that chickens had become a big deal in society today, with people wanting to have organically grown eggs, and then questioned why Windsor couldn’t have chickens when larger cities such as Norfolk and Hampton have ordinances permitting them.

When asked what town-funded construction projects should or should not be pursued, Willis praised the repurposing of the former Windsor Middle School gym into the Windsor Town Center, but said that he would not consider the plans for a new municipal building to be a pressing need today. Blankenship said that prior to running for council, she had not been aware of everything the town was working on, but said that she would try to get more involved, even if not elected, and decide for herself what she felt was and was not needed.

When asked what could be done to make Windsor safer for walking or riding bicycles, Ambrose reiterated his call for a walkable or bike-able downtown district off of Route 460. He called Route 460 “kind of scary, because we don’t have sidewalks and we don’t have room to put in sidewalks even if we wanted them.” Blankenship said she was an avid bike rider and suggested walk/no walk lighted signs that would sync with the traffic lights on Route 460.

Ambrose added that the county had recently submitted a proposal for a crosswalk on Route 460 to VDOT’s SMART SCALE.

Desiree Urquhart, the sole person of color in attendance at the forum, then asked the candidates how they would engage more of the town’s African-American population in local government. Stubbs said he would be more than willing to meet with anyone and suggested that churches or other groups could contact him. Carr said that he felt he was already well known in town due to having been in business for over 20 years, and that the issue of color hadn’t really crossed his mind, given the number of people he interacts with on a daily basis.

Willis acknowledged that the town was a mix of people of different social and economic backgrounds and said that Windsor needs to include those people on the Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals. He said doing that could plant seeds for greater participation in the town’s government.

Laule and Blankenship both referenced using Facebook to reach out to a wider audience, and Blankenship also suggested the town record and publish videos of council meetings so people can watch them at their convenience.

When each candidate was asked what he or she would like to accomplish over his or her four-year term if elected, Ambrose, Willis, Carr and Laule all called for the town to put in place some sort of comprehensive plan, similar to the process the county is undertaking, which would involve gathering citizen input on where and how the town should grow. Blankenship added that she would like to see infrastructure issues that are currently prohibiting growth, such as the lack of sewer capacity, be resolved, and Stubbs said that he would like to see more young people get involved with the town’s government.

When asked about the county’s proposed partnership with the state to locate a juvenile correctional facility near the town, all the candidates expressed opposition — if not to the facility itself, then with the way it was presented to residents.

“My big beef with that facility is that the citizens of Isle of Wight County are going to have to pay $500,000 to run utilities out to a facility that probably no one else will utilize,” Ambrose said. “From an analyst’s perspective, 240 jobs, that would be a lot of economic growth… for Suffolk, because we all know since we don’t have housing in the area, they’re probably not going to stay here.”

The final question posed to the candidates was how each would encourage economic development in Windsor. Laule said that the town would need financial incentives for businesses that won’t break the town’s bank. Blankenship suggested reaching out to the community to encourage people who already live in town to open small businesses. Stubbs said that the cost of dealing with wetlands has been an ongoing impediment to businesses locating in Windsor. Ambrose said the first step to getting anyone to invest in the town is for the town to invest in itself and its infrastructure. He added that the town was at a disadvantage in that the county owns the sewer system in town.

“We have to ask and try to get them to put in sewage, and as we all know, they’re broke, just like so many other places in the world,” Ambrose said. “If we can create the infrastructure some other way, we’ve got to start there.”

Willis, however, said that the town’s greatest opportunity to encourage economic development may be working with the county.

The election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 6. The polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Windsor Volunteer Fire Department.