Traffic, traffic, traffic dominated a forum Tuesday where the three candidates for the Gainesville District supervisor seat showed their colors.
After almost two hours of questions and answers with Heritage Hunt residents, one man said he still didn’t see any real plans from any of the candidates on how they plan on alleviating gridlock in the rural-turned-suburban district.
Independent incumbent Edgar S. Wilbourn III defended himself against challengers’ remarks and said he has upheld his past campaign promises.
Democratic opponent Gary Friedman and Republican candidate John Stirrup, vowed that they could bring improvements with new representation, promising stricter control over growth.
Wilbourn, a 58-year-old contract manager for the site excavation firm Anderson Co., is seeking his third four-year term on the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.
Friedman, 52, is a program director for Action in the Community Through Service and Stirrup, 46, is the public affairs director for the Foley and Lardner law firm.
Each had his own reason for voters to consider him for their next supervisor — the incumbent trumpeted improving conditions in the county, such as lower commercial and residential tax rates, while challengers grabbed the worsening traffic situation for leverage in their argument to oust him.
The three differed on theories of approving development plans in Gainesville.
Stirrup said he won’t vote to approve any development if it doesn’t include means to improve traffic.
“And folks, if we’re sued, so be it,” he said. “If the board is actually sued, maybe that’s the bold leadership we need to send the message that enough is enough. We want growth, but we want it in a managed, sensible, sustainable way.”
Wilbourn said he’s cautious not to entangle the county in litigation by working within the legal structure of the county’s comprehensive plan.
He’s been negotiating with developers to build at lower densities than existing zoning allows, such as the Heritage Hunt site, where the zoning would have allowed town homes, he said.
But to Friedman, that’s not a strong enough stance against preparing for the influx of development headed to Gainesville.
He said that the board has been “rubber stamping” development plans and criticized it for allowing more development before schools are ready to admit students.
He doesn’t like the idea of charging developers proffers because, ultimately, residents are subsidizing the infrastructure, he said.
“We’ll never catch up until there is a structured change in that process,” he said.
To fix short-term transportation dilemmas, Stirrup wants to ask for federal dollars, he said.
That’s where his relationship with Rep. Frank Wolf, R-10th District, would come in handy to get federal funds to expand the problematic Interstate 66 and U.S. 29 interchange, he said.
Fundamental changes in the way the Virginia Department of Transportation funds long-term road improvements are necessary, he added.
But Wolfe has been in office for a while, and Friedman questioned why he hasn’t offered federal money for the I-66 interchange already.
Friedman called for self-imposed moderation from developers and the Board of County Supervisors to curb development and the Gainesville District’s “horrendous infrastructure problem.”
Some of Gainesville’s road problems can be answered by development, said Wilbourn, who urged them to look at the “whole picture.”
Among other projects, the 2,000-home South Market development, which was rejected by supervisors earlier this year, would have brought improved roads, he said.
And the district’s traffic problems are not entirely local, he said. Out of 55,000 drivers passing through on U.S. 29, 48,000 are coming from Fauquier County, he said.
“It’s not people just riding through,” argued Stirrup. “We have completely hemorrhaged the infrastructure in this county and it’s only getting worse.”
The debate over how much policing duty should be allowed to the Sheriff’s Office wasn’t overlooked by the candidates.
The Prince William County Police Department is charged with patrolling the county and answering emergency calls, among other duties, while the county Sheriff’s Office protects the courts.
Recent controversy over how many more duties the Sheriff’s Office should take on has sparked debate among county supervisors.
Friedman said there shouldn’t be any downsizing in a post-Sept. 11, 2001, world.
“We need to sit down and work out an arrangement that everybody can live with,” he suggested.
Wilbourn agreed that the Sheriff’s Office shouldn’t be downsized because the courts are expanding and will need the additional security in the future.
Stirrup said that, according to a task force analysis of an overlap in duties, the Sheriff’s Office seems to be making a “conscious effort to waste tax payers’ money.”
It should be downsized to reflect the Sheriff Office’s specific duties and more police should patrol north of I-66, he said.