Hunter Mill Democrats try to break from pack

Walter Alcorn, Laurie Dodd, Shyamali Hauth, Maggie Parker and Parker Messick, who are seeking the Democratic nomination for Hunter Mill District supervisor, are all smiles after finishing a nearly two-hour debate May 15, 2019, at the Vienna Community Center. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)

With less than a month to campaign before the June 11 primary, five candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for Hunter Mill District supervisor tried to differentiate themselves May 15 at a debate in Vienna.

The forum, held at the Vienna Community Center by a new group called Vienna Votes, covered many issues facing the town. Several candidates said public officials should listen to residents’ concerns, a topic fresh on the minds of Vienna voters who on May 7 ousted a Town Council incumbent and voted in two development critics.

“Vienna has gotten less attention, and I intend to change that,” said attorney Laurie Dodd, who also supports education funding, environmentally friendly policies, a living wage and equal justice, including for immigrants.

“I’m ready to be a skeptic and ask hard questions,” she said.

Parker Messick, a South Lakes High School alumnus who recently graduated from Roanoke College, vowed he would “apply pressure” to Vienna officials as a supervisor to ensure residents’ views were represented. He also favors hiring more teachers, increasing their pay and reducing class sizes, saying county schools “have historically been very underfunded.”

Former Fairfax County Planning Commission member Walter Alcorn, who led the task force that crafted the Tysons comprehensive plan, said he listened to residents’ concerns about the planned 171 million square feet of development there and worked to limit that to 100 million square feet.

“What I’ve got is a track record of bringing people together to solve these tough community problems,” he said.

U.S. Air Force veteran and community organizer Shyamali Hauth pledged if elected to fight against traffic congestion and climate change and for societal equity, environmental sustainability and affordable housing.

Maggie Parker, who works for the development firm Comstock Cos., said the company had committed 19.5 percent of its residential units there to the county’s workforce-housing program. She promised to make sure Vienna was represented in county governance and that the town received sufficient respect from the county’s Park Authority and school system.

Vienna occupies a small section in the south of Hunter Mill District. The district since 2000 has been overseen by Supervisor Catherine Hudgins (D), who will retire at year’s end. Messick was the lone candidate who criticized Hudgins’ service, saying she had failed to help the town of Vienna cope with development in Tysons.

Part of western Tysons is in Hunter Mill District. Pressed on plans for future athletic fields in Tysons, especially diamonds, Alcorn said developers had proffered 8.5 of the comprehensive plan’s required 20 fields. Almost all of those have been rectangular fields, because that’s what the local sports market has demanded, he said.

Dodd called that field tally “far from sufficient” and said Tysons needed 60 fields to meet the needs of its future population.

Community demographics need to be factored in when building fields, said Hauth, who added that Loudoun County had loaded up on rectangular fields and then found out the public desired more cricket pitches.

Regarding what should be done with Vienna’s aging Patrick Henry Library, candidates were open either to renovating the facility or building a new one. Dodd said the site, which also could contain a municipal parking garage, is an ideal opportunity for the county and Vienna to work together.

Parker desired installation of “green” systems at the revamped library, Hauth favored improving its accessibility, Messick supported maintaining Vienna’s library services during renovations or construction, and Alcorn said the new or renovated library must be much more technologically capable.

Asked if they supported a more equitable taxation system or revenue transfer between Vienna’s government and the county’s, Messick called the situation a “form of double taxation” and said he would consider boosting the amount of county tax revenues returned to the town.

Alcorn said Vienna’s government receives business-tax revenues directly and its residents benefit from county-funded stream-restoration projects and the county’s school system, which receives more than half of the general-fund budget. He favored diversifying the tax base to lessen homeowners’ burden.

Dodd said Vienna residents pay higher taxes, but benefit from a more responsive local government. Hauth said she would consider restructuring county tax revenues, based upon where they originated.

Parker said Vienna’s tax situation had existed for a long time, adding, “I do feel your pain.”

Several candidates favored upgrading and expanding Vienna’s schools, so fewer children would need to learn in classroom trailers.

Candidates favored construction of a bridge or tunnel to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety at the Washington & Old Dominion Regional Trail’s crossing at Maple Avenue, E., but Alcorn said Dominion Energy and NOVA Parks must be consulted first.

To lessen traffic congestion on Maple Avenue, Hauth suggested the road’s center lane could be made reversible or left turns from Maple Avenue prohibited. Alcorn called the road’s traffic congestion “intractable” and favored looking for ways to reduce the number of single-occupant vehicles there.

Dodd acknowledged the problem would be hard to solve.

“I can’t offer a silver bullet to take care of it,” she said.

In addition to the district supervisor, Hunter Mill voters on June 11 also will choose candidates for Board of Supervisors chairman and commonwealth’s attorney in the Democratic primary. Under state law, voters do not register by political party, so any voter can take part in the primary.

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