With the Town of Middleburg’s special election just three weeks away, its two Town Council candidates are busy discussing their goals.
The town held a candidate forum Monday night for candidates Chris Bernard, an e-commerce director for West Federal Retail who missed out on a council seat in the May 1 municipal elections by 16 votes, and Kurt Abendschein, a Sotheby’s real estate agent, to discuss town businesses, utilities and the county’s Envision Loudoun comprehensive plan update.
After introductions that both highlighted economic development as the most important topic at hand, the candidates right off the bat were asked which types of businesses the town should attract.
Bernard, 32, said that attracting new businesses, like the town did with the King Street Oyster Bar and Old Ox Brewery, is important for the town to become a destination. Abendschein, 49, agreed and noted that smaller businesses would be best.
When asked what they thought the town’s three biggest challenges were, Abendschein said that the town needs to attract more sustainable businesses, maintain its historic character and keep utility rates down so that residents can afford the cost of living.
Bernard agreed with Abendschein on utilities and said that bringing in new businesses and helping the existing ones thrive is equally important. He also said the town needs to focus on residents’ wants and needs, suggesting that the median age might change in the coming years. “It’s just making sure that we kind of stay in tune with residents,” he said.
Mayor Bridge Littleton also had a chance to ask the candidates about their take on development pressure and Envision Loudoun, the rewrite process for the county’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan.
Abendschein said the town needs to work alongside the Board of Supervisors to preserve land and “build smartly.” He said that development isn’t only threatening the town from the east, but also from Purcellville in the north. “I think we need to work very closely with Loudoun County and Fauquier County and help guide smarter growth…so that basically we don’t end up like eastern Loudoun County,” he said.
Bernard said, while the town of about 850 residents doesn’t have a lot of control outside of its borders, it does have a big voice and that residents should attend county meetings to express their concerns about increased development. “The whole community as one gives us a much stronger voice,” he said.
When Councilman Peter Leonard-Morgan asked the candidates what Middleburg should do to prepare for the next nationwide financial downturn, both had similar responses.
Bernard said that although the town is doing well, it should be looking at different revenue streams for support, rather than relying so much on tourism—something that could drop considerably if the national economy takes a hit. “Taking the eye off the ball in the future would be a huge mistake,” he said.
Abendschein said the town needs to survive on its own by putting an emphasis on resident-focused businesses, like general stores and restaurants.
Another resident asked the candidates what the town can do to improve its information technology infrastructure.
Abendschein said that the system is rudimentary, “like cable just came to Middleburg,” and that something needs to be done about the lack of fiber optic service. “It’s very critical to this town that we increase the IT infrastructure,” he said.
Bernard said that the three in-town businesses he manages all experience connectivity problems and that, although he would love the highest speed of internet possible, he doesn’t want to see bulldozers tearing up land to install fiber optic lines.
Residents will go to the polls on Nov. 6 to vote in either Bernard or Abendschein to sit on the dais until the term expires in June 2020. The winner will replace Interim Councilwoman Bundles Murdock, the former 12-year council member who the Town Council appointed in July to temporarily fill the vacancy that was left by Littleton when he was elected mayor.