The first in a series of debates organized by the Coalition of Loudoun Towns brought more people than expected on Monday night to learn the differences among three candidates for the Catoctin District seat on the Board of Supervisors.
Republican Caleb Kershner, Democrat Forest Hayes and Independent Sam Kroiz agreed the rural west needs to stay rural, but debating in front of a crowd at the Lovettsville Volunteer Fire and Rescue station they differed on how to keep it that way.
Kroiz has been involved with the local government as a citizen for some time, including prominently as one of the organizers of successful resistance to AT&T’s plans to put a large industrial facility on top of Short Hill Mountain. He is also the eighth generation to farm at Georges Mill Farm, where he and his family make and sell goat cheese. He said he and his wife Molly had to reinvent the farm for the 21stcentury.
“Farms are what sustains rural Loudoun the way that it is, and farms can’t exist in an area that’s not rural,” Kroiz said. And he said all of Loudoun’s biggest issues are tied into housing development: “Housing drives so many of our problems—high taxes, traffic, overcrowded schools—so we can’t let that come from eastern Loudoun into rural Loudoun. So, it’s really the top one through five issues.”
Kershner, an attorney in Leesburg, pointed to his family’s background long history of farming and his own experience in law and agribusiness.
“I want to basically bring my background, my training and my experience to the Board of Supervisors to ensure at this critical time in history we preserve Loudoun County and the west,” Kershner said.
And Washington, DC, government official Hayes said he was prompted to run when the size of his daughter’s class in school tripled over a summer, and said he found “unbridled homebuilding on nearby subdivided farms combined with unbalanced land use policies, outdated zoning codes and unimaginative leadership” in his adopted home. In particular, he said fixing Rt. 15 was the number one issue in Loudoun, and said he would expedite planned work on the road.
“You can trust me because I live on a farm on a gravel road by choice, not by coincidence of birth,” Hayes said. “Nine years ago [wife] Nicole and I decided to raise our family in Loudon County, in western Louduon County. … You can trust me because when I look out over this room I don’t see a group of voters and taxpayers, I see my friends and neighbors.”
Candidates faced both specific questions on their own stances and plans and generalized questions about the county. Hayes came out of the gate swinging, launching attacks on Kershner for his background working for the Home School Legal Defense Association, during which time he argued for abolishing the Department of Education and federal involvement in education, and for criticizing the Board of Supervisors for not updating the comprehensive plan in nearly 20 years—a period when three of four Boards of Supervisors have been Republican-controlled.
The two other candidates, meanwhile, criticized Hayes for proposals that could be expensive or illegal for the local government to implement, such as a moratorium on new homebuilding in the Transition Policy Area.
The three candidates had varying views on expanding broadband internet access to Loudoun’s rural reaches. Hayes said he would like to lease space atop publicly-owned facilities and schools to both generate revenue and expand connectivity; Kershner said he would like to cut down on regulatory red tape to make it easier to put up more towers in western Loudoun; and Kroiz quipped, “There’s not much I can say about this complicated topic in 30 seconds, but I can say that nobody wants rural broadband more than me—I’m sitting on a goldmine of goat blooper videos and I can’t upload them.”
They also differed on the Board of Supervisors’ 11th-hour decision to give Loudoun Water, rather than the Town of Leesburg, the first right of refusal on new water and sewer connections in the Joint Land Management Area around Leesburg. The proposal stirred up controversy when it was announced late in supervisors’ work to revise the new county comprehensive plan, and is the subject of a lawsuit between the town and county governments.
Kershner supported supervisors’ decision, saying he wants to push costs down for people living and doing business there. The Town of Leesburg charges higher rates for water outside of the town limits.
“I actually happen to know some of the companies that wanted to build in this JLMA, and have spoken with them,” Kershner said. “This was a deal-breaker for them. This is the kind of government policy, the high costs, that drives businesses away.”
Hayes called for compromise.
“I’m fine with Loudoun Water having the first right of refusal,” Hayes said. “What I’m not fine with is the Town of Leesburg getting left holding the bag. … All these people are Loudoun County residents.”
And Kroiz said the decision was “a good example of the comprehensive plan process, which I was disappointed with throughout.” He criticized the decision to suddenly reverse years of planning for the town, and said he would like to be a “champion for the towns.”
“I find myself arguing a lot of times just for planning generally,” Kroiz said. “We need to have a plan. We need to let businesses know where we’re going to in the future.”
On other topics, the three candidates generally agreed—such as that Loudoun should look into setting up a police department, and that salaries for public employees should continue to rise to keep them in Loudoun.
Closing, Hayes said “we don’t have another four years to waste.”
“I’m hoping that you remember one thing I said,” Hayes said. “We don’t have another four years to drive on a dangerous Rt. 15. We don’t have another four years for kids to sit in trailers [in schools] … we don’t have another four years where our tourism and agri-tourism businesses don’t have a simple thing like the internet,” Hayes said.
“I have lived in every single policy area this county has to offer,” Kershner said. “… I’m asking for your vote and for the ability to represent you, and I will bring every single one of those skills and background that I have to bear on the policies.”
“I’m running to keep rural Loudoun rural,” Kroiz said. “Like I said, it’s the most important issues in this district, and I think in the county overall, because if we suburbanize rural Loudoun, it’s going to bankrupt Loudoun.” He added “You can trust me to follow through, because my livelihood is tied to rural Loudoun being rural.”
The debate, which used questions provided in advance by members of the public, was moderated Lovettsville Mayor Nate Fontaine, along with Loudoun Now editor Norman K. Styer and Loudoun Times-Mirror editor Trevor Baratko. The full debate was livestreamed on Facebook and can be viewed here.
The second of three COLT debates will be held Thursday, Oct. 3 at the Bush Tabernacle in Purcellville. It will feature Blue Ridge District candidates Tony R. Buffington (R) and Tia Walbridge (D). The final debate will be for the Chairman At-Large seat, with Robert J. Ohneiser (I), Phyllis J. Randall (D) and John C. L. Whitbeck (R), on Wednesday, Oct. 9 at the Ida Lee Park Recreation Center in Leesburg.
Questions for those programs may be submitted at loudounnow.com/colt_debates.