1. DO YOU THINK OUR MAIN STREET/DOWNTOWN IS HEALTHY AND SUCCESSFUL? IF NOT, WHAT WOULD YOU DO TO CHANGE THAT?
I believe that our Main Street organization and Downtown business district are healthy. Having interfaced and volunteered to work with the Main Street organization, I feel they are a well organized entity serving as our marketing arm for the Town since we do not have devoted staff such as an economic development coordinator which many larger towns and cities have. The businesses are appearing to do well, and perhaps could even do better if adequate service workforce was available. The only change that I would encourage would be an expansion of events during the tourist shoulder season so shops do not have to close for a period of time during the winter months.
2. WHAT’S MORE IMPORTANT FOR OUR TOWN (AND COUNTY) RIGHT NOW: BUILDING NEW HOMES AND COMMERCIAL SPACE OR REHABBING/EXPANDING/BETTER UTILIZING OUR EXISTING HOMES AND STOREFRONTS?
For this question, I will separate my answers for the town and county. For the town, expansion of housing, in both the historic district and Bay Creek, is taking care of itself given the desirability to live here. Considering the need for more affordable housing within the town, there are undeveloped parcels that could be rezoned for more, and perhaps smaller, homes for purchase and as rental units. It so happens that there is a developer that is currently closing on such a property, with the intent to build workforce rental units. On the town’s commercial side, there are a few locations on Mason Avenue that warrant commercial business. If, and when, the forty acres of railroad property opens up, mixed usage will create an exciting opportunity for expansion, both commercially and residentially as currently zoned. Should the Town get an opportunity to acquire these forty acres, I would advocate for a consultant to assist in land development. Continuing on the town’s commercial side, I would like to see further diversified commercial development on the south side of the harbor. This type of commercial business would be general businesses and not heavy industry. We cannot continue to hang our hat on tourism related revenue.
At the county level, the recently issued Eastern Shore Regional Housing Study (March 2022) demonstrates the need for increased affordable housing units, both for owner-occupation and rental, across all levels of income, up to and including the workforce category (150% Area Medium Income) which tops out at around $90,000 family income. The obvious answer is to build more housing that would satisfy the various income levels. The study also noted that there are vacant/abandoned homes that may be in sufficient condition as to warrant rehabilitation. However, a large majority of these structures have deteriorated to such a point that they now pose a hazard, and the county has a program for demolition.
As a member of the county’s Economic Development Authority, I have personally spoken to many developers to try to interest them in the Eastern Shore. In reality and surprisingly, they have such a demand for, and backlog of current housing projects that the Eastern Shore is not high on their list. I believe the county would have to ‘sweeten the pot’ to entice the notice from developers.
4. SOME PEOPLE CONTINUE TO SAY THAT WE HAVE TRAFFIC PROBLEMS DURING THE TOURIST SEASON. THIS OF COURSE INCLUDES PARKING, AS WELL AS REVERSE-ANGLE PARKING. WHAT DO YOU THINK? HOW WOULD YOU MITIGATE THOSE CONCERNS OR CHANGE THE SITUATION?
Let me first say that I am beyond further discussion about reverse angle parking on Mason Avenue. I was all for the push to reverse-the-reverse parking but given our requests and interactions with VDOT, I will accept the current situation, and move on. The bigger fish to fry for me is the creation of a strategic town-wide plan for parking. We have in the past worked on isolated solutions, having looked at Main Street, Bay Avenue, our town hall event to discuss boat trailers and RVs, and all the efforts surrounding the undoing of reverse angle parking. Some good changes have come out of these efforts such as the gravel parking on the south side of Mason. However, given the issues surrounding short-term rental parking in our neighborhoods, trailers and RVs left on the street, discussions on parking meters, and golfcart parking, we have come to a time where a more strategic look across the town is needed. Given the scope and sensitivity of this subject, it is my opinion that a consultant with this type of experience is warranted, certainly with community participation. The Town Council needs to adopt this strategic plan and proceed to address its recommendations through our capital improvements plan. This study should be maintained current as changes occur in the town (e.g., opening up of the forty acres of railroad property).
5. IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING IN OUR ZONING CODE, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
My most immediate zoning need deals with short-term rentals. Unlike the accessory dwelling unit (ADU) ordinance that spells out the parameters surrounding ADUs, we do not have one dealing with short-term rentals. Unlike other communities that I have reviewed that have adopted short-term rental zoning ordinances, we are coming late to the dance given that 25 – 30% of our housing stock are already short-term rentals. I have reviewed about two dozen short-term rental ordinances, and there are enough Virginia locality examples to draw upon relative to parameters like: where to build, limitations on operation during the year, primary owners’ residency requirements, off-street parking, number of rooms, number of occupants per room and most importantly penalties for violators. Obviously, these types of parameters will have to be tailored to suit Cape Charles’ needs. Given that 50% of the short-term rental population resides within the Bay Creek community, Preserve Communities and Home Owners Association will have to decide to what degree they want to enter into these zoning discussions within their Planned Unit District.
6. HOW DO YOU PLAN TO INVOLVE RESIDENTS IN THE DECISION MAKING PROCESS IN OUR TOWN?
This has been a bit frustrating for me. While sitting on my side of the table, I feel that we strive to provide (push) information and opportunities for feedback to our citizenry on any number of subjects. However, for me, it does not appear to be enough based on the limited number of emails/letters received and attendance at meetings and work sessions (including Facebook). Again, on my side of the table, with little feedback, we take this to mean that most people understand the situation and are in agreement. ‘Silence means concurrence’. I believe more can be done through smaller group interface sessions, maybe like a Saturday unstructured meeting. An example that reinforced this for me was during the pandemic. The Main Street organization received a grant to help small businesses recover up to $15,000 due to business impacts during covid times. Multiple ads were run in the ES Post about submitting applications for these grants across a five zip-code area. Main Street spread the word across their network. I mailed over 150 letters to county businesses requesting their participation. Based on “pushing this information out”, the initial response rate was extremely low. And these are people we are giving free money to! Only when we actually started knocking on business doors within this five zip-code region did people start to understand and engage. [Eventually 90+ businesses benefited with over $850,000 distributed.] That’s the type of informal face-to-face small group interface that I would like to see between members of the public, town staff and council members, not all having to be present.
7. IF SOMEONE CAME TO YOU WITH A PROPOSAL TO BUILD A NEW PIECE OF PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE IN OUR TOWN (ROAD, STRUCTURE, OUTDOOR VENUE, ETC.), HOW WOULD YOU EVALUATE WHETHER OR NOT THAT PROJECT WAS WORTH IMPLEMENTING?
My approach for evaluation would be in this order:
- Does it benefit a sufficient percentage of our town’s permanent residents?
- Is it in agreement with our Town’s Comprehensive Plan?
- Does it fall within current zoning ordinances?
- What outside agencies are involved regarding oversight, funding, permitting, etc?
- What is the impact on current town staffing levels?
- Are there opportunities associated with grants, either fully or partially paid for?
- What is the ultimate financial impact to the town and does it violate the fiscal parameters we have set up regarding limitations on loans, etc.
- In accordance with our Capital Asset Management Plan, where would this item be placed relative to all other identified capital priorities. If moving up on the priority list, what items will be pushed down in priority and perhaps pushed out in time?
8. IF ELECTED, WHAT THREE STEPS WOULD YOU TAKE TO PUT OUR TOWN ON A FIRMER FINANCIAL FOOTING?
With the exception of the utility fund, I believe we are on firm ground now. I take exception to the utility fund (water and wastewater) because I believe there is too much uncertainty surrounding the operation and maintenance of these facilities as demonstrated by our recent equipment failures and DEQ violations. We have budgeted for management oversight and currently use Virginia American Water for that purpose. They are at our wastewater plant on a weekly basis, and provide oversight to operations and repairs through our town manager. Given the potential sale of our facilities, I believe the town will benefit financially if that path is taken.
Over the past few years, we have placed the following financial practices and policies in place:
- Development of a Capital Asset Management Plan which procedurally spells out the steps for creation and maintenance of a five-year capital plan. The five-year plan for projects, based on priority, is adopted when we annually adopt budgets. It is also updated should we have a mid-year budget review.
- We have adopted a funding application process for groups requesting funds during budget development.
- We have adopted a Strategic Revenue Program policy which attempts to project future revenue needs beyond the current spending cycle based on strategic goals/projects predetermined by Council and other planning processes.
- We review potential debt service needs annually. We have established a debt service limit of 8% of core revenues.
- We have created a Fund Balance Reserve policy with the intent to maintain a committed reserve while maintaining funds for cash flow and liquidity needs of the Town.
- Most currently, in 2022, we adopted a budget management policy which places limitations on budget transfers and establishes approval authority.
We have reserves in place and will continue to add to them as the overall economy permits. We have not run into any problems during our outside annual financial audits. I am comfortable with our current financial footing based on the policies adopted over the recent years.
9. IF THE TOWN RECEIVED A $1 MILLION GRANT TO USE FOR THE TOWN ANY WAY IT WANTED, WHAT WOULD YOU PROPOSE AND WHY?
I believe that the town will address those major improvements that we face so I am not going to advocate any of the $1 million towards these. I would propose the following for this $1 million jackpot:
- Tackle the lower priority capital improvements that keep getting kicked down the road such as beach access improvements, public works butler building and sidewalks (not all, but start with Fig Street). Estimate $300,000.25.
- I had volunteered for a few months in the planning department while we were between zoning administrators, and I currently visit at least every week the various offices. Our town staff have their current plates full. For the balance of funds, I would put those funds towards town staff positions that will be needed as we get into such things as developing parking strategies, short-term rental ordinance, capital projects and holding violators accountable. I would supplement department budgets impacted such as planning, project management, treasurer, code official, police and outside legal services. Not all will warrant additional full-time positions and any monies remaining will be spread through subsequent years. The town will eventually grow in revenue to cover these expenses. Estimate to spread balance of funds over three years.
10. WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE PLACES TO SPEND TIME IN OUR TOWN?
Fishing on the town pier and conversing with passer-byers and watching my grandkids fish and crab, and interact with fellow fishermen/women of all ages.
11. WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT CAPE CHARLES? WHAT DO YOU NOT LIKE ABOUT CAPE CHARLES?
I like best the smallness of our historic town that has a harbor and beach as assets. Given its size, a person with some initiative can actually make things happen if they so choose. The town is constantly evolving and adapting (e.g., pandemic) and there are enough interesting topics that I look forward to being involved with in the future (e.g., workforce housing, RR property, Rails-to Trails, etc.).
I tolerate the summer months given the inflow of tourists and the associated increased activities. I understand the need to support our economy, so I tolerate it and mark off the calendar towards Labor Day.