Matt Kelly - For Fredericksburg City CouncilTHE ISSUES BEFORE US—
Over the next few years City Council will make decisions that will define Fredericksburg as it continues towards build-out. What kind of city should Fredericksburg become? How do we as a community achieve the goals we set? These are the critical issues the city must deal with in the upcoming election cycles—both At-Large this year, and the wards seats in two years. So what should define Fredericksburg? Here are some of the more important issues that will ultimately define the city.

HISTORIC CHARACTER–

Fredericksburg is surrounded by faster and more intense development in the adjoining jurisdictions of Stafford and Spotsylvania. The city’s unique historic character becomes more valuable to potential visitors, residents and businesses as the region continues to build out. Preservation does not just enhance out quality of life but also economic development and tourism opportunities. One of the top considerations for locating a business today are quality of life and community character. We need to ensure that future development is compatible with the historic character of the city.

Currently the city claims to have preservation as a goal, yet our actions do not justify that claim. Demolitions, inappropriate repairs, destruction of historic resources, out of scale development are some of the issues the city has faced in the past few years. Just having an Architectural Review Board, a Preservation Plan, and any number of preservation ordinances in place, has not stopped the, “Death of a Thousand Cuts” our Historic District is currently suffering.

We speak a good game regarding preservation but our actions tell a different story. We seem to take one step forward–hiring a preservationist–and then two steps back–George Street project and the destruction on historic resources on the river to name but a few. To make preservation a priority in Fredericksburg requires a renewed community commitment.

Council doesn’t need to pass more ordinances it needs to act to ensure that preservation is a priority at every level of city government. Hiring a staff preservationist is a big step; but one that can easily fail. Without a commitment by council, with strong community support to meet our preservation goals, this position can easily become another “perception” of the city’s commitment to preservation while having no real impact of meeting our shared goals.

We also need to meet with our development partners to gain their support for this effort. We need to ensure that our preservation goals are met but also that the development process is consistent and timely. I’m tired of hearing from my council collogues and staff, after repeated preservation debacle, “We need to ensure it never happens again.” If we take the necessary steps we will not need to hear it again.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT—

The city is currently working on a strategic economic development plan for the city. This is not the city’s first effort in this regard looking back at Visions 2000, JumpStart, and Concordia. Economic conditions has substantially changed since those reports were done which is the reason we have embarked on the latest effort. What will be crucial in the coming years is how City Council respond to the final recommendations. Do we have another report gathering dust? Or do we take active measures to implement it?

We need to review our economic development efforts to ensure we are in a position to actively engage in economic development. To go out and try to attract the type of development we want as a community. Development that meet our goals instead of waiting to see what comes to us.

Just establishing tourism/tech zones or tweaking incentive programs that we share with most other jurisdictions isn’t getting us where we need to be. We need to consider different approaches that have been successful in other communities. Looking at Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for example.

Council also needs to step-up its leadership role in this effort. Meeting with representatives of prospective business. To work with state and federal officials to assist in moving projects forward or removing roadblocks to desired development. And to meet regularly with the development community to discuss how we can better assist them while at the same time making clear our goals as a community.

Through proactive efforts like these we can build the city’s economic base to provide the funding for our schools, public safety, public works, and community amenities without relying on just real estate tax dollars. If we want to achieve this goal and bring more and hiring paying jobs, more amenities, etc, City Council is going to have to become more involved and make decisions to take our economic development efforts to a higher level.

TRANSPORTATION—

Transportation improvements, especially as it related to the I-95 corridor, is crucial for the city. Continued congestion not only impacts our quality of life but also tourism and economic development opportunities.

While Fredericksburg’s impact on regional congestion is not very significant it has been given an equal voice with its larger neighbors when it comes to transportation planning and the allocation of transportation funds. Over the years efforts have been made to priorities transportation improvements based on criteria such as congestion mitigation, safety, and providing infrastructure to accommodate future growth; and less on jurisdictional politics. Short-term political considerations are detrimental to long-term transportation goals.

The lack of funding for all our needs makes prioritizing every dollar available even more critical. Understanding that traditional funding sources for transportation are not going to meet the demands of our growing region some consideration must be given to a other sources of revenue—in our case the establishment of a transportation district similar to Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. In whatever form it takes such an authority would raise funds locally. We as a community need to discuss the costs to us as it relates to establishing a transportation authority vs the cost of growing congestion on our quality of life, and economic development potential.

Transit is also something that needs to be looked at. Not only VRE to maintain our links north and reduce congestion on I-95; but also regional transit. Right now the regional development plans do not make transit a viable option. Understanding that reduced congestion in the region helps the city this is a conversation which we must take part in.

Fredericksburg needs to continue to be a voice for sensible and realistic transportation planning. One example is the widening of I-95 and adding Collector/Distributor (CD) lanes. This will not be successful if the CD lanes back-up because the regional road system cannot handle the traffic. We do need to look at separating commercial and residential traffic at Rt. 3 & I-95 and make improvements to the Rt. 17 interchange to make the CD lanes work. This is not a project within the city limits but will have a big impact on the city’s future.

MOVING GOALS FORWARD. JUDGE ON ACTIONS NOT WORDS–

So how do I see my role in moving forward on these or other issues that will face the city? I stated it in the preamble to my Facebook page I set up after my re-election to council—Friends of Matt Kelly:

“It goes beyond just a vote. To serve on council requires engaging the community, considering different views, and working to get resources needed to achieve the desired outcome.”

In my service on council I have tried to live-up to that statement. I’ve engage the community on Facebook, through a blog, commenting on-line to stories in the Free-Lance Star, by e-mail, in Op-eds, and attending community meetings. I’ve kept an open mind to consider different ideas and approaches. Most recently working with both the community and developer to get consensus on the Dreamland, LLC project to begin redevelopment on Princess Anne Street.

Voting for a project is easy, making sure it can move forward take a bit more effort. Finding other sources of funding for example, other than just raising taxes, is a significant part of moving a project forward. Working with my colleagues at the regional and state level we found additional state funding for the VCR Trail and ensured that the Fall Hill widen project would be built in its entirety. Such efforts result in more local funding available for education, public safety, and public works.

And finally, when it comes time to cast my vote, the community knows where I stand and why. And in that process I have also tried to address the concerns and answer the questions of city residents. I do believe that through this effort comes a better understanding of the issue and in a number of cases better solutions come forward.

Working as a community we need to build a consensus of what Fredericksburg should be so we continue to grow as a city to meet our shared goals. To move forward while maintain our historic character and quality of life that has made Fredericksburg a great place to live. I hope that you will allow me to continue to play my part in this effort as one of your representatives on City Council.

The Issues

PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT:
Too often we are hearing from those in City Hall that they are doing what is required to inform the public. {more…}

THE END TO BUSINESS AS USUAL:
No matter the adversity there are always opportunities. While presenting significant challenges to local governments in providing levels of service expected by residents {more…}

TAXES: 
I cannot understand those who justify raising taxes because our tax rate is lower than other localities or those who opposes tax increases on the basis that taxes are too high. {more…}

BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT 
“Even before the recent economic crash it was evident the city needed to diversify its tax base. {more…}

HISTORIC PRESERVATION: 
“As we consider the future development of our communities we must keep three simple truths in the fore front of our deliberations…” {more…}

CONSERVATON: 
“You’re going to get a lot of people pushing to open that river up,” Kelly said. “ {more…}

TRANSPORTATION: 
“At the end of the day, what I want to be able to do is say, alright, [GWRC], if you want to take care of transportation, these are the projects you’re going to need, this is how much it’s going to cost, this is how much we’re going to get from the state…{more…}