Fifteen Minute Fredericksburg is a group of Fredericksburg citizens who are committed to a vision of our city as a place where all residents can conveniently live their daily lives on foot or by bike. As a group, we broadly support the development of high-quality bike and pedestrian infrastructure; streets that are safe for all users young and old; affordable and accessible housing for all Fredericksburg residents; and healthy small and neighborhood businesses. We want our city and all of its neighborhoods to be open, accessible, affordable, convenient, and pleasant places to live.
To that end, we developed a short list of four questions about Fredericksburg and its future and posed them to the candidates for City Council and Mayor currently up for election on November 7, 2023. We are publishing all the candidates’ answers that we received, unedited, below. We make no endorsements in this election; rather, we want to share information related to our vision with our supporters that will help them make their own decisions.
Matt Kelly, Will Mackintosh, and Jannan Holmes are running for At-Large seats on City Council. Since there are two At-Large seats available, the two candidates who receive the most votes will fill the seats. Kerry Devine is running unopposed for Mayor.
Question 1: In an era of rising rents and rising property values, especially in downtown but spreading across the City, how do you propose to address housing affordability and accessibility issues for residents of Fredericksburg?
Matt Kelly (for At-Large): Affordability will not be addressed by higher density which comes with problems of its own. Fredericksburg currently has one of the most diverse housing stock in the region. It also has the largest proportion of subsidized housing in the region. I chaired the first regional housing affordability plan bringing developers, realtors, and affordable housing groups, together to come up with options to deal with affordability in our region. I would recommend looking at the updated plan on the George Washington Regional Commission website.
The biggest issue in the city is land value. Housing to our north and south will always be cheaper than in the city. Another issue is size. As small as the city is most projects are not big enough where minimum affordability quotas would work. And as noted, more density does not mean affordability. Look at any recent project in the city, including infill and none of it would be considered affordable. What would help is reductions in building/planning fees, possible tax breaks, and guaranteed loan programs. Have asked on a number of occasions that we have a discussion on housing in the city. Still waiting.
Will Mackintosh (for At-Large): To a certain extent, the problem of rising housing costs is a regional and national problem, endemic to prosperous regions like ours. That being said, there are several things City Council can do to address the problems of housing affordability and accessibility in our City.
First, on City Council I will keep one central guiding moral and political principle in mind while making decisions about land use: if you work in the City of Fredericksburg, you should be able to afford to live in the City of Fredericksburg if you want to. For me, that’s the special sauce of what makes Fredericksburg such an amazing place: we are a diverse community that strives to include all people. So for any decision that comes before me on Council, I will be asking the question “does the proposed action move us closer to or further away from our goal of being a city where everyone who works here can afford to live here?” Having that as our north star will guide good policy decisions.
Second, the City can be much more aggressive and creative with pursuing win-win deals with builders and developers to be sure that they are building a diverse array of housing types at a diverse array of price points, and that they are actively building units that are set aside for members of our workforce making the median income or below. Recently, the City cut just such a deal with the construction of Hanover House on the corner of Hanover and Sophia. They allowed the builder to change the ratio of residential to commercial space in their development in return for the developer setting aside four apartments “affordable to those earning 50 percent of the area median income.” I think the City should aggressively be pursuing more projects like this one that bring units to market at a variety of price points.
Finally, our rising housing costs are a simple result of supply and demand. More
people want to live in Fredericksburg than there are available places for them to
live. And as we all remember from high school econ, where there is more demand than supply, prices go up. So City Council can be making decisions aimed at making sure we are meeting the demand for housing as best we are able to. Of course, the question is where and how to meet that demand without undermining what makes Fredericksburg so special. That’s why I think we can do smart, well contextualized infill development around the City, and also focus on redeveloping some of our underutilized commercial corridors into mixed-use areas that include businesses, shops, housing, and parks. Underutilized areas along Route 1, Route 3, and west of 95 could be re-developed into real neighborhoods, where people live, work, and play. Those neighborhoods could provide workforce housing, new green space, and new tax revenue. Also, if we commit to connecting them to the rest of the City with high-quality bike and pedestrian paths, they will add fewer cars to our highways than greenfield developments.
Through its small area planning process, the City staff has offered a compelling vision of what those neighborhoods could look like, but we must bolster their efforts with the political will to realize their vision. We need leadership who can work with the private sector to make sure that their investments meet our targets for workforce housing, green space, and amenities. We have no time to waste as the City is growing rapidly and we need to intentionally direct that growth in ways that will benefit all of our citizens.
Jannan Holmes (for At-Large): Housing affordability is a complex, and important issue. As a resident and candidate in Fredericksburg, it’s important to me that people who work in Fredericksburg can afford to live in Fredericksburg. One example of why this is important to our city is illustrated by our teachers not being able to afford housing in Fredericksburg. Over 70% of our schools’ staff live in the surrounding counties. This means that we must align our calendars to the counties’ calendars, even when a different calendar may benefit our students. If more of our teaching staff could live in Fredericksburg, we would have more flexibility in our school calendar. First responders living in their communities has obvious benefits for building relationships and increasing safety.
Local government can play an instrumental role in increasing affordable housing. We need to prioritize balancing affordability and growth with the infrastructure needs that accompany growth. We need to balance the demand for new housing with maintaining the character of our historic city and the close community feel of Fredericksburg. I’d like to look at changing our Zoning Ordinance to allow duplexes in some of the districts where that is not currently permitted.
Auxiliary Dwelling Units (ADUs) are another step toward affordable housing options in Fredericksburg. There has been a healthy conversation in Fredericksburg about ADUs recently. I appreciate all sides of this conversation and understand the concerns voiced. Caring for older family members, or family members with disabilities, is challenging in the best of times. During the Pandemic, we witnessed the isolation, and extreme challenges residents of care facilities faced. Personally, my mom lives alone, two hours away. If she could no longer live completely independently, I would want my mom to live with me. Our current home does not have a first-floor bedroom, or full bathroom. We would need to add on to our home or build a home for my mother on our property. This is not a “Jannan Holmes” issue. This is a generational issue that many people are facing. Families who have a child with a disability also face the challenge of their child living as independently as possible and affording that housing. We need to look at all aspects of ADUs and proceed thoughtfully.
Another way to help with housing affordability is to decrease or eliminate parking minimums, which I will discuss in Question 4.
I would also like for Fredericksburg to look at developing an affordable housing trust and/or community land bank.
Kerry Devine (for Mayor): Complementary infill is an important component of our growth in our built areas. Downtown infill does not necessarily equate to affordability though. I envision redevelopment in some of our large shopping centers as a viable way forward. Increasing local economic opportunities also speaks to the affordability issue – raising local salaries is a part of the solution.
Question 2: Residents across the City report feeling unsafe and disconnected when riding their bikes and walking. How can the City make our pedestrian and bike infrastructure safer and more convenient for all residents?
Matt Kelly (for At-Large): The city has the most extensive trail system in the region. My involvement has been in securing state funding through the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (FAMPO) to expand that system. To include having to push the city to apply for available funds for work on the VCR trail. Most recently work has been done, and is about to get started, on the Lafayette Blvd. corridor which will finally link this major residential area with downtown. In the future, any transportation project will need to have a bike/pedestrian component if it is to be successful in securing funding.
The issues that are still in play are crossing major roads and riding downtown. In my travels overseas I have seen better signage and dedicated lanes for bikes. Traffic controls for just pedestrian traffic, safe zones on major streets, and bollards to protect pedestrians/bikers at crossing points. Chatham Bridge is an example of how some of these concepts can work. The issue downtown is the narrow streets and parking. As we continue to discuss the possibility of ending one-way streets downtown bike/pedestrian access should be part of that discussion. This is an area where I do not have a lot of experience and would ask that those who do bring options to the table.
Will Mackintosh (for At-Large): One central pledge of my campaign that the City should set as a goal the construction of high-quality mixed-use pedestrian and bicycle pathways within 5 minutes of every front door in the entire City. That means finishing the pathway on Lafayette Boulevard as far as the city line and the Lafayette/Walker-Grant complex; building pathways along the Route 1, Route 2, and Route 3 corridors; and connecting those pathways with spurs to every neighborhood. Our existing pathways are great and very heavily used by people both for recreational purposes and for getting around the City; we need to make sure those critical amenities are accessible to everyone in Fredericksburg.
On a smaller scale, the City has a budget line for street resurfacing every year. City staff determine which streets, curbs, and sidewalks need rebuilding most urgently, and they repair and resurface them using that budget. We need to make sure that as the City performs routine maintenance on our streets and sidewalks that they are doing so with pedestrian and bicycle safety in mind. We should be looking not just to replace what exists, but to enhance it as we go. That means that we add new curb cuts and crosswalks as needed, explore traffic calming measures, and evaluate on-street bicycle access as part of our annual cycle of maintenance. That way we will improve bike and pedestrian safety around the City as part of our normal annual maintenance cycle.
Jannan Holmes (for At-Large): I am committed to Fredericksburg becoming more walkable, and bikeable. I would also like to increase our public transportation. A crucial way we can help our residents safely walk and bike in Fredericksburg is by researching where people want/need to go and where those destinations are located. By using our Area Plans and being thoughtful about clustering essential amenities (groceries, medical facilities, etc.), our residents wouldn’t need to travel Rt.1 or Rt.3 to get their essentials.
Fredericksburg has some wonderful trails and paths. Connecting our trails and paths also needs to be prioritized.
Having bicycle lanes that are physically separated and protected from car traffic where there would be potential conflicts would be a big step forward for people feeling safer biking in Fredericksburg.
Adding sidewalks where they are missing, repairing damaged sidewalks, and adding trees, and benches along walkways would vastly improve the safety and walkability of Fredericksburg. Downtown has sidewalks, but many neighborhoods do not.
Kerry Devine (for Mayor): I am a frequent walker and bike rider around town, as were my children growing up in Fredericksburg. In fact, the first bike rack that was installed at JMHS was installed for my kids who were riding bikes to school without a place to lock them up. (We were originally told it would be “unsightly” to have a bike rack in front of the school!) One of my sons is fortunate to regularly commute by bicycle in the city.
City Council recently lowered the speed limit downtown as one measure to improve pedestrian safety. Protected bike lanes (through signage/road diets) and a focus on crosswalks/intersections is critical. We need to fix gaps in the pedestrian network and that is being addressed through our Small Area Plans. Quite frankly, the more pedestrians and cyclists we have the safer we all are, as awareness increases as ridership increases.
Question 3: What is your approach to addressing congestion?
Matt Kelly (for At-Large): Traffic congestion is a regional issue and will require a regional approach. At build out the city will be roughly 40,000 people in a region of over 650,000 people. What we can do for transportation in the city will not have a significant impact, but what goes on around the city will have a significant impact on us. One point is clear, building more roads is not the solution. The regional transportation board, FAMPO, has included transit as an important component in future transportation planning.
I serve as the city’s representative on both the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) and the Potomac Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC) which oversees transit in Northern Virginia. What has become clear is that transit is going to be extremely important to this region. To that end, VRE is now working to improve north-south mobility by adding weekend service and express trains. At FAMPO I requested that Fred Transit and Omniride, the bus system to our north, begin to see where we can cooperate in expanding transit services in the region. Omniride is currently operating commuter buses in Stafford and Spotsylvania. They have the staffing, and contacts that we need to expand services in our region.
Will Mackintosh (for At-Large): Anyone who has lived in Fredericksburg for the past few decades realizes that you can’t build your way out of congestion by adding more car lanes. We’ve been adding lanes for decades, and congestion is worse than ever. The only way we will really tackle our congestion problem is to give people alternatives to driving. Part of the solution is enhancing our bicycle and pedestrian network and enhancing safety, like I mentioned above. It also means planning and preparing for the massive expansion in train service that we’re going to see in the next decade as a result of the state’s investment in the DC2RVA high speed rail project. With track capacity expansion, the construction of a new Long Bridge into DC, and the purchase of additional train equipment, we are about to see a massive increase in the speed and frequency of trains in and out of the City. We need to make sure that we’re preparing now for that increase in service so residents can take full advantage of it. One important step we need to take is to figure out how to better integrate the FXBGo bus service with train service, so people can travel through and beyond our region conveniently without driving. Now is the perfect moment to begin rethinking how we do bus service in this region so we can be prepared to take full advantage of the new alternatives to driving that are headed our way.
Jannan Holmes (for At-Large): Again, making it easier for people to get where they need to go without getting in a car would help immensely with traffic congestion. Increasing transit frequency, and bike/pedestrian infrastructure, and using the area plans to encourage more mixed-use hubs in and around neighborhoods would all help ease congestion.
Working with the Economic Development Authority to attract and create jobs in Fredericksburg may help ease commuter traffic.
Kerry Devine (for Mayor): Unfortunately post-Covid traffic congestion has increased as VRE ridership is still down. “Rush hours” have increased in duration as many commuters have more flexible schedule options. Increased local options and telecommuting are critical to reducing daily congestion.
Question 4: Minimum parking requirements are frequently cited as a barrier to new housing and development, especially in infill sites. Would you support the reduction or elimination of minimum parking requirements? (Please be specific in your answer.)
Matt Kelly (for At-Large): The city developed long before there was even a concept of zoning or cars for that matter. The result is in the older portions of the city that have narrow streets and limited parking while development after zoning does not suffer under similar constraints. The city has areas for redevelopment and infill, especially along the Rt. 3 and Rt. 1 corridors which could still meet parking requirements.
Your question seems to be aimed at the downtown area. Within the Historic District, we have waived parking requirements. However, when talking about infill here, and to a lesser extent in the case of Rt. 1 and Rt. 3, you cannot ignore the need for parking for commercial development. In the case of downtown, we instituted permit parking in the neighboring residential areas because commercial/employee parking was pushing into the neighborhoods.
There is no cookie-cutter solution to parking that would work in a city as diverse as Fredericksburg. What I have mentioned are just a few of the issues that need to be considered. It is a discussion we need to have. It is a discussion I have asked for on a number of occasions.
One other point I would make is that defining housing needs/affordability within the confines of a political boundary makes no sense. If you want to add transit to the mix and be within (15) minutes of downtown, you are now in Spotsylvania and Stafford. Affordability is a regional issue. One factor that we need to consider in the housing issue is mobility. A robust transit system, giving access to the downtown should be considered in this discussion.
Will Mackintosh (for At-Large): I think it makes sense to reduce or eliminate on-site parking requirements in most parts of our City. I think we need to significantly enhance the fee-in-lieu program that already exists in the historic district, whereby new development can “buy out” of providing onsite parking by paying a per-space fee to the City. Currently, those fees are used to fund vaguely parking-adjacent activities, like running the trolley during First Fridays. I think we should increase those fees and set them aside in our city budget into a fund that is specifically earmarked for parking. We could use those funds for a number of creative ways to enhance existing parking: we could start up for a new parking structure if one is needed, or we could provide parking validation for people who come to eat or shop downtown, or we could reach deals with the owners of existing private parking lots for off-hours public access. Parking is a problem best solved collectively on a neighborhood- or city-wide scale, rather than on a parcel by parcel scale.
Jannan Holmes (for At-Large): Parking in some neighborhoods in Fredericksburg is challenging. Reducing or eliminating parking minimums can help in promoting affordable housing and eliminating urban heat islands from large surface parking lots. This does not mean that new developments would not have adequate parking. Reducing or eliminating parking minimums would enable businesses and homeowners to determine how much off-street parking they need, versus having to provide an arbitrary amount of parking. I would support analyzing current parking requirements and amending requirements to be more flexible. We have limited space in Fredericksburg. If we increase bicycle/pedestrian paths, and public transportation, and we have area plans with hubs for our essential needs, we would require fewer cars, and therefore less parking. Until then, we need to keep talking about the parking challenges in some neighborhoods.
Kerry Devine (for Mayor): Quite frankly, our Parking Advisory Board may need to become a Transportation Advisory Board. We need to consider better public transportation and shared parking options before we reduce or eliminate parking requirements. I am not in favor of street parking meters, as some communities have done.