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 all the candidates for City Council currently up for election on November 2, 2021. 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.
Question 1: How do you feel about the transportation options currently available in our city? Do we have enough options? If not, what will you do to increase those?
Jason Graham, Ward 1 (incumbent): We do not have enough options. Our city needs a comprehensive public transit option and a complete network of bike/pedestrian pathways to give our citizens a true choice in how they get around. This is why I have pressed FRED Transit to include in its strategic plan an estimated cost of a bus network that will allow for anyone to get from point A to point B in the city in less than 45 minutes with no greater than a 15 minute transfer.
Jon Gerlach, Ward 2: When I read those questions, I see a backdrop: a complex pattern of land use development that we currently have in Fredericksburg, which evolved to its present state by decisions made over three centuries.
The questions you ask challenge us to evaluate whether our current ways of doing things are adequate to meet the needs of the 21st Century, some of which we are just beginning to understand, and what changes should we consider making so that our city remains a vibrant, historic, and unique spot on the Virginia landscape.
Transportation does not exist in a vacuum. Mobility touches on many other aspects of our city, such as traffic, economic development, new construction, the environment, housing affordability, neighborhood character, and other circles on the Venn Diagram that I often talk about.
The 20th Century was the age of the automobile, and not surprisingly, residential and commercial land use patterns developed around the family car (witness sprawling residential subdivisions and the associated strip shopping centers).
What we are seeing now, in the start of the new century, is a new urbanism. We are seeing a much greater value placed on the walkability of our urban places, a renewed importance on our sense of place, sustainability, and a logical deference to the environment in light of the realities of climate change.
Someone recently said that, if you’re doing things the same way you did them twenty years ago, you’re doing things wrong. I agree wholeheartedly.
We need to reimagine our City around the concept of more walkable neighborhoods, moving people from place to place more efficiently with less reliance on owning (or parking) a car. Within the next fifty years, car ownership will quite possibly be a fraction of what it is today, with on-demand self-driving vehicles that park themselves on the outskirts of town where they sit at-the-ready to come pick you up.
As far as increasing the transportation options in our City: I would like us to develop more walkable and bikeable interconnections among neighborhoods. I would like to see a dedicated shuttle service to our downtown train station from points around the City and surrounding counties that have adequate parking areas. Along with that, a much more fully developed bus or shuttle service that connects all of our neighborhoods to our commercial and recreational areas. Such a network would lead to less automobile traffic through our neighborhoods and on our downtown streets, less demand for downtown parking, and improved pedestrian and bicyclist safety.
I want us to complete the trail connections from Dixon Park all the way to Motts Run. Also, I would like us to extend the VCR trail to I-95 and beyond. As we redevelop the land west of I-95 (currently Central Park and Celebrate Virginia), I would like to see expanded FRED Bus and private shuttle services so folks can travel there and back without a car.
In short, I see many opportunities to adjust our ways of thinking, and our ways of getting around. Have we paid enough attention on City Council to what is happening with the new urbanism? While I think our City Planning Staff have done a very good job, City Council still has a ways to go to catch up.
Andrew Reese, Ward 2: Options are limited, we do not have enough. We need to work to support expanded walkability, interconnecting pathways close to areas of transit, jobs, restaurants and retail. Integrate this with bike paths and a micro mobility program. Expand fixed route shuttles with dedicated travel lanes.
Tim Duffy, Ward 3 (incumbent): We certainly do not have enough reliable and viable options for transportation. We need much better networks of trails and sidewalks to allow for pedestrian and bicycle access within and between neighborhoods. I am most concerned about the lack of safe non-vehicular movement along Route 1, Lafayette Blvd, and networks along the Rappahannock River. I will continue to push the city to prioritize these corridors as ripe for grant-funded projects, as well as improvements to be negotiated through development and redevelopment throughout the City. The same goes for improved bus transit (FRED), downtown trolley, and an expanded train station and commuter rail service. We have made significant gains during my time on council on these fronts, but we also have a long way to go.
Rene Rodriguez, Ward 3: Our transportation system needs an overhaul. The bus schedules are long, and the buses themselves are loud and not very fuel efficient. I would look for the council to put some heavy input and resources into the Long-Range Transportation plan. Many people do not use the buses because it is not convenient. Having lived in other places that have robust transportation systems it is possible, but we have to make the financial commitment. I support the GWRC plan for putting a parking garage near the train station. This not only incentivizes people to take the train, but could also alleviate the lack of availability of parking spaces in the downtown area, and potentially a park and ride location to encourage more car pooling for those that have to drive for work. Additionally, we need to have a permanent downtown trolley system so that employees can get to and from work while parking in one of the garages or lots. Downtown employees should not be forced to give up all their wages on parking, and this would further promote tourism.
Charles Frye, Ward 4 (incumbent): The transportation options are good and will be better once all neighborhoods are connected. I would like to see what kind of partnerships can help to increase extended shuttles around the city. The extension would extend past the Fred Transit traditional hours.
Amber Peebles, Ward 4: This could use improvement, currently not enough options. Perhaps expanding FRED to serve Germanna CC and other areas, as well as high population employment areas such as Quantico or even Dahlgren. I am generally supportive of more bike paths and walking trails.
Question 2: What is one policy you would support to calm traffic and to enhance the pedestrian and cyclist environment in the city?
Jason Graham, Ward 1 (incumbent): We need to narrow lane widths to at most 10 feet throughout the city. Where the current roads have excess pavement beyond 10 foot lanes we should explore the possibility of including dedicated bike/pedestrian lanes.
Jon Gerlach, Ward 2: In response to public concern over vehicle speeding and pedestrian safety, a traffic safety study is being conducted in Fredericksburg soon. When it comes to traffic calming, hopefully we’ll have a clearer picture of which policies will work, and which ones won’t, and we should expect that different areas of the city will require different methods.
In the right places, I would support physical traffic calming measures such as more curbside bump-outs, speed tables, lowering the 25mph speed limit in certain neighborhoods to 15mph (it won’t work everywhere), and changing certain one- way streets back to two-way, depending upon recommendations from the study. I am also very interested in exploring psychological traffic calming measures, such as creative pavement marking schemes that subconsciously cause drivers to slow down. We will need to accommodate the needs of emergency vehicles and I believe it can be done wisely.
Andrew Reese, Ward 2: Changing the speed limit will do little help, changing awareness will. The goal would be to integrate traffic into the pedestrian environment removing drivers from their perception of isolation, so my answer is to change the psychology of the driving environment to increase driver focus and awareness. This can be accomplished by increasing pedestrian crosswalks, mirrors for blind crossing points, signage at all crosswalks. Driver perception can also be increased by integration of trees at intersections, gateway treatments including table tops for crosswalks in problem areas, narrow corner radii, pinch points and S turns on straightaways (shifting parking from right to left), refuge islands including mini roundabouts, shared streets and optical illusions painted on long straightaways to create the feel of a road narrowing. Innovative signs that use imagery over wording produce a site picture and can convey a larger message at a glance. All this works to change driver focus and engagement. Standard use of vibration strips, speed bumps, radar speed signs, speeding tickets, and video surveillance can also be incorporated, but these are not new or innovative methods.
Tim Duffy, Ward 3 (incumbent): The most immediate need is to convert our two-lane, one-way thoroughfares back to neighborhood streets with two-way traffic. Our priority should not be to increase the speed with which traffic can move through the City, but rather improve the experience of people who see the City as a destination. I also support reducing the speed limit on downtown streets.
Rene Rodriguez, Ward 3: I support moving one-way to two-way streets as a way to slow traffic down within the city. I cannot tell you how many times I have sat out in front of Hyperion to watch people turn down the wrong way.
Charles Frye, Ward 4 (incumbent): The one policy that I would support to calm traffic would be reducing the speed limits in residential areas where needed, and to enhance the pedestrian environment would be to include more crosswalks in areas as necessary, and the cyclist environment in the city would be to include more designated pathways while understanding the width of different city streets.
Amber Peebles, Ward 4: I understand that the City is currently doing a traffic study on this issue. I would like to see the results of the study before providing a firm answer but am open to lower speeds and fines around bike and pedestrian paths.
Question 3: If you could change one thing in our zoning code, what would it be and why?
Jason Graham, Ward 1 (incumbent): I would eliminate R-2 zoning. It restricts the possibility of greater and more varied housing stock, something Fredericksburg desperately needs.
Jon Gerlach, Ward 2: One thing I would change is residential density downtown. I support increasing the by-right residential density in mixed-use buildings in the Historic District beyond current limits. While I supported the recent UDO text amendments that increased this density, I believe we could have gone much further. The Downtown Area Plan (Area 7) envisions our downtown as a vibrant and sustainable part of the community, but existing residential density caps fall short or replicating historic residential densities, and inhibit the adaptive reuse of historic buildings. The statewide building and fire codes place a natural cap on what densities are considered to be safe (each residential unit must have egress to the outside, for example), so I am not too worried that increased density will be taken to the extreme.
One other thing I would change in our zoning code would be to approve the Small Area Plan for Area 1 (Central Park and Celebrate Virginia) after sufficient public input, and, at the same time, create a new Economic Development Authority devoted exclusively to redevelopment of everything in the City west of I-95. The new EDA would operate free of political interference, and have marching orders to find ways to accelerate the redevelopment of Central Park and Celebrate Virginia into a vibrant new mixed-use urban core that would generate significant additional sales/use tax revenue for the City, lessen our reliance on real estate taxes, and create an environment where people can live, work and play in one local area without needing a car.
Andrew Reese, Ward 2: I have no opinions regarding the UDO and the Zoning, Planning and Development areas of the Code of Ordinances at this time.
Tim Duffy, Ward 3 (incumbent): I generally support form-based code that provides a broader template of what a more urbanized neighborhood can be that allows for the kind of development that is not so centered on the needs of a the automobile. But rather than allowing more large-scale multi-family housing, I support reforms that promote duplex and row-house development that would support a more walk-able city. This would not have to be limited to the traditional downtown area, but should also be considered for infill and redevelopment of our under-utilized shopping centers.
Rene Rodriguez, Ward 3: Micah Ecumenical Ministries is working on the Jeremiah Community. It is a concept that would be used for our critically unhoused homeless. It would be a privately funded community with 50 to 100 one level homes with approximately 500 sq ft in size. I would like to be able to create zoning that would allow for this type of development that could happen in areas within the city. I see this as a start of a project that could also create options for seniors, veterans, and disabled persons.
Charles Frye, Ward 4 (incumbent): If I could change one thing in our zoning code, it would be lifting height restrictions outside of the downtown area while still respecting the view from the river.
Amber Peebles, Ward 4: The current zoning code within the City Code is contained in Article 72-3 and consist of 54 pages. Did you have something specific in mind?
Question 4: Do you support the legalization of Accessory Dwelling Units in Fredericksburg?
Jason Graham, Ward 1 (incumbent): es. In fact, I have been pushing for it since I joined City Council and will continue to do so.
Jon Gerlach, Ward 2: In the right location, yes I do. Creating more opportunities for folks to age in place, and have a supplemental source of income, is important to me and many other City residents. If we are serious about having more affordable housing, avoiding or at least slowing down the process of gentrification, and preserving the diversity of our communities, we must have the ADU discussion and see where it leads us.
I pay attention to ADU discussions in other localities of Virginia, and I encourage other folks to do the same. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel here. We could follow the lead of Alexandria, for example, by amending our City zoning code to allow ADUs by-right under certain very limited circumstances, as a pilot program to see how it goes.
The issues with ADUs are complex and location-specific; and they often spark intense passions. Solutions will require robust public input, some compromises, and very careful decision-making.
Andrew Reese, Ward 2: I would support ADUs as long as they complied with strict requirements related to maximum occupancy based on square footage, safety, and aesthetic. There are many variables at play.
Tim Duffy, Ward 3 (incumbent): I support the exploration of accessory dwelling units as a way of providing a more differentiated housing market in the City. I would want to be sure, however, that the legalization of ADUs does not cause our neighborhoods in Ward 3 near the University to become predominantly student housing. I have seen what student housing has done to family neighborhoods close to universities. The properties often become run down, with much of the real-estate income going to out-of-state landlords.
Rene Rodriguez, Ward 3: I have been very outspoken against ADUs, and let me explain why. We have a problem with rentals now and a lack of enforcement. I have advocated and asked for reinstatement of the Rental Housing Inspection program to facilitate good rentals. I don’t believe that just because a person does not make as much money as someone else deserves to live in substandard conditions. There is no mechanism contemplated with monitoring ADUs for these issues, and I don’t want to create a secondary housing market that is unregulated and not safe for individuals and their families. I also believe there are other solutions to affordable and workforce housing (see zoning change recommendation).
Charles Frye, Ward 4 (incumbent): Yes, I support the legalization of ADU’s in Fredericksburg. The legalization has been a current discussion that we have held on the Housing Advisory Committee.
Amber Peebles, Ward 4: I have attended and/or viewed Planning Commission meetings and understand that this is under discussion. This is an area where I need to have more information to include what the residents of Ward 4 support. However, as a general matter I support private property rights.
One other comment if I may. On a personal note, one of the reasons I selected to live where I do was the walkability index associated with the location. I am very appreciative of being able to walk to stores and restaurants and our neighborhoods. That type of connectedness is personally satisfying for me.