By Lori Blanc, a concerned citizen of Blacksburg
Blacksburg is a wonderful place to live. I have lived in 6 states and 2 countries, but no place has inspired me to settle down and call it home… except Blacksburg. Living here has made me acutely aware of how important the quality of day-to-day life is - from being able to walk or ride my bike to work; to knowing my local community, small business owners, and farmers; to having my voice heard in local government decisions. I do not take these things for granted.
Therefore, I am writing this letter to ask everyone who loves Blacksburg to vote on November 3rd. This election has the potential to change the face of our town. Indeed, there is a lot at stake with increasing pressure to grow and develop the town. Consequently, we should expect and be wary of political propaganda generated by those who have a vested financial interest in this election.
I recently received campaign material promoting four candidates for Blacksburg Town Council. This material was bundled in a cover letter endorsed by a list of people who included developers, their associates, their attorneys, and at least twenty-eight people who do not live in the Town of Blacksburg.
More importantly, some people listed as endorsers had their names used without permission. For example, Rhoda Myers, who supports only one of these four candidates, was not consulted for permission to use her name and felt that this letter was an exploitation of her husband's name (the late Town Council member Derek Myers).
Perhaps the individual candidates did not know that their supporters’ names would be used in this manner. Nonetheless, the use of unauthorized names in this campaign letter should raise some red flags. How did these four candidates let this happen? Weren’t they paying attention?
This campaign letter also suggested that a “small but vocal” group of people have forced the town to oppose development. Some individuals have repeatedly directed the “small but vocal group” reference towards the passage of Ordinance 1450, which was designed to ensure greater public scrutiny over large-scale retail developments that can significantly impact local infrastructure and adjacent neighborhoods. Citizens who supported Ordinance 1450 included a diverse range of over 3,500 people who signed a written petition supporting the ordinance. Since when is a group of people exceeding the number who voted for mayor in the previous election considered a vocal minority?
For the record, I supported Ordinance 1450. I believe it was needed to bring greater oversight to Phase 2 of the First and Main development, which included a 186,000 sq. ft. big box store (supposedly a Wal-Mart supercenter) adjacent to Margaret Beeks elementary school.
I am not against development and I do not oppose Phase 1 of First and Main. In fact, I regularly support several businesses there and have volunteered at community events held at First and Main, such as the recent Blacksburg Brew-Do. I am disappointed that the cinema, which was part of Phase 1 and would have drawn foot traffic for the other businesses, has not surfaced. It is important to recognize the difference between these two phases of development and not oversimplify things in an effort to pigeonhole concerned citizens as ‘anti-development’.
But let’s be clear. This election is not about whether you support a Wal-Mart or other big box store in Blacksburg. It’s about whether or not you want Town Council members who might preferentially favor developers over citizen and neighborhood concerns.
So consider this... if developers proposed building a major big box supercenter next to your home, would you want a Town Council packed with members promoted and elected by those same developers? Do you think such council members could objectively hear and address your concerns?
That said, have you noticed which candidates’ signs are prominently displayed on the undeveloped properties on South Main Street? In particular, have you noticed which candidates names are on the rugby field behind Margaret Beeks elementary where the big box was proposed?
Blacksburg citizens have made it clear that they want a Town Council that will work with developers to provide growth that is sustainable, contributes responsibly to our tax base, and protects neighborhoods and open space. Therefore, we need to give serious consideration to whether this is possible with Town Council members who may be beholden to financial interests of specific developers.
This election is incredibly important. Please be vigilant and critically evaluate all campaign propaganda that comes your way.