On November 7 Vinton area residents will vote for a representative to the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors from the Vinton Magisterial District. Republican Jason Peters is facing Democrat Ben Shepherd. They are profiled here and have answered a set of questions posed by The Vinton Messenger.
This is Ben Shepherd’s first run for public office. He is a Southwest Virginia native and a graduate of William Byrd High School in the Class of 2000. In high school he was a member of the Marching Terriers band and the orchestra, and a member of the Black Swan yearbook staff. He also volunteered with TeenLine, a Trust House program which provided peer-to-peer support for troubled teens. In 2004, he launched Roanoke’s Freecycle group.
Shepherd did political canvassing for Delegate Dick Cranwell during his junior year at William Byrd, sparking a long interest in all levels of politics, having worked with the Fairfax Democratic Committee and serving as an election officer for four years.
Shepherd was one of the founding members of the Amnesty International Chapter at Virginia Western Community College in the early 2000s.
Shepherd is also involved in his church, Our Lady of Nazareth, currently serving on its Evangelization Committee.
Shepherd is formerly a work-from-home investment analyst for the Capitol Information Group and business information editor. He is currently launching a new niche magazine focused on serving the Catholic community in the Roanoke Valley.
He and his wife Tiffani have a 2-year-old son and have been caregivers for Shepherds’ 92-year-old grandfather for the past six years.
- What do you see as the greatest challenges facing Vinton in the next four years and how would you use your position on the Board of Supervisors to address them?
One of the biggest challenges facing Vinton over the next four years is maintaining the growth which we’ve been seeing, particularly in the downtown area. Several new businesses have opened over the past few years, ranging from craft breweries to gift shops, and the town and county need to continue creating a supportive environment to allow those businesses to flourish.
To do that, the water infrastructure in town needs to be addressed. I’ve heard frequent complaints from residents about brown, sludgy water and low pressure, which generally seem to be related to aging water mains. If those problems persist, it could impact business growth and development. While the county doesn’t play a direct role in addressing that problem, as supervisor I would be happy to work with the town to find a solution, whether that’s by facilitating a conversation between the town and the Western Virginia Water Authority or helping the town find the money to deal with the problem.
We also need to continue building out the regional broadband network, connecting our businesses here in town, our schools and the industrial park to the 21st century economy. It doesn’t matter what industry or profession you’re in, if you aren’t connected to fast, reliable broadband, you’re at a disadvantage. As supervisor, I would work to ensure the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority has the support it needs to make those connections.
- What do you see as the greatest challenges facing Roanoke County in the next four years and how would you use your position on the Board of Supervisors to address them?
I’ve talked to a lot of folks who believe that while our schools are already good, they could be better so, first and foremost, we need to ensure our schools are getting the funding they need to create new programs to prepare our students to join the 21st century economy. That also means connecting students with any support services they need to get off to a good start. We also need to be attracting top teachers to our schools by building an environment where they can be creative in doing their jobs and, instead of just paying them average wages for the region, incentivize them to come to Roanoke County and stay.
If we need to rethink our county’s budget priorities to make that happen, or push the state for more funding, that’s what I’ll do.
The board also must take steps to stem our growing opioid crisis, focusing on treatment and prevention to help addicts get clean and stay clean. One way to do that is to forge a more productive partnership with our community services board and work with health care providers to create more rehabilitation beds in the region. We also need to keep drugs out of our kids’ hands and one way to do that is to make it easier to properly dispose of unused medications. So many addictions start in our own homes, we need to eliminate the temptation through expanded drug take-back days and the distribution of drug disposal pouches.
- What do you see as the main role of the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors?
I see the board’s main role as creating a healthy, safe environment for all our citizens, while encouraging responsible growth and development.
I’ve already mentioned our schools and the addiction crisis here in the county and, as supervisor, I’ll also work to foster responsible growth in the county. For instance, Reimagine 419 – the redevelopment plan for the Tanglewood Mall area – is off to a good start, but the county needs to be encouraging more energy efficiency in development projects. Denser, mixed-used development would also lessen the environmental impact of new projects, while creating “destination districts” where folks can live, work and play, ideally with less driving.
The board also needs to work to protect our local environment and I believe a key way to do that is to expand our recycling program. Our current collection system can be a hassle to say the least – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten to collection points and the bins either weren’t there or were overflowing. We need to reexamine the possibility of curbside recycling pickup across the county, making it easier for folks to recycle, to reduce the waste ending up in landfills and protecting our local environment.
- How do you envision Explore Park contributing to the Vinton community?
It’s terrific to see new businesses interested in setting up in Explore Park. I believe the park could play a key role in our economic development plans, creating an ecotourism destination here in the county. This will bring business to our local shops and restaurants, boosting our local economy.
To support that, we need to build out the park’s infrastructure. I also believe we need a hotel at this end of the county. In addition to Explore Park, there are several event venues here in the eastern part of the county. After those events, so many attendees go to hotels in the city, a lost revenue opportunity for the county and a great business opportunity for the right partner.
- The Town of Vinton, Roanoke County, and the Roanoke County Department of Economic Development have partnered for several projects (the new library, the downtown revitalization project, redevelopment of Roland E. Cook, the former WBHS, and the former Vinton Library, expansion of the greenways and blueways) in Vinton in the past several years. Do you see other opportunities for continued partnerships?
I do, especially when it comes to encouraging the development of a hotel at this end of the county, since the DED is well positioned to find and attract a developer to take on the project. I also think it will play a key role in finding a new business to take up the vacant site in our industrial park, though we also need to continue working to extend the RVBA’s fiber network to the industrial park.
The DED will also be a key partner in continuing to expand our greenway network. If Roanoke County indeed wants to become an ecotourism hub in this part of the state, we can’t just stand pat with the greenways we have.
Jason Peters is a lifelong resident of Vinton and a graduate of William Byrd High School. He is employed at First Citizens Bank in Vinton as a banking official. He and his wife Candye have a blended family of eight children. They are active members of Bonsack Baptist Church.
Peters was first elected to the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors in 2013. He was chosen by the board to serve as vice chairman that first year, followed by two years as chairman.
He served on the Roanoke County Planning Commission before being elected to the Board of Supervisors. He served as co-chair of the Capital Campaign Committee for the Vinton-Roanoke County Veterans “High Ground” Monument at the Vinton War Memorial.
Peters has been a member of the Vinton First Aid Crew for over 25 years, beginning in high school and works with the Vinton Needy Family program.
Since he joined the Board of Supervisors in 2014, Peters has been instrumental in economic development projects, including completion of the Vinton Public Library begun under his predecessor Mike Altizer; further partnerships between Roanoke County and Vinton for redevelopment of the former Roland E. Cook and William Byrd High School sites into upscale apartments, and renovation of the former library location for a Macado’s restaurant. He also worked to establish 24-hour career fire and rescue services in Vinton and East County, along with improvements to the fire station, making Vinton one of the county’s core stations.
Peters was involved in county-wide projects including developing the first Community Strategic Plan for Roanoke County, adopting and implementing an Explore Park Master Plan, expanding the broadband network, the redevelopment of the Tanglewood Mall with the Reimagine 419 project, and the regional investment in the purchase of 106 acres of properties along Interstates 81 and 581.
He has been endorsed by the Roanoke Valley Association of Realtors, the Roanoke County Professional Firefighters and Paramedics, Congressman Bob Goodlatte, Delegate Chris Head, Mayor Brad Grose, and School Board Chairman Tim Greenway.
1.What do you see as the greatest challenges facing Vinton in the next four years and how would you use your position on the Board of Supervisors to address them?
The biggest challenge facing Vinton in the next four years is renegotiating the gainsharing agreement between the town and the county which has been in place for almost 20 years and expires in 2019. We are already meeting with Vinton Town Manager Barry Thompson on the revenue sharing agreement to make sure the vital services of the town are protected and to assist the town as best we can with economic development.
Another issue facing the town is the water system, requiring the town to make decisions about how to proceed. That is not a decision that is up to the Board of Supervisors.
As for continuing economic development projects, we will push to get Macado’s wrapped up this year and the former William Byrd High School up and going. I would love to have a hotel built on this side of the county to help the Town of Vinton and East County prosper and lead to more economic development for the Vinton area.
2.What do you see as the greatest challenges facing Roanoke County in the next four years and how would you use your position on the Board of Supervisors to address them?
The challenge for the county in upcoming years is to continue to expand economic development, working with regional partners to create more jobs. For instance, while we would rather have had industries like the Eldor Corporation or Deschutes choose to locate in Roanoke County rather than in Botetourt County, those projects will benefit Roanoke County in the long run. A rising tide lifts all ships. Surrounding counties have the benefit of land, but Roanoke County has the resources to help develop the land and support the industries and their employees.
Roanoke County has several economic development projects underway. The biggest engines driving economic development currently include the Woodhaven property along Interstates 81 and 581 which is in the rezoning phase and will most likely be the site of high tech or medical industry rather than manufacturing, development of Explore Park, and work on the Reimagine 419 project in the Tanglewood Mall area. There are properties to be developed along Route 460 as well.
3.What do you see as the main role of the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors?
The main role of the Board of Supervisors is to work as one body to move the area forward to prosper. The new year will kick-off fantastic years of economic growth for the county with a pro-business philosophy of sound investments. I don’t believe in taking on lots of debt, but at times we need to make investments to move Roanoke County forward. I expect that come January the new Board of Supervisors will be viewed as business-friendly and made up of business-minded individuals.
4.How do you envision Explore Park contributing to the Vinton community?
With adoption of the Master Plan for Explore Park by the Board of Supervisors, with vital input from citizens, we now have a viable project and will soon be unveiling contracts with private vendors with more going out for bid. We are working to develop the infrastructure to support development of the park as a private/public partnership. We are working on contracts with investors from across the country.
The proximity of Explore Park to Vinton and the fact that Vinton is one of two points of entry will have a big impact on the town. More traffic will be accessing the parkway and will increase development potential on Washington Avenue and out to the parkway. This is the next economic engine for this part of our world. The project is truly taking shape better and faster than I imagined.
5.The Town of Vinton, Roanoke County, and the Roanoke County Department of Economic Development have partnered for several projects (the new library, the downtown revitalization project, redevelopment of Roland E. Cook, the former WBHS, and the former Vinton Library, expansion of the greenways and blueways) in Vinton in the past several years. Do you see other opportunities for continued partnerships?
If we are going to succeed in Vinton and Roanoke County, we must continue to work together as partners and work on regional partnerships as well. We must adopt the mindset of working together more, being forward-thinking. The government can’t provide jobs for the most part, but it can facilitate jobs and foster a business environment to bring private sector jobs.
When I was the chairman of the Board of Supervisors, I pushed strategically for expansion of the broadband network which led to development of the Woodhaven property, which as a result will have all the bandwidth they will ever need.
I am amazed that what I envisioned for Roanoke County and Vinton has come about as quickly as it has due to the support of so many. I have enjoyed my first term on the board and feel that I have represented the citizens well.