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Election 2022 Candidate Questionnaire – Charlie Rowland

Running for: District 6Election 2022 Charlie Rowland

Question: What brought you to Lexington-Fayette County? What do you love about our community?

I am fortunate to have been born in Lexington and raised in Central Kentucky. After living away after college for five years I knew I wanted to make Lexington my home and raise my family here. I love that Lexington has the culture and conveniences of a big city, but is a welcoming town at its heart.

Question: Like the rest of the nation, Lexington faces critical challenges around developing adequate Affordable housing for low-income families and increasing attainable missing middle housing for the average income resident. What specific policy recommendations do you have to address these different challenges?

We need to continue to fully fund the Affordable Housing Fund and look for ways to add new revenue. We must do a better job advocating on the state and federal level for Lexington’s needs, as access to state and federal funds will allow us to amplify our efforts. Particularly on the state level, we must do a better job of communicating with the Kentucky Housing Corporation, so that their two-year housing plans better align and better incentivize Lexington’s specific needs for affordable housing.

Question: The 2018 Comprehensive Plan, Imagine Lexington, prioritizes infill redevelopment within the Urban Service Boundary as a primary strategy to accommodate our growth needs. How do you propose we incentivize infill and redevelopment to activate the approximately 17,000 acres of vacant, underused and underutilized land (much of which exists on our major commercial corridors) within the Urban Service Area? What specific policy recommendations or incentives do you think we could utilize to ensure we sustainably use our existing resources to meet our needs?

We need to make infill redevelopment and development of unused or underutilized land within the Urban Service Boundary as easy as possible for those willing to make these investments. The current development criteria put into place by the 2018 Comprehensive Plan, while well-intentioned to promote best practices in spurring infill development, is overly complicated. We need to simplify the process for developers and investors on the front end and be very clear in where we, as a city, want to drive development. On the back end, once a proposal has been submitted, we must make sure the city provides the resources necessary to move the project along. Once a proposal is approved by the Planning Commission, there must be designated LFUCG staff to oversee the permitting process so that these projects move forward in a timely manner.

Question: The balance between our urban and rural areas is essential to our unique economy, environment, and quality of life in Lexington-Fayette County. Since the last expansion of the Urban Service Boundary in 1996, only 51% of the land brought within the boundary has been developed, and no Affordable housing has been built in those dedicated expansion areas. Do you support an expansion of the Urban Service Area during the current Comprehensive Planning update process? Please explain.

I do not support an expansion of the Urban Service Boundary at this time. So far, no evidence has been presented that demonstrates a pressing need for expanding the boundary and the community members I’ve talked with do not support expansion. Expansion will require expensive investments in infrastructure to service the added areas, which will draw away crucial resources from our infill objectives and guarantee that marginalized communities will continue to be overlooked. We need to prioritize investing in our current neighborhoods. We must maintain the qualities of Lexington that make it unique and desirable, and that includes our farmland.

Question: To grow Lexington-Fayette County sustainably, we must grow equitably and consider impacts on our marginalized and underserved communities. What specific policies would you recommend to incentivize community-driven investments in historically disinvested neighborhoods while preventing displacement which can result from gentrification? 

Investing in historically disinvested neighborhoods must be a priority as we advocate for increased infill. These investments do not have to result in displacement. We must be purposeful in engaging the current residents and listening to their needs and desires for the neighborhood. Current residents must be given the opportunity to benefit from increased investment, not be driven out by higher prices.

A policy that should be considered is providing property tax freezes for homeowners currently in disinvested neighborhoods. We should advocate on the state level for expanding the homestead exemption for historically disinvested neighborhoods or creating specific districts to freeze property taxes for current homeowners, similar to what is currently being developed in the West End of Louisville. Additionally, we need to provide a mechanism so that a portion of increment revenues produced by these projects are reinvested in the neighborhoods.

Question: What do you see as the pillars of Lexington-Fayette County’s strong and diverse economy? What specific policies do you recommend for: a) activating existing economic development land for jobs, such as the nearly 250 acres at Coldstream; b) creating opportunities for job growth utilizing the significant vacant office and commercial spaces within our urban area, and c) leveraging our unique assets and community strengths to support job growth and continued economic prosperity?

The city needs to do a better job of supporting our relationship with the University of Kentucky. Having a land grant, R1 research university is one of our biggest assets for economic development. A lot of exciting work is being done in the UK Office of Technology Commercialization and UK Innovate to convert the research being done at the university into commercial opportunities, especially in the areas of agritech, advanced manufacturing, and metals sciences. This research and the follow-on commercialization will bring the high-skilled, high-paying jobs we need to grow our payrolls and enhance our attractiveness as a city.

Having build-ready sites is crucial in this competitive economic development environment and I was glad to see that the City Council allocated $9.5M in ARPA funds to build out the infrastructure at Coldstream, so that we can move quickly to lock down potential economic development projects.

Question: Fayette County agriculture industries are a significant part of our local economy and cultural identity, having a $2.3 billion dollar annual economic impact, supporting 1 out of every 12 jobs, and anchoring a $2 billion dollar local tourism industry. What specific policies do you support to ensure the continued strength of our agriculture industries and the rural land that supports them?

The success of the agricultural industry is imperative to the economic success of Lexington. A top priority must be to support local farmers by ensuring that as many agricultural products as possible stay local. We should incentivize LFUCG, FCPS, UK, and local employers to buy local. This will not only support our agricultural economy, but add to our quality of life and ensure everyone in our community has access to fresh, nutritious food.

Attracting and fostering the top talent and top firms in the agricultural sector, especially in agritech, must be a top priority of Lexington’s economic development efforts. We should position the Coldstream campus, with its close proximity to UK and to productive agricultural land, as a hub for research and development in the agricultural industry.

Question: The federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) funds offer Lexington-Fayette County a transformational opportunity to invest in transportation, water, power and energy, environmental remediation, public lands, community resilience and broadband. What specific policy recommendations do you have for approaching quality of life investments and capital improvements to make the most efficient use of these funds in the coming years? What are the top priorities for investment in Lexington-Fayette County?

If we are serious as a community about infill, we need to make forward-looking investments in our public infrastructure now to support what we expect to be a more dense urban area in the future. As we’ve learned from the 2006 EPA Consent Decree, failure to make necessary investments in infrastructure for a growing population on the front end will result in exorbitant burdens for taxpayers later on. Lexington citizens have paid close to $600M related to consent decree through higher sewers bills. The city needs to utilize one-time dollars for strategic infrastructure investments that will support the growing population we expect in the next 15-20 years.
Additionally, we need to ensure everyone in Lexington has access to high-speed broadband. Access to the internet is critical, but the last mile of connectivity is oftentimes too costly for providers to justify the investment in rural and underserved areas. Lexington should supplement these costs to ensure better connectivity for all citizens.

Question: According to the Center for Neighborhood Technology, the average Lexingtonian spends 24% of their income on transportation costs and 26% on housing. What specific policies would you propose to incentivize public transportation, bike/pedestrian improvements, and walkable developments near existing infrastructure to help alleviate both traffic and transportation costs in our community?

Infill development not only provides quality of life and allows Lexington to retain its unique character, but it is environmentally friendly, as it makes for easier access to public transportation and provides the option to bike or walk to work, entertainment, and dining options. We must continue to study transportation trends–such as the Imagine Nicholasville Road study and the current study of New Circle–to ensure that public transportation is not only affordable but convenient, so that people can justify not using their personal vehicles for short trips.