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Election 2022 Candidate Questionnaire – Denise Gray

Running for: Council District 6Denise Gray - Election 2022

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

Lexington chose me. I was born and raised on the north side of Lexington. I attended Mary Todd and Northern Elementary schools, Bryan Station Middle school, and Bryan Station High School. Lexington is my home and where I feel most comfortable. The blessing of growing up in Lexington is that you have the opportunity to remember what it used to be. Such as, I remember playing in the area called the “Bottoms”, which is no longer in existence due to the construction of Oliver Lewis Road, which sits where the neighborhood once stood. I attended Consolidated Baptist Church on Upper Street and currently where it now sits on Russell Cave Road. No matter how large Lexington becomes or how much it grows, it has that same small-town feel. There’s always someone that knows my parents, played baseball with my brother, served in the military with my sister, attended Bryan Station High School, or saw me cheer when I was younger. I know what Lexington was, what it is, and what it could be.

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?

As Lexington, like most of our nation, deals with the challenges of developing adequate, affordable housing for low-income families and increasing attainable missing middle housing, it is necessary to have a creative thought process. Historically, single-family dwelling zoning was the priority for exclusionary purposes such as redlining. Therefore, it is pertinent to re-evaluate Lexington zoning to determine if areas currently zoned as single-family usage are more viable as higher density or mixed-use zoning and how it can be translated to work in our city. Typically these areas would be located near public transportation.
Lexington is currently piloting the use of accessory dwelling units as one way to address affordable housing.

Another option is to see what incentives for higher density mixed use dwellings, specifically those with buildings on the bottom and housing above, to-ensure such dwellings are reserved for low-income and middle-income housing.
Additionally creating housing vouchers to be paid directly to developers to build housing, focusing not only on high-density but multi-family dwellings as well.

Policy-wise there are several options for our area. Overall, my general guide is looking to see what other cities with similar populations and projected growth have done to deal with this, ensuring safe and affordable housing is attainable for all in Lexington.

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?

I believe we could utilize tax breaks for developers who seek to reimagine use of land within the Urban Service Boundary that is vacant, underused or underutilized.

We must consider the entire process of land development, and review existing interactions between the city and the developer as opportunities to encourage smart infill development that prioritizes accessibility, community development, and economic resiliency. Between the zoning process, to inclusion of public feedback, and the consideration of incentives, LFUCG often has multiple points of leverage we can use to create a livable and thriving community.

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.

My support of any expansion of the Urban Service Area would be contingent upon a plan with the input of all Lexingtonians, city planning, and other experts. Any plan regarding the expansion or any change with the Urban Service Area must be a well-thought-out, strategic plan that keeps the city’s future in mind, especially regarding natural resources and other environmental issues. It must also put the community’s news first.

We have proof of what happens when we make expansions to the Urban Service Boundary. Doing so doesn’t necessarily mean developers will develop affordable homes. The proof is in the pudding that this is not the case. So let us be smart. Let’s be strategic and, most importantly, prioritize the people’s needs.

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? 

When the Bluegrass-Aspendale Public Housing was demolished, and the Equestrian View Neighborhood was first built in its place, an income restriction was placed to target those who struggled to find affordable permanent housing within our city. After talking with several realtors within the Central Kentucky area, the consensus has been this is no longer the case for the area.

I want to ensure incentives (tax breaks, etc.) are made for developers to build neighborhoods that reserve a certain number of single-family homes, townhomes, condos, etc., for those of certain incomes.

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?

Generally speaking, one asset Lexington has is its location. With the interstate placing Lexington as a hub for any company seeking to excel, this is one of our greatest assets. Of course, the University of Kentucky and the other academic institutions nearby are important assets. These alone ensure that three of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce’s four pillars of economic policy are met. To help achieve the “fourth pillar,” incentives such as job training may be necessary. This is just one possibility, but for job growth to occur, there must be some incentive for any business to make Lexington its home.

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?

It is necessary to promote and connect local farms with the community through integrated partnerships. While working with Fayette County Public Schools, it was a joy to see how the school system encouraged our next generation of leaders to engage with our local farms and become more involved with agriculture. I fully support any policy promoting community gardens and urban agriculture to restore natural resources within the Urban Service Area. Seedleaf Lexington is a community gardening organization that primarily manages garden sites in North Lexington. The organization, which Lexington Fayette County Urban Government supports, trains adults and youth to grow, cook, and in some cases, sell produce. One of their several community gardening plots is located on Third Street. I’d like to see this encouraged in other areas around Lexington.

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?

Specific policy recommendations I have for approaching the quality of life investments and capital improvement to make the most efficient use of the IIJA funds in the coming years is investing in a public transit system that is more conducive to our current needs. I’d also recommend investing funds to ensure Bluegrass Airport facilities are more climate and tourist-friendly.
My top priority for Lexington is improving our public transit system.

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?

Several cities similar to Lexington and even larger cities have practiced different ways to alleviate traffic and transportation costs in their areas. Several of these policies and approaches are possibilities for use here in Lexington. For example, Salt Lake City has enacted programs such as “Free Fares in February.” In other areas, bus lanes on high riders corridors and protected bike lanes have been initiated. Our growing cities have modified their traffic light timing systems. As Lexington-Fayette County continues, ways to alleviate traffic and transportation costs should continue to be an issue on the minds of elected officials and Lexingtonians.