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Election 2022 Candidate Questionnaire – Hannah LeGris

Running for: Council District 3Hannah LeGris Election 2022

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

I first came to Lexington as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer to do a term of service at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, where I focused on youth literacy initiatives and poverty-fighting programming for young people and their families. My time with AmeriCorps allowed me to understand some of the challenges and opportunities in Lexington, and gave me the space to make strong connections in our community in the process. One thing I love about Lexington is that it is a city full of motivated people who care about making our community better; it is a place where you can contribute to our city’s future from a grassroots level and build lasting relationships with people from all different backgrounds. I love the passion of our community, the beauty of our city, and the way that people feel personal responsibility to make Lexington a better place.

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?

I am a strong proponent of creating more diversified, mixed-income, and evolving format housing to serve the growing community needs. I serve on the board of the Lexington Community Land Trust (LCLT), an organization that provides one of the best affordable housing models in Lexington. I believe that through zoning decisions and investments in both established and new neighborhoods, we can provide for missing housing needs while supporting our Affordable Housing priorities.

LFUCG has already taken important steps by creating the Affordable Housing Fund and Trust, and this year we allocated a record amount to that Fund – $10 million dollars. We also created a new Housing Advocacy and Community Development division, which will focus on more funding for people to live in safe, maintained, affordable housing. Tools like inclusionary zoning can engage more community members, while partnerships between the LCLT and the LFUCG Land Bank can increase housing stock for low-income buyers. In addition, partnerships with REACH, Habitat for Humanity, and developers within Fayette County could expand rehabilitation for existing homeowners needing assistance.

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?

Since the last expansion of the USB, the need for affordable housing within those expansion areas has not been met; however, the opportunity to use those available acres still remains. Therefore, we must better incentivize usage over expansion. Incentives could include low-income housing tax credits, federal or state historic rehabilitation tax credits, or the provision of financial support to developers to make it easier to reach the goals of developing housing and commerce within the boundary.

Other tools encouraging densification are outlined extensively within the Comprehensive Plan; additional solutions have been projected in numerous case studies. What we need is buy-in from various stakeholders to follow the vision set by the Comprehensive Plan for sustainable, responsible development. It is unlikely that such buy-in will happen organically, and it is important that the city take a proactive role, creating financial incentives and helping with the vision for under-utilized land. Cities across the nation have been using infill for years as primary means to provide for their growing populations and evolving needs; in Lexington, we have the social and environmental obligation to do the same.

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 currently support expanding the Urban Service Boundary. The benefits of densification are numerous and supported by many livability indices. Densification simplifies the creation and maintenance of infrastructure, increases overall energy efficiency compared to rural development, and increases the value of the local economy. I will continue to promote realistic infill whenever feasible and advocate for equitable development by encouraging the LFUCG to incentivize under-utilized spaces within the Urban Services Boundary.

I support the work of the LFUCG Infill and Redevelopment Committee, which continues to seek ways to execute infill projects without compromising quality of life. I know that there are ways to more creatively and intentionally zone and use the land within the USB, and to do so with a proactive approach that brings both neighborhoods and developers into the conversation. Not only can we support more industries within the USB, but we can also help to provide for diverse housing needs and support mixed-use developments so that we use the space within our boundary in a more organized and environmentally-friendly way.

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? 

Neighborhoods are a fundamental unit of our city, which means that responsible infill and redevelopment practices are vital to maintaining the character of our communities. I support development plans that recognize the identity of neighborhoods and bring residents into the conversation.

I have already supported the creation of a new department at LFUCG focused on Housing Advocacy and Community Development, which is a key step in neighborhood-based advocacy and support. We have also begun to make changes to the code enforcement process, including a new Code Enforcement Assistance program for low-income/eligible homeowners to address and remediate housing violations issued by Code Enforcement.

During the pandemic, we created essential partnerships with organizations like Community Action Council, to make sure that financial hardship funds were distributed throughout the community. There are further steps we can take when it comes to connecting residents to grant funds that can help them stay housed, including tenants who need financial support and homeowners who require assistance. This goal can be accomplished in various ways, including through LFUCG-sponsored grants and programs that are neighborhood-centric, promote energy-efficiency, and support much-needed incremental investments that keep people from being displaced.

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?

Lexington is a great place to live, work, and raise a family. We are fortunate to have multiple universities, regional industries, arts and cultural activities, a beautiful rural landscape, a walkable city center, booming healthcare industry, agricultural opportunities, and a highly educated workforce.

In order to promote socially responsible job creation and land use, we must plan for the types of businesses we want to attract and retain. This should be a shared effort between LFUCG, Commerce Lexington, current and prospective employers, and our multiple universities and training centers. Tools include workforce development training, well-planned infill and redevelopment, tax incentives for desirable projects, and collaboration with key stakeholders like Commerce Lexington, post-secondary institutions, and professional organizations.

As people seek out professional and personal opportunities within our city, it is our responsibility to keep Lexington affordable, navigable, and beautiful – while providing residents with a sense of possibility. It is entirely possible to protect our landscape, build more housing, incorporate new industries, and creatively use the acreage within the USB, concurrently. Doing so requires vision, policy measures, financial incentives, and the will to look beyond our current practices.

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?

While urbanism dominates discussion within Lexington, we must also protect and maintain our agricultural legacy. Horse farms are a key part of our identity, and working horticultural farms are vital to our local food system. These local businesses help improve our community health, decrease our carbon footprint, and diversify our economy, all while increasing resilience during crises or disruptions. We should continue to support farmsteads and new farmers by crafting policies that encourage agriculturalism while protecting the landscape.

Agritourism has also increased significantly over time and the city should continue to take advantage of its location. We must improve our development practices before we permanently change the landscape around us, and that means policies that both invest in and also protect the environment. Through intentional planning, community buy-in, investments and promotion for our local agricultural businesses, and continuing protection for agriculturally-zoned land with the USB, we can further strengthen our community and environment for the future.

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?

For Fayette County to move forward strategically with the IIJA and BIL opportunities, we need to have a clear vision and a plan to competitively seek out these federal funds. Unlike ARPA dollars, the BIL allocations involve multiple application processes, which in turn require LFUCG to generate a multifaceted Capital Improvement Plan. In the formation of that plan we should prioritize Climate Resilience, Energy and Power, Transportation, and, in some pockets of our community, Environmental Remediation.

Lexington will greatly benefit from rebuilding our roads to prioritize safety, climate change mitigation, multimodal use, and equity for community members. We need investments in long-term options for energy and infrastructure, ensuring that our utility systems can stay online even in the wake of natural disasters and other emergencies. By investing in modern utilities and infrastructure, we can act now to mitigate the impacts of climate change and larger, more catastrophic challenges in the future. In the process, we can create more jobs in the world of green infrastructure and, in turn, develop a more multifaceted workforce within Fayette County.

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?

Bike and pedestrian initiatives, walkable communities, and robust use of public and alternative transportation are crucial to the health and accessibility of the community. Along with my colleagues on Council, city planners, and community stakeholders, I am currently working on a comprehensive Complete Streets policy to rethink our roadways for all types of travel. These policies are needed no matter how people navigate our city – whether via car, public transit, bike, or foot – but we also need to facilitate a change of culture and norms more generally. Building safe, accessible, and equitable communities requires rethinking how we connect the different parts of our city.

We are making progress with our trail systems, but Lexington is long overdue in modernizing its transit. The expansion of Town Branch Trail, reconnecting the Legacy Trail, and the opening of Brighton Trail are all important in getting more people on their bikes and feeling comfortable moving through our city without cars. Building sidewalks, investing in trails and protected bike lanes, and ensuring that connectivity and safety are prioritized both in established neighborhoods and new developments is the healthy and equitable way for our community to move forward.