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Read about the future of the Urban Service Boundary

Election 2022 Candidate Questionnaire – Kate Savage

Running for: District 3election 2022 kate savage

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

I married a Lexingtonian and moved here from London, England in my early twenties as a bride of two-weeks. So I guess you could say that a husband brought me to Lexington! But that was over 45 years ago now and, although divorced, I have chosen to stay here ever since. I have lived in the same house in the 3rd District for 33 years and have enjoyed all the conveniences of this area. As a single parent, Lexington was a safe and comfortable town to raise my son and as an entrepreneur, I have enjoyed the successes of being a business owner in a town where it was possible to establish loyal and first-name relationships with clients.
I love the big town/small city feel of Lexington. As a huge lover of all the arts I am constantly in awe of the amazing talent that exists here. I also appreciate Lexington’s placement – in the heart of the bluegrass, close to wilderness trails and retreats and yet within reach of larger more metropolitan cities like Cincinnati and Louisville. Lexington’s got it all!

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?

This is probably the most pressing challenge for our city right now as we reckon with the lowest available home inventory in 15 years. I believe that our building codes and zoning guidelines need to be overhauled. I have never been in favor of code enforcement that relies on neighbor reporting neighbor, besides this makes the assumption that all citizens are informed on codes and violations. We need to find ways to incentivize public and private partnerships and learn from others such as Habitat who already have an established successful model. Programs such as “live where you work” could offer first time home buyers a leg up when getting into the market as well as be a workforce incentive. UK has this program for employees.
I support increasing housing diversity but at the same being context and character sensitive. It is with dismay that I have seen established, fully occupied low-income rental units demolished to make way for a commercial development or huge parking lot. There needs to be some “take a space/make a space” requirement in these instances otherwise we shall continue to chase our tails in the effort to provide housing for those with few resources. I think an affordable housing land trust and/or land bank would be helpful in addressing the housing problem. I support the Mayor’s introduction in budget 2023 of $1M for Lexington’s in Neighborhood Investment Fund. These zero interest funds would be available to at-risk residents as repayable loans that would help encourage the rehabilitation of blighted and abandoned properties. I was a mayoral appointee and served on the Homeless Commission from which many good recommendations were made. One of which was the establishing of the Office for Homeless Prevention and Intervention. I will continue to support annual allocations of at least $2M or more if possible, to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

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 support prioritizing infill redevelopment within the Urban Service Boundary. I do not think that expanding this boundary at this time will solve our affordable housing needs. Rather, much of the land from the last boundary expansion still remains undeveloped and for the most part would not provide suitable location of housing for our low-income citizens who need access to jobs, transport and amenities. I believe that we must still look to build up and not out. This can be done creatively with mixed use developments. With the shift away from working in an office resulting from the pandemic, there could be some real opportunities to convert vacant business spaces into retail with housing. I believe we need an inventory of vacant properties and undeveloped lots so through a data base we can stay current with where there is land available and for what zoning uses. It is important to balance the use of urban and rural land and adopt responsible land use practices. Our old neighborhoods need to be cherished and their context and character protected.

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 see no reason at this stage to expand the Urban Service Area and will not support this during the upcoming Comprehensive Planning update process that will start later this year. Obviously USB expansion is not a realistic solution for our affordable housing crisis as discussed in the preceding answer. I believe there are still opportunities within the established urban area to make efficient use of available land and, by employing creative thinking when it comes to expanding existing buildings, by building up, repurposing underused parking lots and by effecting context sensitive zone changes, we will find there is still much available for development. Any growth needs to be sustainable and thought through with a respectful nod to the value of our Bluegrass landscape, our working farms and the jobs and quality of life our rural neighbors contribute. Smart growth means exhausting all possible alternatives before expanding.

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? 

Like so many of the issues to do with housing, gentrification and displacement of low income residents is not singular to Lexington. It is important that we address this problem and provide resources for our citizens that will allow them to remain in their homes. We need to address our tax policy and find ways to offer leniency or deferred property tax for those who are unable to maintain the rising costs of home ownership or other negative factors due to gentrification. I support the Mayor’s introduction in this year’s budget of a Housing Assistance Program that will provide home repair grants to low income homeowners who cannot afford to make the necessary needed repairs to meet code and under financial duress opt to sell their property instead. But, as with all these supportive programs, in order to for them to be effective those who would benefit most must be made aware of them and then, whenever needed, helped through the application process.

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?

It is the very fact that Lexington has a strong and diverse economy that makes it such a desirable place to live. The pillars of our community are the excellence and opportunities available in higher education, healthcare, agro-business and high tech innovation backed up with a thriving and burgeoning tourism/hospitality/arts sector that provides quality of life and unique experiences for those who live here as well as those who visit Lexington. In the case of Coldstream this land needs to be activated. Developers need to know that land for economic development is shovel-ready otherwise there will be no interest in the 200 acres that as yet lack basic infrastructure. Council needs to move forward on the zone change and implementing the master plan recommendations for this development. Failure to do so will make this land swap with UK – highly touted as “historic”, perceived as a boondoggle by the community. I believe that there will be many opportunities for creative reuse or redevelopment of vacant office spaces resulting from the increase of work-from-home options created as an inadvertent benefit of the recent pandemic. I would like to see more mixed use developments, more opportunities for entrepreneurship and creative combinations of retail and residential. I strongly believe in neighborhood hubs within neighborhoods that provide amenities and economic support on a local level. Ideally these would allow community to engage with one another and feel part of a “village” within a city. Chevy Chase right here in the 3rd District is a perfect example of this. Other locations already hold the same possibilities. We need to find ways to retain our highly educated young people. Youth brain drain, especially in the arts, is disheartening. I am a huge supporter of the arts and feel this is an undervalued contributor to the economy and livability of this city. I believe that the $2.5M in ARPA funds – a request I initiated – that will be used for renovating the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center will provide a much overdue and credible arts center for Lexington. A flourishing arts scene along with horse farms, our beautiful countryside, excellent healthcare, top notch educational institutions, the growing industrial opportunities, greenspaces and a multi-modal friendly city all help to create Lexington’s brand and it is this balanced package that will in turn attract and retain our workforce.

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?

Too few people realize the importance of our agriculture industries and the huge economic impact and cultural identity they contribute to our community. I would support the Purchase of Development Right program (PDR). This is way for us to preserve rural land from being developed and helps to protect jobs that are agro-based as well as the families that depend on this work for a living. But as this industry becomes more and more advanced with ag-technology we need to stay ahead of the innovations. I support the Mayor’s newly formed Bluegrass AgTech Development Corporation which is a public/private partnership working to ensure we remain current and competitive in our farming endeavors. Corporations like AppHarvest, with their headquarters in Lexington, are trailblazers in their field. By farming hydroponically and with the use of solar energy they can control the environment and growing conditions such that soil quality and weather are no longer paramount issues or influencers. I would like to find ways to attract more similar ventures.

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?

We need to be more proactive with these funds and find ways to be visionary about the future. We need to think big and dream even bigger. I am glad the City is currently developing a Capital Improvement Plan so we can prioritize our needs and see where the glaring inadequacies are so we can stay competitive as a city and make the right improvements and upgrades.
Right off the bat though we need better inter-city connectivity and improvements to our bus system at the same time finding ways to incentivize the use of public transport. There needs to be more bus shelters, buses should be WiFi connected and there needs to be shopping routes that loop around and provide rides across town rather than all routes going via the downtown hub. The frequency and dependability of rides must be improved and is critical to success. Other safe multi-modal means of transport need to be improved and provided with pedestrians and bike riders in mind. Roads and sidewalks – especially the much needed stretch of Versailles Road from Mason Headley to Red Mile road – need to be improved. Electric car charge ports are needed downtown against the anticipated increase in ownership of these vehicles. Lexington needs better water testing capabilities. It’s a shame that Town Branch Park will feature water provided by Kentucky American Water rather than the stream itself which is too contaminated. We must look to other improvements that will help to reduce our carbon footprint such as composting and recycling with a state of the art waste management facility that would reduce our landfill use.

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 Lanes and shared-use paths need to be part of every development conversation. I support the Mayor’s “Complete Streets” policy for Lexington which is an urban planning approach that prioritizes connectivity and access for all residents regardless of age, ability or choice of transportation. As stated in my previous answer, public transport needs to be reimagined. I feel sure that people will become more inclined to make use of the bus system if the suggested improvements are made. We are all aware of rising gas prices and the issues of climate change exacerbated by fuel consumption. If provided with safe and convenient options people will rethink their means of transport. At the very least there would be some viable options which right now there aren’t.