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Election 2022 Candidate Questionnaire – Linda Gorton

Running for: Mayor

Mayoral candidate Linda Gorton - 2022 Election

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

Like many people in our City, I originally came to Lexington to attend the University of Kentucky. It had, and still has, an excellent College of Nursing. I earned my degree and am still a registered nurse.  I met my husband, Major General Charlie Gorton at the University of Kentucky.  Like many military families, we lived in several places, including Germany and South Korea, before coming home to Lexington.

I love everything about Lexington!  But the foundation to what makes Lexington great and unique are my fellow Lexingtonians and our balanced approach to growth.

I have been fortunate to know and work with such wonderful people and to serve our community in many capacities over the years.  From being a Girl Scout leader, LYSA youth soccer coach and P.T.A. President, to serving on many community boards and the Urban County Council, where I served for 16 years:  4 terms representing the 4th District, 1 term as an At-Large Council Member and 1 term as Vice Mayor.  My love and commitment to this community inspired me to run for Mayor.

Lexington is a beautiful, vibrant community with a low cost of living and is very business friendly.  I love the friendliness of our people and the willingness of residents to be part of the solution in working on issues.  Our community ranks high nationwide in being a good place to raise a family as well as valuing education.  We have a wonderful park and trail system, healthy arts community, and a variety of activities for people who live and visit here.  I also love that we are city and countryside, reflecting our signature equine and agriculture industries.

Like my fellow community members, I love and appreciate the balanced approach to growth that has helped our city become increasingly more vibrant, while ensuring our agricultural industries and signature Bluegrass farms thrive.  I have a demonstrated commitment to and understanding of the importance of maintaining this delicate balance.

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 the Mayor who led this city through the pandemic and recovery, I am acutely aware of the need for affordable housing.  Tackling housing issues requires sustained and intentional commitment.  As Mayor, I created the Department of Housing Advocacy and Community Development to dedicate the intense focus required to create more affordable housing and implement policies to address housing affordability.  I will continue to prioritize this important work.

Affordable Housing:  Since 2014, approximately 3,000 units of affordable housing have been built or preserved by our government.  Sound management has enabled us to leverage $23.6 million in local funds into a total investment of $350 million in affordable housing.  That’s an astounding record.  As Vice Mayor, I supported creation of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.  As Mayor, I have fully funded the Affordable Housing Trust Fund since taking office.  This year, I am taking our city’s commitment to the next level.

While none of us wanted a pandemic, the historic federal funding our city received in response to the pandemic provides us with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to address affordable housing issues.  This year I proposed, and Council supported, dedicating $10 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to affordable housing.  In my budget for fiscal year 2023, I have also proposed fully funding the Affordable Housing Trust Fund at $2 million.  This enormous injection of funding will help accelerate the pace of construction.

Affordability:  Equitable and affordable communities have diverse housing options for people across the lifespan and income levels.  The 2017 housing study emphasized, and the pandemic made even clearer, our need for more diversity of housing types.  This is particularly important given the growing population of seniors and young professionals.  I support policies to increase housing diversity, while also protecting the character and context of existing neighborhoods.  One example of such a policy is proposed in my budget: to stand up the Neighborhood Investment Initiative to make funds available to our partners willing to improve vacant and blighted properties in our neighborhoods and then return them to our affordable housing stock. This improves neighborhoods and combats gentrification that is pricing people out of their existing homes.

Homelessness:  Our Office of Homeless Prevention and Intervention works daily to ensure an efficient and effective system offering everyone access to shelter, food, employment, housing and other basic needs and opportunities.  The pandemic resulted in unique challenges for our residents experiencing homelessness.  Funds received from the American Rescue Plan Act enabled me to greatly enhance our services.

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 have a long record of supporting infill/redevelopment as a primary growth strategy, while also protecting the character and context of our existing neighborhoods.  Lexington has a long history of innovative land use.  The balance between our city and rural land uses is what sets Lexington apart.  Efficient and strategic use of land inside the Urban Services Boundary is sustainable and fiscally responsible.

Infrastructure Investment Fund:  While Lexington’s growth strategy has long focused on infill/redevelopment, I have included funding for the first time to incentivize it.  In my budget for fiscal year 2023, I have proposed $3 million to provide repayable, interest-free loans designed to be the last money in to make an infill/redevelopment project work.  The development community has asked for these types of incentives for years as a recognition of the unique and expensive challenges infill/redevelopment projects can pose.

Sustainability Study:  While there is significant property available for development within our Urban Services Boundary, we need a method to keep track of our development.  I have included funds in my budget for fiscal year 2023 to perform a sustainability study to quantify and maintain a data base of how much land is available for housing, economic development, commercial and other uses.

Permitting:  I have already streamlined many of the processes and requirements necessary for development.  I am continuing that effort in my budget for fiscal year 2023 by putting all city permitting online—a virtual one-stop shop.  This will make it quick and easy for everyone from development professionals to do-it-yourself homeowners to find out what permits are needed, what they’ll cost and even apply online.

Sustainable Growth Task Force:  In the 2018 Comprehensive Plan, the Council included a charge to create a new process to consider long-term land-use decisions involving the Urban Services Boundary.  I created a Task Force to develop an objective, transparent, and reliable framework to guide these discussions to ensure we continue to grow sustainably and maintain the critical balance between urban and rural land uses.  The recommendations from the Task Force are before Council for consideration.

Neighborhoods:  While infill/redevelopment has long been our primary growth strategy, I am committed to continuing to support policies that protect the character and context of our existing neighborhoods.  I support increased transparency and communication as well as creating a growth plan to identify infill/redevelopment areas; provide protections to neighborhoods and historic/cultural assets; enhance access to green space, parks and trails; increase our tree canopy; and protect our streams and environment.

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 have a long-standing, demonstrated commitment to balanced, sustainable growth.  Our working farms and Bluegrass landscape are critical to our economic health and quality of life.  I have always been a strong supporter of our PDR program and of managed growth. We need both. I am committed to maintaining the delicate balance that sets Lexington apart.

Expansion Areas:  My commitment to supporting infill/redevelopment as our primary growth strategy includes taking on the tough issues that have stalled development in the existing expansion areas.  Government cannot force private property owners to develop their land, but government can provide a framework for development.  In addition to the other policies mentioned above, I am tackling the thorniest issue of all in the expansion areas—exactions.  Property owners and developers in the expansion areas have long sought an alternative to exactions.  I funded a study to analyze this issue and am now examining the recommendations from that study to determine a path forward.

Affordable Housing in Expansion Areas:  First, the Urban Services Boundary has no impact on affordable housing.  It is simply false and misleading to argue otherwise.  Most if not all communities are struggling with this issue—and most communities do not have urban growth boundaries.  The only way to address the lack of affordable housing is through policy.  And I have implemented policies that are both bold and proven to address affordable housing.

Second, truly affordable housing cannot be built on the outskirts of the city in the expansion areas.  Developers cannot afford to build truly affordable housing without federal tax incentives.  To qualify for those incentives, among other things, the housing must be in areas that are accessible to transportation, jobs, and necessities.

Expansion:  The 2018 Comprehensive Plan included more objective data and public input than ever before.  Based on all the inputs, the adopted Goals of the 2018 Plan recommended no expansion.  I fully supported that decision.  My Sustainable Growth Task Force has recommended a process built on data that can be compared over time as well as regular opportunities for public input.  Historically, the majority of our community members have emphatically rejected calls to expand, and there has not been objective data to support it.  However, I believe it is critical to allow the process to take place and create as many opportunities as possible for data analysis and public input.

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? 

As neighborhoods transform and redevelop, we must ensure vulnerable residents and neighborhoods are protected from the negative impacts of gentrification and provide support to underserved populations.  I am proud of the policies I have implemented to address this critical issue and excited of the continued work in this area from the new Department of Housing and Community Development.  Just like affordable housing, gentrification is an issue in every community (not just those with urban growth boundaries) and requires focused policy to address with direct inputs from impacted community members.

Mayor’s Commission on Racial Justice and Equality:  Following the racial protests that occurred throughout our country in 2020, I appointed a Commission to seek solutions to dismantle system racism in our community.  The Commission included a subcommittee on housing and gentrification.  Several of the primary recommendations from this subcommittee have been implemented, including creating the new Department of Housing and Community Development, moving Code Enforcement under the new Department, providing rental relief during the pandemic and funding the Housing Assistance Program.  The important work of this Commission continues through my hiring of an Equity and Implementation Officer and appointment of a permanent Commission. 

Lexington Neighborhood Investment Fund:  For the first time, I have proposed establishment of a $1 million fund to help vulnerable residents in my fiscal year 2023 budget.  These funds will be available as repayable, interest-free loans to rehabilitate blighted and abandoned properties.

Housing Assistance Program:  I moved Code Enforcement to the new Department of Housing and Community Development to ensure Code Enforcement policies and practices align with the larger goals of the new Department.  I also proposed creation of the Housing Assistance Program in my fiscal year 2023 budget to provide home repair grants to low income homeowners who cannot afford to make needed repairs.

American Rescue Plan Act:  The pandemic disproportionately impacted already-vulnerable populations and brought historical inequities into sharp focus.  Our community received $120 million in ARPA funds to aid in the response to and recovery from the pandemic.  My proposal prioritized funding qualified projects that have a direct impact on vulnerable populations and those most impacted by the pandemic.  Working with Council, these projects include rental assistance; investments in parks, trails, playgrounds, sports facilities, community centers and pools; development of Cardinal Run North; affordable housing; homeless prevention; and summer youth employment.

Mobile Food Truck:  Following a recommendation from the Mayor’s Commission on Racial Justice and Equality, I have proposed buying a mobile food truck and refrigerated trailer to sell fresh food in areas of town that lack access to fresh produce.  This project directly addresses a health disparity created by “food deserts” that was highlighted during the pandemic.

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?

As Mayor, I work on economic development every day.  I have a successful record of creating jobs, even in the face of a global pandemic. Since 2020, nearly 1,000 new businesses have employees in Lexington.  Our employment rate is now lower than it was before the pandemic—at about 3%.  However, everyone needs a good job, and I remain laser focused on job creation by supporting the JOBS Fund, workforce development and through our economic development partnerships.

Pillars:  Lexington benefits from a diverse economic base.  However, Lexington has emerged as a central location for health care, high tech, agriculture/animal science and education.  From small businesses to large enterprises, we are experiencing tremendous economic development in Lexington.

Bluegrass Ag Tech Development Corporation:  I have worked since taking office to lay the groundwork for Lexington to be the hub of high tech agricultural innovation in the United States.  Along with our partners, we are establishing a public-private partnership to provide incentives and challenge grants to kick-start this important sector.  I have pledged $1 million in my fiscal year 2023 budget for these efforts.

Purchase of Development Rights:  Agriculture is economic development.  Our prime Bluegrass farmland provides the factory floor for our signature agricultural industries and high-tech agricultural innovation.  I am committed to leveraging this precious natural resource to grow our agricultural industries and our entire economy by providing funding for the PDR program.

Coldstream Research Campus:  Activating this land has been a priority for me since day one.  The historic land swap with the University of Kentucky for 250 acres of economic development land included 50 acres of shovel-ready land for job growth.  We are already experiencing increased economic development as businesses locate there.  In addition, I included funds to provide infrastructure for the remaining 200 acres in my proposal for use of American Rescue Plan Act funds, which the Council supported.  The master plan for the development is complete, and the council-initiated zone change will be complete within the current fiscal year.

Vacant Office and Commercial Space:  This issue has become increasingly important as more people are working remotely.  I have and continue to work with business leaders to locate and/or expand into existing office spaces.  There may also be redevelopment opportunities with some of these spaces.

Leveraging our Brand:  Not only is our farmland an agricultural economic engine, it also anchors an exploding travel and tourism industry.  Our landscape and our local food, bourbon and craft brewery businesses help create a dynamic experience for visitors and locals alike.  I have will continue to support these growing industries and promote policies to leverage our brand to create economic growth.

Quality of Life:  Economic development and quality of life go hand-in-hand.  While I have always prioritized investments in quality of life infrastructure like parks and trails, the pandemic brought into stark focus the importance of these investments to the health of our community.  Using American Rescue Plan Act funding, I proposed an unprecedented investment of over $20 million in projects to enhance existing parks, trails, recreational areas and green spaces and provide new opportunities for our residents and visitors to access safe outdoor spaces and recreation.  With Council’s support, these projects will touch every part of our community and help us reach the goal of having a park or green space within a 10-minute walk of every home in Lexington.

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?

I have and will continue to be a champion for our agriculture industries and farmland.

Purchase of Development Rights:  Our signature Bluegrass farmland is the factory floor that supports our agriculture industries and cultural identity.  I supported creation of the PDR program in 2000 and funding every year I was on council.  I have continued my support and funding as Mayor and am committed to achieving the goals of the PDR program.

Bluegrass Ag Tech Development Corporation:  I have worked since taking office to lay the groundwork for Lexington to be the hub of high tech agricultural innovation in the United States.  Along with our partners, we are establishing a public-private partnership to provide incentives and challenge grants to kick-start this important sector and to build and expand our ag tech cluster of businesses. I have pledged $1 million in my fiscal year 2023 budget for these efforts.

Travel and Tourism:  Our farms, landscape and natural areas set us apart from other communities.  I have worked with VisitLex, Horse Country and other local, regional and state-wide stakeholders to showcase Lexington as a true travel destination.  Our farms are also critical to our growing local food, bourbon and craft brewery movements.  These businesses help create a dynamic city for visits and locals alike while showcasing agriculture.  I will continue to support these businesses and industries and the infrastructure necessary to ensure their growth.

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?

The opportunities presented by this funding have not been seen in our nation since the Great Depression.  As the funds will run through the State, I am working closely with our state partners to identify qualified projects and outline our community’s infrastructure needs, to go after every available funding option in the BIL. I will ensure that we leverage these dollars to provide the greatest impact for our community.

Transportation:  One of my top priorities is transportation improvements to enhance our roadways, mitigate congestion and create safe multi-modal transportation options.  Lexington is a regional hub for employment, healthcare, entertainment and education—that is a good thing, and will only increase. We have already applied for a RAISE Grant to improve connectivity between the expanded convention center, High Street lot development, Town Branch Park, and Davis Bottoms development to improve safety and accessibility. I am working with state and regional partners to address commuter traffic and consider a range of commuter travel options that work for our community.  This is our opportunity to think big, and that is exactly what I am doing.

Internet Access:  Another of my top priorities is making sure everyone in our community has access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet.  Businesses and individuals alike need access to reliable internet to succeed.  Lexington is one of the largest cities in the nation with community-wide access to broadband within the city limits.  I am committed to extending that access to the rural area and have already laid the groundwork to meet this goal.

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?

Lexington needs to continue to invest in shared use trails. We have made great progress during my administration in connecting trails.  We also prioritize sidewalk and public transportation designs into every project.  Enthusiasm for public transportation can only grow if we make it more convenient to use and we work very closely with our transportation partners to do so.