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Election 2022 Candidate Questionnaire – Liz Sheehan

Running for: District 5Liz Sheehan Election 2022

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

Like many Lexingtonians, my family and I chose to make Lexington our forever home because of the robust healthcare and education systems, the sense of community we’ve found, and our region’s natural resources. After living in a number of communities–large and small–during our careers in higher education, Dan and I found Lexington to be the ideal place to raise our family. We fell in love with our neighborhood in the 5th District because of the urban greenspaces, easy access to fresh food, ample retail and restaurant options within walking distance, excellent nearby public schools, and the ability to walk or bike to our jobs at the University of Kentucky.

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 5th District Councilmember, I am proud of my record supporting affordable housing, smart growth, encouraging density, and supporting Zone Change Text Amendments that make building “missing middle” housing easier. I have and will continue to prioritize projects that increase density, respect the character of existing neighborhoods, and connect residents with fresh food, jobs, and critical services. Moreover, I voted to support putting $10 million in our Affordable Housing Fund in addition to our regular budget allocation. My neighborhood is a good example of an existing Lexington neighborhood with density, mixed housing types, and easy access to amenities, alternative transportation, greenspaces, and workplaces, so I know it can be achieved.

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 in-fill and redevelopment in Lexington. That being said, in order to protect our vital agricultural economy and ecological resources, we have to make this type of development attractive and fiscally sound for our developers. Much of the land freed up in the 1996 expansion was subject to a complex and expensive exaction fee system. This acted as a barrier to development, and–to this day–much of that land remains vacant. A first step would be to re-evaluate this system, particularly for affordable housing developments. In the Mayor’s recently proposed budget for the next fiscal year, she included $1 million for a Lexington Neighborhood Investment Fund that would award zero interest loans to rehabilitate blighted and abandoned properties to turn them into affordable housing – I will watch this program as it moves through the council budget process and plan to support it. This approach could also be applied to repurposing commercial buildings into mixed use or converted entirely to housing. We have seen businesses moving to remote work recently, and we could start by looking for spaces that are now vacated.

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.

The City is gearing up to review our Comprehensive Plan (the guiding document required by state law to inform our long-term growth), where we are facing this question head-on. As a researcher, I am a firm believer in working from shared, objective data. The City (and the Sustainable Growth Task Force) is working to collect objective data about land/its usage in Fayette County that will be annually updated, as well as a process for addressing the decision making thresholds for expansion. An additional work group has been proposed to identify rural areas to preserve and land for potential future urban development. We also recently participated in a robust community feedback process through the “On the Table” program and CommerceLex discussion groups. All of this combined data from the city and the community should be used to support an evidenced-based decision about the Urban Service Boundary. Whether or not these processes lead our community to expansion, I will continue to support programs that preserve our agricultural areas and jobs. One of those programs is the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program. Lexington is unique because of our agricultural industry and the beautiful rural landscape. Any decision that has the potential to affect these spaces must be made with great care and consideration; once an area is developed, that can never be undone.

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 a community, we must prove that we value keeping people in their homes by providing the resources and policies to combat gentrification and displacement. As a starting place, I support using the recommended actions from the 2021 Neighborhoods in Transition Task Force Report as a guide. They created a priority area map to identify our most vulnerable neighborhoods that need further study of how city investments could address “displacement, social impact, and include an assessment of neighborhoods’ history, character, and urban fabric”. They also encouraged exploring incentives for private developers to include affordable housing within their projects using state and local tax credits, inclusionary zoning, or waiving fees. Community outreach programs were recommended to engage neighbors in discussions of potential development and educate residents on topics such as government programs available to them and predatory buying practices. On council, I supported the creation of a fund to assist people with repairs needed due to code violations and will continue to support that within our budget for the next fiscal year. This would be in addition to the Lexington Neighborhood Investment Fund mentioned above. We can also consider expanding our Community’s Land Trust, “land banking”, and fixed property taxes to support those who may not be able to afford taxes when property values increase. This latter idea is one that could work well for seniors who would like to age in place.

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?

Looking across Lexington, I see many strong and varied sectors of business, but certainly agriculture, hospitality/tourism, higher education, and healthcare. To attract new businesses and allow existing businesses to grow, we need space available; the Coldstream property is an example of how partnerships in the community can make this happen. LFUCG, CommerceLex, and University of Kentucky worked together on an agreement to make needed land available. As a Councilmember, I was able to support this project by voting to fund infrastructure at this location to make this area available more quickly and more cost efficient for businesses utilizing this land. We should continue to leverage this type of creative thinking and our partnerships. As mentioned above, the pandemic has shifted our thinking about workspace and many industries allow more remote work–leaving more office/commercial spaces open. These are opportunities for redevelopment into much needed housing units along with creating mixed use areas, similar to The Met in East End, where people can live, work, and play. While creating opportunities for businesses to grow, we also have to think about the availability of our workforce. I worked with my fellow Councilmembers to secure additional funding for our Workforce Training Grants. I would like to see us expand “second chance” employment opportunities and ensure we are retaining the highly educated workforce from our local colleges and universities.

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 continue to support the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program. This program preserves jobs in agriculture and agritourism that support families in our community and our local economy, preserves rural land from being developed in the future, and preserves the landscapes that make Lexington so unique. We also must think about how best to maintain our competitive advantage in the AgTech sector. The Mayor recently announced a new public private partnership, the Bluegrass AgTech Development Corporation, that will certainly help these efforts.

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?

Planning for Lexington’s future is one of the most rewarding parts of my job as your Councilmember. My approach to service is to do my homework, find common ground, and roll up my sleeves to get the work done. When it comes to the transformational opportunities before us, I will prioritize public feedback on how we best spend public dollars. There are areas that I’m eager to see improvements to our infrastructure: funding for the implementation of the“Complete Streets” plan mentioned in the next question, re-establishing a municipal sidewalk fund to help property owners make necessary repairs to their sidewalks, overhauling ADA access for our neighbors with disabilities, robust stormwater mitigation and replacement of outdated stormwater systems, solar power for government-owned buildings, expanded broadband (especially in our rural areas), and greenspace preservation. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I look forward to the public-feedback we will collect during this process. We all deserve a seat at the table–I’d be honored to continue working alongside you to make Lexington the best it can be!

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?

We’ve made a lot of gains in installing bike lanes and continue to invest in shared-use paths. In February of 2022, I voted to fund an additional $1.24 million toward bike and pedestrian initiatives so that we could move forward with more of these projects. I’ve also supported upcoming projects in the 5th District along Alumni Dr, Liberty Rd, and Mt Tabor Rd. I’m currently working with some of my Council colleagues and LFUCG staff to develop and implement a “Complete Streets” policy for Lexington. This is an approach to urban planning that prioritizes connectivity and access for all residents regardless of age, ability, or transportation type. You can read more about this policy approach at smartgrowthamerica.org. All of this work takes financial resources, so I will continue to support these efforts within our local budget and look for opportunities to maximize state and federal funding.