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Read about the future of the Urban Service Boundary

Election 2022 Candidate Questionnaire – Rock Daniels

Running for: Council District 11Rock Daniels Election 2022

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

I was living on an island in the Caribbean and met a young lady who was going to go to school in Lexington. So I decided to move to Kentucky to be close to her. Within six months of me moving to Kentucky she transferred to Duke University and I stayed here because I had fallen in love. Only it wasn’t with a girl but with a Community.

That was a little less than 20 years ago and at that time I quickly realized that the Chevy Chase Starbucks was the center of the Lexington universe. Going there daily, I met so many great people within the first year that I lived here. I also learned something very quickly upon moving to Fayette County.

All of my preconceived notions about Kentucky had to be thrown out the window. This was a different kind of community with different set of values than I was used to experiencing. I grew up in far East Tennessee and was the son to an immigrant. I also lived in Charleston, SC, a very racially divisive city, while in Pharmacy School.

As soon as I moved to Lexington I quickly realized that it was a different kind of place. While many people say this is where southern starts it is also where hate ends. The hospitality I received could compete with any other southern city while I was engulfed with acceptance without judgment from everyone I met.

While meeting with a non profit, I actually met my wife at that Chevy Chase Starbucks. We have been married 11 years and have two beautiful boys. I guess you can say that I came to this city searching for something and I found a life that I never dreamed I could have.

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 actually an extremely difficult question to answer because you have the warm and fuzzy answer that makes everyone feel good about the future of affordable housing and then you have the truth.

While the affordable housing trust fund is something that has been great for the community and there are many lower income projects that have been created because of it including one on Antique Drive in my neighborhood by Holly Wiedemann for the elderly; I absolutely believe that the affordable housing trust fund has been significantly under funded by previous administrations.

The affordable housing trust fund needs at least five times the money it is given every single year. The other thing about the affordable housing trust fund that needs to be changed is the length of the deed restrictions that are placed upon it. Deed restrictions need to be a minimum of 20 years because otherwise we are just kicking the can for accelerated gentrification. We need to provide developers with the incentives they need to make the financial numbers work, while ensuring we have an adequate supply of affordable housing not only today but in the future. Lexington is feeling growing pains and part of those pains include having out-of-state homebuyers come in and offer up to $100,000 more than asking price on homes. This drives prices in our real estate market to where a family earning the median income of Lexington cannot afford a medium priced home in our city. This is only going to get worse as we are seeing interest rates increase which makes the price of housing even more unaffordable.

Rental units are becoming extremely hard to find for families. We are seeing prices drastically increase across our city. Section 8 vouchers are not increasing at the same rate that housing is increasing across our city so because of this I am personally hearing of a lot of people who cannot afford housing even when they have a voucher.

As our city continues to grow I feel that we are going to continue to see many of our working families be pushed out of Lexington and into surrounding cities. It is because of this that I feel that we should immediately develop some type of regional public transportation which inner connects lexington to all of our outlying cities. This would help people get to and from work and also help those people who need to get to and from our hospitals and stores.

Another thought could be incentivizing developers to create mixed use developments which combine commercial, retail, office, very high density housing and some lower density housing. The incentive would come by having the developer have a certain percentage of the housing be affordable in return for some type of 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?

I know that years ago the city of Cleveland Ohio did a tax abatement. They did not increase the property tax on a piece of property within a certain area that had been rehabbed or a vacant piece of land that had been built upon.

The developer paid the same amount of taxes as they did pre-construction for 10 years post construction. This is a way to incentivize people to develop certain properties in certain areas. As a city Lexington could specify that we would do this only for infill and redevelopment projects.

Of course we would have to get the approval of the school board since the majority of the property tax goes towards the school board and the property value administrator is required to tax people currently at market value.

There is one part of infill and redevelopment that is not often discussed when the subject is brought up. We also have to understand that there is a impact upon neighborhoods that once were considered suburban neighborhoods but because of their closer proximity to downtown are now becoming urban neighborhoods quickly. There are many people who live in these neighborhoods who are greatly affected by infill and redevelopment projects. We need to make sure that those neighborhoods are protected. This can be done through changes in traffic patterns and speed tables throughout neighborhoods. It’s always good to be conscious of all people who can be affected by changes in our city even when those changes are for the greater good of the city.

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.

We need to continue to develop the land that is within our current urban service boundary until it is to its highest and greatest use. There are so many infill and development projects that can take place throughout our city. By doing this we can increase the efficiency of our city before spreading out further.

While doing this we need to have the foresight and knowledge that one day we will have to expand this urban service boundary. We should write a set of guidelines that we want to place upon any boundary that is open in the future. This could be but not limited to opening a boundary and allowing a developer to develop only if a certain percentage were allocated for affordable housing or for public projects such as schools. In this case it should have up to a 50 year deed restriction. Again we do not want to continually chase the can on affordable housing.

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? 

One thing that could help would be loan programs or tax incentives for minority business owners to open businesses within underserved areas inside our city.

In some of these areas we have created food deserts and it is extremely difficult for people to have access to high-quality nutritious food. Years ago while meeting with Rocky Burke who is the former head of Alex Tran and Pat Dalbey from WLEX, we discussed the possibility of taking an old Lex Tran bus and having a company fit it up to drive through the neighborhoods that were most underserved twice a week selling fruits and vegetables. This would be a mobile farmers market and would be completely paid for by private businesses who wanted to advertise. I believe that the mayor has put something similar into the budget this year however it is costing the city $10 million. There are ways that we can do things that benefit our city without spending a whole lot of money.

As infill and redevelopment occurs we see an increase in property values. As I mentioned before the property value administrator David O’Neill is required to assess property at its market rate. As a city we could allow people in underserved areas who can prove that they cannot afford this increase in property tax to defer the tax until a later date. The city would then pay the tax and whenever the property sold for a higher value because of the increase in the value of properties surrounding this property the current owner or their heirs would then pay back the deferred amount of taxes, interest free, utilizing the money they profited by continuing to live in a property. This is a way to ensure that people are not displaced from their property while also making sure that everyone pays their fair share of taxes which provide so much for our community.

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 one of the most educated cities in the country with some of the highest per capita college graduation rates. Our city is shaped like a wheel and we have many outlying cities that are easily connected to us. I feel that if we think regionally we can come up with something that is amazing not only for our city but for all of central Kentucky.

The Coldstream research facility is almost 250 acres which is slightly smaller in comparison to the 400 acres that were initially developed in North Carolina when they started putting together their research triangle which is known worldwide. The triangle interconnects the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University and Duke university. This provides a region, whose economic development was dismal at best before this research triangle was developed, an opportunity to have some of the highest paying jobs in our country.

We need to put a lot of thought into what exactly we want and come up with a plan to build it. This growth will absolutely affect our city for the next hundred years.

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?

Lexington has a unique landscape that no one else in the world has. We are readily identified by this beautiful rolling landscape by people all over the world. It is because of this that we have such an influx of tourists from cities and towns throughout our country. We need to do whatever we can to protect this wonderful aesthetic. We should protect our unique landscape and Kentucky horse farms the same way Nike would protect its swoosh. It absolutely is our brand. We must protect its integrity.

We need to support local farmers markets and make sure that food sales are distributed across the community equitably. There should be a lot of work done to promote agricultural tourism throughout our region. Between horse farms, keeneland, the horse part, and agricultural centers there should be lots of connectivity between them.

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?

In Tucson Arizona all of the schools in the school district were fitted with solar panels. The school district did not even have to pay for the solar panels because they signed Third-party power purchase agreements in which a company pays for the initial equipment and gets a portion of the energy in return. It is estimated that the school system will save approximately $45 million over the course of 20 years. We could use some of this money to help finance the cost initially for the schools and also put these solar panels on all government buildings within Lexington.

We often times talk about how we would like to have more food for people. There are many buildings across our city in which we could build hydroponic drip systems to continuously produce high quality food throughout the growing season. These systems could be built on the walls of exterior buildings. It could also be built on the sides of parking garages and us reducing our carbon footprint and providing a beautiful aesthetic for our downtown.

As I have stated before with the increase in gas prices and the further uncertainty as to the affordability of private transportation we need to immediately consider all options for public transportation throughout our entire region. Our cities need to be interconnected so that people can travel freely to and from work, school and other appointments. Greater connectivity will provide more people an opportunity to succeed. Once in place the increase in ridership should generate more money for the city.

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?

I truly feel that if you build something in the right place people will utilize it. Every single day I drive up Newtown Pike and I noticed that so many people are utilizing the path of the Legacy Trail. I believe that as Townbranch Park is created people will utilize that as well. I think that we should have greater connectivity throughout our suburbs into downtown. Our bike lanes should be larger than they currently are which would make it safer for bikers.

One thing that can be done to assist in the cost of transportation throughout our city is the synchronization of our traffic lights. I used to drive outbound on Nicholasville Road very early in the morning to take my car to Brannon Crossing by 7am to get my oil changed. I remember being baffled as to why I would be stopped by 11 traffic lights when there was no other traffic on the road at that time. Traffic lights throughout our city should be synchronized so as to encourage the flow of traffic. This will not only save in gas money and wear and tear on the vehicle but also in time which is a valuable commodity for everyone in our community. Another thing I noticed was in morning rush-hour traffic going out bound Nicholasville Road there were certain times when you had one lane traveling outbound and that single lane would be blocked by a garbage truck collecting garbage by hand. I called the division of waste management and was told that it was up to the driver what time they drove that part of the route. We should probably think and plan to provide some of the city services at more opportune times so as not to inhibit the flow of traffic.