Election 2022 Candidate Questionnaire – Whitney Elliott Baxter
Running for: District 9
Question: What brought you to Lexington-Fayette County? What do you love about our community?
I am a native of Lexington and have called the 9th District home my whole life. Lexington is a very special community and there are many reasons why I love this town. I love that we are a growing city with a small town feel. I love that our residents are the heart of our community and southern hospitality has not been lost with our growth. Most importantly, I love that I can raise my family here and will do everything possible to make sure that stays true for years to come.
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?
We have to be intentional about addressing our housing shortage. We can’t simply allow random developments to sprout up all over the city without meeting the specific requirements of the housing plan we put forth. Our housing stock will only be improved once we creatively evaluate our zoning regulations and work with experts in and outside of Lexington to move towards a more equitable housing solutions through public-private partnerships. There are many cities that face the same problems that we do, and taking common sense approaches and utilizing proven policies from other communities will be necessary to address our issues going forward. We are not the first nor the last community to experience housing challenges, so there is no reason to recreate the wheel, only to adjust other city’s experiences to fit our circumstances. In addition to the policies that we work hard to develop, we have to make sure we are appointing individuals to our Planning Commission who will carry out our vision for the future of Lexington.
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?
If we are going to prioritize infill redevelopment we have to utilize existing programs like Designated Opportunity Zones before we look to new strategies and offer further incentives. It is my opinion, that this is an untapped opportunity for our community that can be layered with Affordable Housing Fund dollars and other grant opportunities. Making sure corridor development plans include mixed-use and multi-housing units will be important as well. I look forward to the work of the recently announced Sustainable Growth Working Group as they further identify the more precise amount of available land within the USB.
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 agree that our urban/rural balance is of utmost importance, however, I think we must look at all possibilities with the Comprehensive Plan update. For as long as I can remember, we have played expansion against infill redevelopment. This cannot be the story going forward because we can do both. We have to utilize all available resources and tools. This does not mean, however, that we have to expand the boundary immediately. With smart growth and planned developments, we can make the best decisions that will serve our community for years to come.
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?
I think, first and foremost, we need to work with the underserved community and hear what they feel is most important to preserve in those areas and what they need most in those communities. It is very easy for us to push recommendations of what we think will make the biggest difference, but until we take the opinions of those most affected into consideration, we are only exacerbating the problem. Once those populations have identified what they feel is most needed, we can then work towards developing policy that will ensure we set each commnunity up for success.
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?
The pillars of our community are our people, our education opportunities, and our tourism industry. With properties such as Coldstream, we have to make sure those areas are shovel ready to ensure an easy transition for companies who wish to relocate here. Job growth opportunities will come with increased housing stock and quality of life improvements. Our unique assets will continue to prove attractive as long as we can provide a safe, beautiful city where everyone feels as though they belong and where everyone can afford to succeed.
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?
Supporting our agricultural industries is paramount to the success of our community. I will continue to support our local and state partnerships and feel our investment in Ag-Tech will keep Central Kentucky in the forefront of the industry.
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?
Since the announcement of these funds, I have had several conversations with different city departments and divisions to discuss possible capital improvements and share my ideas. I would love to see us complete our Trail and Pedestrian Master Plan as a BIL project. This city-wide improvement would add to our quality of life and accessibility for all residents. In addition, I recently visited and toured the Sevier Solid Waste, Inc. facility in Tennessee where 70% of their waste is diverted by composting and recycling. This facility takes trash that would end up in a landfill and breaks it down through a process that turns trash into mulch. I would support utilizing these funds to completely overhaul our waste management plan. We would still have some items that end up in a landfill, but this would be a huge improvement to Lexington. With the re-opening of our state of the art recycling center and this possibility, we could drastically improve our carbon footprint and become better stewards of our environment.
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?
Public transportation has been the topic of a lot of conversations lately, especially on the heels of my On The Table events. The general consensus of those residents I have been speaking to, is that public transportation doesn’t work for everyone.
Unfortunately, I don’t think incentivizing public transportation will have any impact until our public transit system is completely reimagined. I am not saying Bus Rapid Transit is the answer to all our problems, but our current system does not work well for everyone. I look forward to continuing my work with the Lexington Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) so we can investigate these options more in the years to come.
In addition, encouraging walkable, well-planned developments will only further our mission of becoming a more pedestrian friendly city.