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Liz Sheehan- 2018 Candidate Questionnaire

Running for: Urban County Council- District 5

Short Bio:

Liz Sheehan is mother, a faculty member at University of Kentucky, and an active community member. She got her PhD in Psychology from Emory University and her Bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech. She’s taught at the college level for over a decade, but also spent time in elementary, middle, and high school classrooms. As a researcher, educator, and community leader, her goal is to both support and empower those around her. She works professionally and personally to promote critical thinking, self-care, social justice, and well-being. Community service is important to her; some places she volunteers are the LFUCG Environmental Commission (Director At-Large on the Executive Committee), the Hope Center, and the Girl Scouts. Her free time is spent with family, volunteering, or practicing yoga as a certified yoga instructor. You can find out more about her at www.lizforlex.com.

1. Do you support prioritizing infill/redevelopment as Lexington’s primary growth strategy? Under what circumstances would you support expansion of the Urban Services Boundary or Rural Activity Centers?

Infill and redevelopment efforts should be prioritized, especially high density housing, multi-use and multi-level buildings within the current boundary. Within that development, a priority must be addressing our housing shortage. We still have land to develop from the last expansion in 1996. I would consider expansion if we have exhausted our other options first. We need thoughtful development accounting for environmental impact, the agriculture and horse industry, and tourism, which are important to our region’s economy and identity.

2. What specific recommendations do you have to protect the character and context of existing neighborhoods while diversifying our housing stock to meet the needs of our community?

Thoughtful development must include protecting and enhancing the character of our existing neighborhoods. The first step would be to talk with the residents in the area about the characteristics of their neighborhood and their needs. Part of the discussion with these neighborhoods must be how we can realistically balance preserving the Urban Services Boundary and also deal with our housing shortage. There will be some discomfort with in-fill development, but as a community we have placed value on protecting our farmlands outside of the Boundary. Balance will be key. The second step would be to consider the existing architecture and appearance of the area, in addition to any current spaces that could be repurposed for the evolving needs of the community. Mixed use spaces that accompany housing should be considered, like small grocery stores on the first floor of a housing development for areas within food desert regions.

3. What specific recommendations do you have to address Lexington’s affordable housing issue?

Affordable housing needs to be tackled from multiple angles. We must fully fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and prioritize long-term affordable housing developments. I recently visited the Davis Park neighborhood developed by the Lexington Community Land Trust (CLT). Their goal is to increase permanently affordable housing that is high quality and energy efficient. We should support programs like this; but also, like the CLT, we should model after effective case studies from other cities. Other potential solutions could include exploring mixed-rate housing developments, a tax freeze for long-term homeowners in gentrifying neighborhoods, or incentivizing more Section 8 housing. With seniors comprising almost a third of our population, they need to be considered in discussions of affordable and alternative housing options.

4. The number of households headed by someone aged 65 or older is projected to increase significantly over the next decade and beyond. What specific recommendations do you have to meet the needs of our growing senior population?

Lexington-Fayette should be a livable community in every stage of life. At the “Meeting the Challenges and Opportunities of Aging” Conference in May, I learned about issues seniors are facing. We need housing options for seniors whether they want to age in place, live in an independent living facility, or live in an assisted living facility. These options need to be available and affordable for those on a fixed income. I’m following the conversation around Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and hopeful about the ordinance being drafted. In addition to housing, public transportation should be a priority for seniors who no longer drive. The social and mental wellbeing of seniors must be examined. In June, I attended a meeting regarding ADUs at the Lexington Senior Center and was struck by a presenter’s comment: loneliness is an epidemic. Loneliness is an overlooked aspect of aging, despite the serious health implications (e.g. depression, onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, and anxiety). The United Kingdom has gone as far as appointing a Minister of Loneliness to address feelings of social isolation within their aging community. It’s not uncommon for the elderly in the UK to go up to a week without meaningful human contact. Having places, like our senior centers, to foster a sense of connection and create community is one vital step towards eradicating social isolation. We should keep the wellbeing and sense of belonging of our elderly population in the forefront of our minds.

5. Do you support an annual funding allocation for Lexington’s Purchase of Development Rights Program (PDR)? Please list your specific ideas to support the continued strength and growth of our agricultural and tourism industries. 

One of the unique features of Lexington is the rich farmland surrounding our urban area. Because this land is so tied to the identity of our city, we need to preserve it. We do this by maintaining the Urban Services Boundary and through PDR. The program is already more than halfway to the goal of securing 50,000 acres since it started. This is an environmental conservation project to protect a finite resource. Once you develop land, the changes to the soil are irreversible. We should protect this land from an environmental perspective, but also from an economic one. Agriculture accounts for $2.3 billion in the local economy and relates to 1 in every 12 jobs. Two things we should work on in the future for the PDR: 1) education about the program and transparency regarding how funds are distributed and 2) maximizing federal and state dollars to lessen the impact on our local budget.
Marketing what this region offers is vital, and is an area we could improve upon. There is a lot to be excited about in our region: the Convention Center Expansion, Horse Country, Red River Gorge, bourbon distilleries, and more. In my Marketing Research course at UK, students participate in a service learning project to collect data for local businesses and nonprofits. We recently worked with Bluegrass Stockyard to gather data to support their application for an official designation as a tourist attraction. These kinds of industry-tourist hybrid spaces are exactly what we need.

6. Citizens have noted frustration with traffic congestion. What are your specific ideas to address traffic congestion? 

Our population is expected to grow 40K in the next decade, and we already need fewer of us driving cars. We need to make skipping the car an easy and convenient decision. To do this, we can first work on our public transportation. To increase ridership, we have to speed commute times. If I worked at the Chinoe Rd Kroger in my district and commuted from my house to work one way, I could walk the distance in approximately 48 minutes or drive the distance in 6-8 minutes. If I took the bus, it would take 43 minutes with over a mile of walking to/from bus stops for a 2.5 mile distance. This is only one example, but it is indicative of what I have heard from people who commute using Lextran. This is far too time intensive for someone relying on the bus system daily. In general, Lextran is relatively low cost, but we could work on partnerships with businesses for employees. Crosswalks and bike lanes are increasing within the city, but there are still accidents involving bikers and pedestrians and persistent concerns over safety. An awareness campaign for drivers could help increase safety and in turn increase our number of bikers and pedestrians.

7. The 2018 Comprehensive Plan for Lexington includes a goal to create “a new process for determining long-term land use decisions” involving the Urban Services Boundary and Rural Activity Centers. If you support the creation of this new process, what are some of the elements that should be included? 

If the council determines a new review process is appropriate, at minimum it should include: community feedback; data analysis on current land use, economic impact, environmental impact, housing, and business needs; cases studies of models in other cities; and consultation with experts in city planning, traffic control, community building, and development.

8. What is the biggest challenge facing your district? What are your specific recommendations to address that challenge?

The biggest challenge in our city and my district is meeting the basic needs of everyone within the community. In my classes at UK, the fundamental principle of psychology I teach to my students is that if your basic needs are not being met, then you cannot thrive. Basic needs are defined as housing, food, and safety. I would add a sense of belonging and physical/mental health. I already discussed dealing with housing and belonging for seniors above so I won’t rehash those answers here. One of the major areas of concern for mental health is the drug epidemic. To address this, we could further support recovery programs, offer compassion to those facing addiction, explore alternatives to opioid prescriptions for pain, and reduce the stigma of addiction to support those who completed a treatment program. Another area of concern is public safety. While we were recently ranked the 3rd safest city in the nation, we have seen a rise in homicides within the city. To address this, we could partner with local faith and civic organizations working to reduce violence, and we could support violence prevention programs with proven effectiveness.