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Renee Jackson Shepard- 2018 Candidate Questionnaire

Running for: Urban County Council- District 3

Short Bio:

For 20 years Renee has been involved with the nonprofit community in Lexington, KY. Renee’s strengths include problem solving, creative thinking, public speaking and coalition building. These skills combined with her keen understanding of the importance of accountability and results have gleaned outstanding, positive changes for downtown Lexington.
Prior to establishing Graves Shepard Consulting, Renee served as President of Downtown Lexington Corporation (DLC), a nonprofit advocacy and promotional group for downtown Lexington for ten years. Under Renee’s leadership the DLC enjoyed many accomplishments including being recognized as Commerce Lexington’s 2015 Small Business Nonprofit of the Year, creating downtown Lexington’s first management district, tripling the DLC’s revenue and raising the public profile of both DLC and downtown Lexington.
Currently she is vice-chair of Lexington’s Homelessness Prevention & Intervention Board and serves as a board member for the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Kentucky, Living Arts & Science Center and the Rotary Club of Lexington’s Endowment Board. Previously she has served on numerous nonprofit boards and committees and task forces for the City of Lexington including the World Equestrian Games and Breeders’ Cup Host Committees; Infill & Redevelopment; and the Lexington Parking Authority and Lexington Downtown Development Authorities’ Advisory Boards.
Renee is a lifelong resident of Kentucky where she lives with her husband, Pete, and their four children. Renee received her Bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture and her Master of Public Administration from the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Kentucky.

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?

I do support infill/redevelopment as our primary growth strategy. There are many parcels of vacant, blighted or underutilized property in the 3rd District alone. I am eager to see what recommendations the “new process” cited in Q7 makes to determine triggers for expansion. I think this new process is critical to our community so we can grow in a smart, data-driven manner. Understanding what the carry capacity of both our infill and current vacant land within the Urban Services Boundary would be an appropriate start to this end. Then developing tools, such as an optimal land absorption plan really allow data driven decisions to be made.

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?

I believe neighborhood planning is a must for our community. Looking at individual neighborhoods from the aspects of land use, infrastructure, transportation, housing stock, environmental issues and community facilities is the best way to plan for what is needed and to protect the character and context of existing neighborhoods. Having specific neighborhood plans would also document opportunities to add units and diversify our housing stock. I recommend additional planning staff dedicated solely to this effort.

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

We need to first understand what the current price points are for different housing types. Once this information is gathered we can work on addressing the areas of greatest need. I am in favor of offering incentives to developers in exchange for them creating affordable housing units. I believe that this approach would enable us to invest more and more effectively in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

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?

I am the primary care giver for my 84 year old mom and understand the importance of this topic. Creating “livable communities” should be a priority for our community. Utilizing “universal design” in all public facilities should be required. By utilizing these two concepts we become a much more inclusive community for all ages.
We need to offer a package of transportation options for our seniors. Improvements to our public transportation system is one way to give our seniors access to the services they need without requiring them to drive themselves. The current hub & spoke system is a deterrent to many people because of the time commitment. The lack of bus shelters and benches at many stops also deters ridership. Wheels and ITN Bluegrass offer more of a door-to-door option for seniors that is appealing especially if the client has memory or physically issues that might require added help that LexTran cannot provide.
There is a discussion underway about Lexington becoming a “Dementia Friendly Community”. I support this effort and think it is critical to our future. We need to create a community that is educated, respectful and safe for individuals dealing with dementia and for their caregivers.
A variety of housing types is needed in order to accommodate seniors. Not all seniors want to live alone. UK is conducting a study to see what types of housing are appealing to seniors. Alternative types of housing such as shared or cooperative housing might be utilized more in the future.

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. 

Yes, I support funding allocations to PDR. Making our rural areas more accessible to the public through efforts such as Horse Country, Boone Creek Outdoors and other efforts have done a lot to encourage and promote the agricultural and tourism industries in the Bluegrass. More efforts such as these are needed to continue to strengthen and grow these industries. As in most all such operations, it is always prudent to track results and periodically evaluate funding allocation to ensure funds are spent and administered efficiently.

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

I believe that convenient and efficient public transportation is essential for our community. Not only is it a necessity for many citizens, it is a means to reduce traffic congestion and pollution. I think the current bus hub and spoke system is a deterrent for riders. We need to add non hub and spoke routes that offer riders easier, more direct options.
In addition to modifications to our public transportation system we need to focus on creating compact, walkable/bike-able, mixed-use developments. These types of developments encourage people to use their cars less and make much shorter trips to do everyday shopping & dining and access services.
Encouraging multi-modal forms of transportation is also an area we can improve upon. I believe we need to invest in dedicated (separated) bicycle lanes to encourage more people to bike as a mode of transportation. Indianapolis has an outstanding urban separated pedestrian/bike system called the Cultural Trail. Until we get serious about separating cars from bikes we are not going to realize our full potential ridership due to safety concerns.

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? 

As I stated earlier, I think this new process is critical to our community so we can grow in a smart, data-driven manner. Understanding what the carry capacity of land really is would be a start to this end. Then developing tools, such as an optimal land absorption plan and monitoring the plan’s progress would permit data driven decisions to be made. There are communities around the country that have successful urban growth management plans, such as Portland, OR that we could learn from and develop our own process to fit our needs.

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

Maintaining the character of our neighborhoods is one of the biggest challenges in the 3rd District. The 3rd District has an asset that other districts don’t have and that is the number of historic neighborhoods that are located in the district. These neighborhoods are located in close proximity to prime infill development opportunities. Additionally, our district faces the ongoing stress of student housing expanding further into neighborhoods.
While infill is necessary and smart, maintaining the character of our neighborhoods is also necessary and smart. Finding a balance between infill development and neighborhood preservation is a challenge but doable. Implementing proven best-practice methods for infill and having lots of communication with residents is a must. Again another reason I think having individual neighborhood plans and dedicated planning staff is a good idea.