Charlie Smith

Charlie Smith

www.charlieforthe3rd.com

Bio

I grew up in Harlan in Eastern Kentucky. I came to Central Kentucky to go to college and have lived in Lexington since 1975, most of those years in the 3rd District.

I have a BA degree from the University of Kentucky and an AA degree from Lexington Community College.

I worked in the LFUCG Division of Traffic Engineering as an Engineering Technician Senior in the Neighborhood Traffic Management Program where we helped neighborhoods with speeding and parking problems.

Before retiring, I worked for the state as a Workforce Development Specialist at the Lexington Career Center Office. We helped masses of people during the 2008 recession navigate through the unemployment system and find work.

I lived on Marquis Avenue for 30 years. I was active in neighborhood associations during multiple zone changes and land-use battles. I am running for council to try to ensure Lexington neighborhoods are guaranteed stability.

Questions

Where do you stand on the issue of public transportation in Lexington? Do you ever use public transportation? Why or why not? In light of the fact that there are many, many people commuting to Lexington from Jessamine County, clogging Nicholasville Road and filling the air with pollution, this is a pressing quality of life issue, especially for neighborhoods like ours. What are your plans for addressing the current inadequate public transportation system in Lexington, how do you propose to incentive people to use it, and how do you propose to fund smart and implementable solutions to this? And ultimately how do you plan on promoting Imagine, Nicholasville’s goals of making it a people oriented zone (e.g. walking, biking, etc)?

I am an avid supporter of mass transportation for Fayette County and beyond. My wife will tell you that no matter what city we visit outside of Lexington, I love to find public transportation and give it a ride. The Cincinnati Connector is one of my favorites.

These days, I ride the bus from downtown to Keeneland during the meets and I use the shuttle to go to the University of Kentucky football games. When I worked downtown I rode the bus from the Columbia Heights neighborhood to the Government Center.

The city used to give city employees the opportunity to buy a reduced-price bus pass. Starting that program again would be a small step in the right direction of making public transportation more appealing to more people. UK provides bus passes to all students and staff. (UK also gives a bicycle to employees who are willing to give up their parking pass. Another great idea.)

At the recent Imagine Nicholasville Road meeting at Lexington Green, there was information presented about an Indianapolis project to make express bus service available on a north-south route and an east-west route.

Some people have suggested that we could do that on Nicholasville Road from Brannon Crossing to downtown. I would hope we could try that soon, even if on a trial basis, to see if that will significantly increase ridership. I am not sure of the cost involved, but to try it for six months or so seems like a good investment.

Lexington’s tourism business is growing, and I hope we will do everything we can to enhance and increase income generated by tourism.

With the completion of City Center and the refurbishing of several downtown hotels in addition to the anticipated expansion of the Civic Center next year, Lexington is poised to take advantage of its central location and the unique landscape it has to offer.

A thriving convenient and affordable mass transit system would only augment Lexington as a destination. Unfortunately, the cost to build a light rail system isn’t feasible in the foreseeable future. Instead, we need to use the existing infrastructure to make mass transit a viable and desirable option for Lexington.

People have died this winter in Lexington, sleeping out on the street. Homeless people can be seen regularly, pushing carts of their belongings on city streets and begging for help on street corners. Where do you stand on the issue of building affordable housing in Lexington, not only for the homeless, but for working families struggling with rising rents? Do you support the idea of creating mixed income housing? Why or why not? What are your ideas for addressing the shortage of affordable housing here? How do you propose to create funding streams to address this need? What would you do to incentivize developers to build more affordable homes? Or how would you address the lack of requirements at a city level to provide affordable housing within new major developments?

The homeless population in Lexington has been decreasing in recent years, according to the LFUCG Office of Homelessness and Intervention.

This year’s January count was 689 people, 31 of whom were not in a shelter. That number was down 12.5% from 2019. Since that office was formed in 2014, it reports that there has been a 66% decrease in people living without shelter in Lexington.

While it seems many homeless people have made the transition from shelters to housing, more can be done. Since 2015, the city has budgeted $2 million in a fund to leverage developers to build affordable housing.

In Lexington, panhandling has become a bigger problem since the courts ruled it is free speech. The city’s panhandler mobile has attempted to cut down on the number of panhandlers by giving them work to do, but the van’s funding is limited.

Panhandlers – some of whom may be homeless, some of whom may not – can be an impediment to people wanting to use public spaces. My understanding is the balance between begging and free speech is back in the court system.

The Lexington Land Trust is a good example of how affordable housing is coming to the 3rd District. The Trust is poised to build more houses in the Davis Bottom neighborhood as soon as the state gives it clear title to the remaining available land.

Davis Bottom residents are still awaiting the park promised to them when demolition began to complete Oliver Lewis Way. Parks and Recreation personnel promised them at a meeting last summer that the funding for the park would be in the next budget. The Trust, in addition to providing affordable housing, works to create a strong sense of community.

The mixed-use development at the corner of Midland and Third Street includes about 30% set aside as affordable housing. That building should open this summer.

Historic Pleasant Green Baptist Church on Maxwell Street has indicated that it wants to build affordable housing units on properties it owns adjacent to the church. I think the church members are still considering some projects, but I currently don’t know of any definite plans.

There’s been conversation recently about the fact that revenues are not keeping pace with spending in Lexington. Stagnant wages have been cited for the inadequacy of withholding tax revenues, while some of the city’s largest developers are granted tax breaks to build projects that only further enrich themselves. How do you plan to address this if you are elected? Name specific examples of how you would increase $$ coming into city coffers.

There are two big challenges facing the council in the coming years: Finding additional revenue and figuring out where to grow.

In addition, building, remodeling or relocating to, a new government center is in the midst of discussion with the mayor and council and it’s going to be costly and require additional income.

Raising any additional revenue at this time, especially with the current health and economic conditions facing us with the Coronavirus pandemic, is going to be almost impossible.

And, many restaurants may close, and others struggle with lost revenue at this time. It would be impossible to ask to increase the new restaurant tax now, even if the General Assembly makes it legal to do so.

To add to the tax on insurance could be something that can be done, but once again, is that fair to the many people who for the next several months or years are going to feel the effects from the virus-related slowdown and financial disruption?

One idea I had might be to propose a citizen fee for everyone older than 18 who lives in Fayette County of $10 per month with a sunset clause after 5 years. This could raise more than $30 million, perhaps to be split among the 12 council districts to complete needed and wanted projects at the neighborhood level.

The comprehensive plans promotes development on commercial corridors, but developers have time and again focused their attention on existing residential neighborhoods (primarily because they property values are cheaper to buy in these areas than commercial, which leads to a higher profit margin for developers). How do you propose to incentivize developers to actually develop in the commercial sectors that are in desperate need of densification? And on the flip side, how do you propose to uphold the other parts of the comprehensive plan that seek to preserve and enhance existing established neighborhoods? Particularly when these two can, and are, at conflict with one another and the development community?

One of the challenges facing the council and our community is to decide where “build up and not out” will occur.

Recently I attended a zone change appeal hearing about a proposed high-rise development on Maxwell Street and a rehearing of a deadlocked planning commission hearing for rezoning of property on the corner of Nicholasville Road and Edgemoor Drive.

Both changes were turned down, but I left the hearings with the sense that the council and planning commission members would be more willing in the future to vote in favor of increasing density or making changes to allow for more commercial property.

Both hearings were an example of what seems to be a complete disconnect between the goals of the new Imagine Lexington comprehensive plan and the will of the people to follow through with the plan’s recommendations.

In a recent Herald-Leader editorial by Linda Blackford, she pointed out that implementing the very flexible recommendations in the comprehensive plan is costing all of us time, money and confusion.

It seems obvious that Lexington will continue to grow and there will be increased demand for housing. I do not know the exact amount of vacant property within a 1 mile radius of the Government Center, but it seems like there is a lot.

Much of that property – the vast amount of surface parking around Rupp Arena, for example – is owned by the city or a quasi-governmental entity. I would hope the government would do everything it can to promote housing development on all its downtown property. And it seems like it should be easy to stipulate that a developer would be required to have a certain percentage of dwelling units be for affordable housing, like the current development at Midland Avenue and Third Street.

I lived in the Columbia Heights neighborhood for 30 years, and would probably still be there, but our neighborhood was overrun with rental properties. I currently live at 355 S Broadway in a 12 story high-rise.

We are all going to need to compromise in the future if we want to protect the beauty of our farmland outside the Urban Service Boundary, but also manage growth inside of it.

Do you support amending the city bylaws which apply to the appointed positions within governance? The current bylaws, for instance, have no restrictions in regards to who can sit on commission from a development standpoint, no restrictions on how many times a particular district can be represented, etc etc. This has often led to a lack of representation, from a variety of different scopes, would you support your district in amending the bylaws to be more transparent, equal, and fair?

I am always on the side of government being transparent. Board membership should reflect a representation of all stakeholders.

Many boards have requirements for who is allowed to sit on them with the idea that there should be broad representation. If there are boards that do not have that requirement, I think it would be a good idea to look at them and try to make them representative of all the stakeholders involved.

Board membership is voluntary and anyone can apply to be appointed to a board. I would guess that the challenge is to find enough people to sit on all of the various boards. For many of those boards, membership is a huge time commitment.

As future council, how would you enforce ensuring that established neighborhoods are properly brought to the table early on in discussions? And considered important stakeholders?

I think one of the most important things I could work for as a councilmember would be to advocate for a government funded Neighborhood Resource Center.

I foresee this as a place that would be centrally and conveniently located with ample parking and convenient hours including some night and weekend times.

It would be staffed by a couple of LFUCG employees and services would include things like at-cost printing of development plans and zoning maps: and staff who are able to assist members of incorporated neighborhood associations with questions about zoning, historic preservation, and code enforcement, etc.

Also, the center should provide meeting space equipped with the technology to allow for presentations. This would be a place where neighborhood residents could meet with developers, their councilmember, or other LFUCG staff to answer questions about proposed changes in their neighborhood.

There should be space where umbrella groups like the Fayette County Neighborhood Council could have an office and use the meeting space for their meetings. They would also be able to hold training sessions there.

In the tough budget times that are coming, any new project will have a hard time passing. I understand that. But I think a neighborhood center could be a relatively low-cost idea that could do a great deal to empower and strengthen our neighborhoods.

This would equally benefit each council district and I would think should get widespread support. Since neighborhoods are the building blocks of our community, it is important that we do all we can to make them strong and informed.