Portsmouth’s municipal election is Tuesday, Nov. 2. Below, City Council candidate Andrew Samonas responds to PortsmouthNH.com’s candidate questionnaire.
Occupation: Real Estate Agent / Advisor
Civic experience: Portsmouth Conservation Commission, Plan NH, Big Brothers Big Sisters Young Philanthropists, Portsmouth High School Lacrosse Coach
Years living in Portsmouth: 11
1) Do you think the city should impose any new measures or mandates related to the COVID-19 pandemic at this time?
As a Council, we should be focused on the resilience of our community. Of course, resilience starts with good health. To that end, we continue to see a relatively high rate of new cases so we must leverage our local experts and resources in healthcare/public health to guide our civic decision making. It isn’t only about public health measures though, we must focus on supporting resilience in our school system, business ecosystem, and creative community through the challenges that COVID-19 presents. This means through creative problem solving that enables these communities to thrive through this time. As a city councilor it is my role to facilitate the counsel and communication with experts that procures smart measures for our city and helpful information to share with our residents.
2) Do you think the Prescott Park Master Plan should be updated in any way? Specifically, do you think the stage should be temporary or permanent? Covered or uncovered?
There have already been several iterations to the Prescott Park Master Plan — with the permanent stage remaining a constant. The City and the Prescott Park Arts Committee have realigned the plan to accommodate the new FEMA flood plains. In doing so they have approved up to $10 million in the CIP to move historic buildings, control water runoff, add new water lines, and improve underground utilities. The implementation is reliant upon the conscious forethought of future environmental concerns. Rather than considering our plan “good enough”, the City should challenge themselves. Comprehensive review should tell us if the Masterplan conforms to current sustainable design, or if it conforms AND acknowledges what coastal landscapes could look like in several generations from now. If at that point the plan meets the standards we have as a city, then we can move forward with it as planned now.
3) How do you feel about the current pace of development in Portsmouth?
My background is in Urban Design and Sustainable Development. Both of these areas are foundational tools to a prosperous future for Portsmouth. The City, in our development decision making, should not only think in the short term but also consider how our choices affect the generations to come. There has been private developer interest buzzing throughout our city for decades. Whether it was the North side of downtown in the late 70’s/early 80’s, the injection of infrastructure down the Rt. 1 corridor, or the more recent transformation seen in the West End, citizens have not only adapted to but also welcomed new aspects of our city. Having contributed to developments both inside New England and around the country, it is my opinion that we need to implement proactive design review processes.
Through more proactive zoning ordinances that support small-scale development and alternative housing inventory we can achieve growth that doesn’t take over entire city blocks. We can do this by leveraging the outsized attention Portsmouth commands of private developers to emphasize the priorities of the city’s Masterplans and Vision Plans with them. We are a city of just over 16sq miles that has been around for nearly 400 (!!) years. We have worked to preserve so many significant buildings and aspects from the original blueprint of our city. Much of this preservation has not only protected historic infrastructure but actually encouraged Portsmouth to develop in alternative areas. Now, it is just as important to treat these other areas, which may not be historic, coastal, or single-family neighborhoods, with the same respectful development approach. If we want to maintain our true character of a small but robust city it should remain our priority to support quality development that contributes not only to the residential or commercial landscape, but also serves a role for our community.
4) What, if anything, do you think should be done to increase access to affordable housing?
This is really two questions. The first is a question of affordable housing. The second is what we can do to make Portsmouth housing more affordable. We want to sustain a community that is inclusive of neighbors of all socioeconomic backgrounds. To address the first, we must attract and win bids for affordable housing projects through State and Federal grants/monies. To do so it is imperative that we understand the guidelines and parameters by which they distribute those funds. Oftentimes we talk about affordable housing in the immediate downtown area due to access for those without vehicles. However, we can mitigate this by providing access via public transit to other zones of our city and creating “complete” neighborhoods outside of the downtown sphere. To satisfy the second question we need to address our current zoning and planning ordinances to accommodate more flexible housing inventory.
5) What changes, if any, should be made to the city’s bike lanes?
I am a cyclist, runner, and most frequently, a vehicle driver. One of the most common red flags I observe is the relationship between bikers and vehicles. The bike lanes, given their young tenure on our streets, could be improved. Yet, the improvement doesn’t need to be a massive schematic overhaul. Our community must improve our collective awareness of the bike lanes and their role and position. Some ways to do so would be educational signage prompting drivers to be aware or using illuminated bollards or crosswalks at high traffic intersections to flag bike lanes to drivers and mitigate risk. To do so, it will take the participation of all road-users. People operate on habits and learned behaviors. When we change the way our community travels, it has to account for both changes in physical infrastructure or behavior change.
6) Regarding the McIntyre building, what do you feel is the best path forward to avoid litigation and get the project done?
The current Council acted as was fit upon the initial presentation of an accepted plan and development partner. From there, the Council determined they needed to generate more public input. Although the process has been cumbersome, the pursuit of an amenable plan is not out of reach. The next Council should immediately address the development partner as just that, a partner we have to work alongside to resurrect a resolution that works both by design standards and economic acceptance. To achieve this we have to understand what will provide our city as well as the development partner a finalized plan. The one constant that will remain is the promise that there will be no contribution from current residents in the form of higher taxes or municipal spending.
7) What additional measures do you think the city should take to slow climate change and prepare for its impacts?
As a current Commissioner of our City’s Conservation Commission, I have reviewed proposals and plans for many alterations to construction in and around sensitive wetlands, waterbodies, and protected vegetation. As we look to preserve the natural environment we should begin to consider how we can implement ordinances for sustainable products and construction methods. By utilizing better products in our buildings, homes, and public services we can reduce the emissions thrown off by human interaction with the atmosphere. For example, educating the consumer about the windows, doors, and insulation materials they are installing in their homes can create more efficiencies. The result will reduce heating and cooling costs in our homes. Additionally, FEMA releases their floodplain and wetland maps every five years. Portsmouth should begin analyzing these elevation maps to better execute their infrastructure projects. All of the ways to reduce our carbon footprint begin with citizen education and engagement, as City Councilors we should lead the conversation on this topic.
8) Do you support the idea of seasonal road closures and/or barriers to accommodate outdoor dining at restaurants — even after the pandemic has (hopefully) subsided?
First of all, the pandemic has brought tragic destruction to our communities from the lives lost to the jobs and businesses affected. That being said, I believe there is always a light to be seen in tragedy. Our community, like many others, was forced to accept and adopt new practices and innovative ideas — road closures and the renewed use of outdoor space being one of them.
In regard to seasonal road closures, is value found in increased foot traffic, better access to local businesses, and a safer movement throughout the focal point of our city: Market Square. We should consider making this practice a permanent part of our seasonal plans and, thereby, acknowledge the shift in parking schemes and revenue. To accomplish the desired outcome we will have to implement a steadfast plan with disciplined instructions on installation and awareness of the changes that would be created by these closures. Advantages are: improved exposure for many small businesses, reduced vehicle traffic during heavy foot traffic events, ability to welcome alternative business concepts into downtown, and more — who doesn’t love a local beer and haddock sandwich in the sunshine?
9) What do you think the council can do to cultivate an environment of respect and collaboration and minimize hostility in local government?
One theme I have maintained from the beginning of my campaign has been to welcome back the “Council Retreat” at the onset of our next term. This plan was unfortunately lost during Covid but plays an essential role for the Council. During this retreat it is the charge of the Council, City Staff, and Mayor to erect a framework by which the Council will operate internally and externally. With this framework the council and associated staff will be able to refer back to its own words to use its guiding principles when considering each plan presented — so that the Council and community feel there is consistent, fair consideration given to each idea. It is the Council’s role to build trust with our community, and transparent guiding principles are key to this.
Respect has to be utilized even in the face of disagreement and negotiation. Progress doesn’t come from bickering.
10) Aside from the issues already raised in this questionnaire, please outline ONE other priority you would address as a city councilor over the next two years.
If elected, I would like to emphasize the demand for renewable and sustainable energy resources. Although a tall task, the incremental changes we can make as a city, as a society, and as conscious citizens come from our own homes. My largest initiative will be to form a coalition of contractors, retailers/suppliers, developers, and residential and commercial property owners here in Portsmouth/Seacoast Region. The mission of this coalition will be to educate and aid in the successful implementation of alternative energy resources and sustainable building products. Portsmouth’s housing stock is primarily from the pre-1970’s. During eras of wood frame building, lead windows, and fieldstone basements, builders lost a lot of the energy efficiency of homes and businesses. Energy going toward heating and cooling of these older buildings is massively inefficient and can be mitigated by installing sustainable building products and newer, more streamlined utility systems. With my coalition we will have a cohort of skilled laborers and suppliers who can direct consumers towards better building practices that are sustainable but also economically efficient. Moving forward, we can work as a City to shift municipal building towards these practices and achieve lower energy costs, sound development, and reduce our carbon footprint.
BONUS: What are you going to be for Halloween?
To see other candidates’ responses, click here.