Doug Roberts

Candidate Survey: Doug Roberts

News, Portsmouth Voters Guide
Portsmouth City Council candidate Doug Roberts answers questions on local issues

For information on polling hours, voting locations, voter registration, and more, contact the city clerk’s office.

Name: Doug Roberts

Age: 70

Occupation: Retired

Years living in Portsmouth: 39

Public service experience: City councilor, 2018-present; founder and chair PS21 (Portsmouth Smart Growth); chair Fair Tide housing program; board member The Krempels Center for people with brain injuries; board member Families First Health & Support Center.

Q1: What can the city do to increase its supply of affordable housing?

The city can review public land to see if there are parcels that are suitable for nonprofit use for affordable housing development, review zoning to see if lower caps on development without affordable housing would improve the appeal of incentives, further encourage accessory dwelling unit creation, consider allowing conversions of single-family homes to multi-unit and diversifying single-family zones by allowing multi-unit development (duplexes, triplexes), review city ordinances to permit smaller units, and provide support for the Portsmouth Housing Authority. All the above will require community discussion and buy-in.

Q2: Are there specific areas in the city budget where you think spending cuts can be made? Are there specific areas where you think spending should be increased?

It’s always possible to delay equipment purchases, look at overtime, and make marginal cuts in department asks. Salaries and benefits account for the greatest percentage of the city’s budget. To have a serious impact, the city would have to cut jobs or freeze hiring, which I believe happened 10 years ago during the Great Recession. Also, the city could delay or forego major capital improvement projects. Those steps have not had support lately when specific departments or projects have been cited. The police, fire, and public works departments, which provide popular services, maintain they are understaffed.

Q3: Do you support a citywide ban on single-use disposables such as plastic bags, plastic straws, and Styrofoam containers?

Yes, although the ban should be tested and implemented with plenty of advance notice, as is being contemplated with a city ordinance that would ban single-use disposables on city property. Many states, including Maine and Vermont, have passed bans. Also, while some residents have expressed concern, few Portsmouth businesses have objected.

Q4: Regarding the McIntyre redevelopment project:

     A) Do you support the Redgate/Kane plan?

The Redgate/Kane plan balances the competing priorities of city residents. Other avenues put forward were untenable, overbuilt, or unable to produce the results promised, such as being able to tear down the McIntyre building. Going forward, residents will have a chance to address the architecture and site issues before city boards.

     B) Do you think the Council should step back and consider other plans, such as the one put forth by Bill Binnie?

No. Mr. Binnie’s plan was extremely late and incomplete. If there are “other plans,” as the question suggests, advocates should be specific about what those are. Backing out of a signed agreement for an uncertain end would be inadvisable.

Q5: What can be done to clean up and prevent PFAS contamination and other chemical contaminants on the Seacoast?

If Portsmouth’s drinking water exceeds New Hampshire’s new, stricter limits on PFAS, the city should act immediately to provide clean water. A new state law requires the Coakley Landfill Group to work with the state and EPA to come up with a plan to clean up Berry’s Brook. The CLG should do that, but cleanup of general PFAS contamination in the Seacoast is the job of the state.

Q6: Do you feel that development in Portsmouth — particularly of luxury condos, hotels, and other large-scale buildings — should be curtailed?

As a longtime resident of Portsmouth, I miss the smaller and more accessible city I once knew. However, if development were to be curtailed, the question is How? Can we restrict the development of “luxury” condos or stop “large-scale” buildings? The allowable footprint of buildings, which is up to about an acre in some areas, is too large and could be looked at, but relatively few properties can take advantage. We already have height limits. Should they be lower, which would encourage shorter but fatter buildings? The McIntyre development will not include a hotel. Should we ban hotels elsewhere downtown? I’d favor encouraging other types of development as opposed to restricting hotel development.

Q7: What are your feelings on the idea of building a permanent covered stage in Prescott Park for festival events?

I support the “park first” approach that came out of the long public process on the makeover of Prescott Park. A permanent stage would not be used for much of the year, and a moveable stage or one that can be reconstructed should serve the park well.

Q8: Should the city add more bike lanes and/or take other measures to improve bicycle safety and/or reduce motor-vehicle traffic downtown?

Bike lanes are among things the city should add or improve to reduce congestion and enhance access downtown. The city’s narrow streets are not especially suited for bike lanes, but it is important that we create a network so, like walking and driving, biking is a viable way of getting around. I cycle for transportation but doubt it will become a dominant travel mode here anytime soon. To reduce motor-vehicle traffic, we need to focus on all travel modes, manage parking, and support public and shared transportation.

Q9: Are there any significant projects that should be undertaken outside of the downtown area and Islington Street corridor?

The city is creating recreation fields down Lafayette Road. US Route 1 will be rebuilt in several years (mostly with state funds). Sidewalks and traffic calming are planned for Elwyn Park. The city needs to provide matching funds for sound barriers along I-95, which would particularly impact Pannaway Manor. A park in Atlantic Heights has been closed because of the deteriorating I-95 bridge. A new park should be considered.

Q10: At times this summer, there were road closures on Islington Street, Woodbury Avenue (by the traffic circle), Maplewood Avenue, and other roads all at once. Is there a way to reduce the heavy concentration of road work that creates detours and traffic congestion in the summer?

Not if residents are concerned about taxes. Road projects often start when state or federal funds become available. If the city delays, the money is liable to go elsewhere. Some street work also is necessary to meet EPA requirements under the Clean Water Act. In general, Public Works attempts to schedule road repair to minimize long-term costs. If repairs are delayed too long, they become more expensive. Finally, as with Islington Street, sometimes residents get tired of waiting for a project and insist that it happen ASAP.

Q11: What actions should be taken at the city level to address climate change?

We need to look at our flood zones, building requirements, and transportation network, which is the Seacoast’s largest source of greenhouse gases. We also need to anticipate repairs and take measures to reduce the impact of climate change, particularly flooding.

Q12: Name one of the biggest challenges and one of the biggest opportunities Portsmouth will face in the next 10 to 20 years.

Maintaining the city’s character will be a big challenge, but it also will be an opportunity for residents to shape the city’s future and become invested in it.

BONUS: What are you gonna be for Halloween?

It’s always a mystery until the last moment.

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