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Name: Josh Denton
Age: 38 (Oct. 14)
Occupation: Portsmouth Naval Shipyard labor and employee relations specialist
Years living in Portsmouth: 10-plus
Public service experience: Eagle Scout, Army Officer (Baghdad, Iraq 2006-2007), Sustainability Committee (2014-present), City Council (2016-present), and Renewable Energy Committee chair (2017-2018)
Q1: What can the city do to increase its supply of affordable housing?
Having waited tables both after the Army and after law school, I totally understand the need for and have consistently supported creating more affordable housing. Unfortunately, New Hampshire does not allow for rent control that could otherwise potentially benefit the renting half of our population. Our housing stock must increase until the supply meets the demand for affordable housing to happen naturally. Unfortunately, the tariffs that are causing construction costs to rise combined with the desire to make a profit are causing more luxury units to be built instead of the needed inexpensive units. However, in an 8:1 vote, the City Council recently waived many of the fees for the new affordable housing units the Portsmouth Housing Authority is going to be building on Court Street, and I would even support waiving extraction fees for future affordable housing developments. Further, the ordinance I was proud to vote for during my previous term that allows new construction to go larger if they build a certain percentage of affordable units is starting to see fruition with projects like the West End Yards being constructed that will have 27 workforce housing units mixed with the regular units. While a studio lifestyle is not for everyone, my dogs and I love it. :)
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?
I support alternative ways to raise revenue opposed to drastically cutting next year’s fiscal budget. The housing shortage mentioned above has caused home values to outpace commercial property values, leading to the increases in residential revaluation. Residents trying to rely on fixed incomes, downsize, or buy their first homes are all being negatively impacted by this hot housing market. The state Legislature essentially mandates high property taxes with the New Hampshire Advantage downshifting their shortfall from the lack of meaningful sales taxes or an income tax and should at least authorize municipalities to adopt local meals and room taxes or homestead exemptions. Drastic service cuts would be required to reduce our budget because it primarily goes toward personnel, is determined by collective bargaining, and is increasing due to rising healthcare costs. I stand by my votes to increase both the Fire Department’s and Police Department’s budgets this year. Further, I am proud of my successful efforts to fund our Farm to School program when the USDA grant expired, create the All Veterans Tax Credit that assisted 61 veterans this year, and doubling of the Disabled Veterans Tax Credit that resulted in 44 veterans seeing the first increase in 12 years.
Q3: Do you support a citywide ban on single-use disposables such as plastic bags, plastic straws, and Styrofoam containers?
I have always found humor in being the public face for Portsmouth’s ban the bag movement, given I have never actually been that passionate about them. Initially, I just wanted to bring attention to the single-use aspect of our larger consumption culture that depends on our troops safeguarding cheap foreign oil reserves. But it became very apparent over the past five years of pushing the original ordinance that our consumption culture is not adjusting fast enough to respond to climate change, so earlier this year I rewrote the plastic bag ban into the single-use disposables ordinance. The final version is a compromise with just Styrofoam cups and containers being banned citywide and other provisions like the one that essentially mandates composting will only apply to city-sponsored events, events on city property, and businesses on city property. However, not only did this compromise get the Chamber Collaborative of Greater Portsmouth to support my efforts for the first time, a future City Council can easily amend the ordinance to make the other provisions on single-use bags, cups, or straws apply citywide.
Q4: Regarding the McIntyre redevelopment project:
A) Do you support the Redgate/Kane plan?
B) Do you think the Council should step back and consider other plans, such as the one put forth by Bill Binnie?
Unintentionally or not, Sen. Judd Gregg misled the public into believing his 2004 legislation promised Portsmouth the McIntyre. However, the National Park Service’s Historic Monument Program allows for the acquisition of the 2.1-acre property as long as the character of the 1966 building is protected. Under this program, the previous City Council considered developing the property ourselves at taxpayer expense, allowing a private entity to develop the property at their own expense in accordance with our zoning, or partner with a private developer to develop the property at their expense in accordance with our stipulations. As a City Council, we decided to search for a development partner to help conduct the public input process to see what concepts would be economically feasible on the property. Out of the eight developers that showed interest, only four presented at a City Council work session in September of 2017. Winn Companies was my favorite due to their desire to use a combination of grants and credits to create much-needed affordable housing. However, Winn was one of several developers that chose not to submit their concept to be considered by the City Council in late December of 2017. Redgate-Kane had the most impressive record regarding energy efficiency and I wanted to “take a risk” to see what was feasible if we neither turned the McIntyre into a hotel nor built out the property as much as zoning would allow. After a lengthy public input process, Redgate-Kane produced an economically feasible compromise that will, at no taxpayer expense, have Portsmouth’s first proposed year-round indoor public plaza, kiosks for small vendors, and a beer garden by the current loading docks. In the run-up to the most recent votes, I received more support than opposition for the Redgate-Kane proposal and I ultimately did not support Revisit Mcintyre’s petition or Bill Binnie’s concept because, on a fundamental level, doing so would have made clear that the City Council valued what their well-to-do organizers wanted over what the average citizen who participated in the process wanted. Further, one of the leaders behind Revisit McIntyre/the designer behind Mr. Binnie’s concept was one of the developers who chose not to submit a proposal to the City Council back in 2017. Finally, the very design of the Redgate-Kane proposal may change after receiving input from our land use boards.
Q5: What can be done to clean up and prevent PFAS contamination and other chemical contaminants on the Seacoast?
PFAS and other chemical contaminants have become a way of life on the Seacoast. Unfortunately, the federal government has notoriously underfunded Superfund remediation efforts to clean up contamination or even extend municipal water. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services MTbE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether) Remediation Fund does, however, have over $236 million to reverse the widespread pollution of wells and a portion of the ExxonMobil jury award should ideally help pay for mitigation projects. However, seeing how Perfluorinated chemical (PFC) plumes do not adhere to political boundaries, if other funding sources do not materialize, it is my personal belief that the city should continue to help, as it has with the carbon filtration system out at Pease. Further, out of an abundance of caution, the Jones Avenue landfill should be more proactively tested for PFAS contamination.
Q6: Do you feel that development in Portsmouth — particularly of luxury condos, hotels, and other large-scale buildings — should be curtailed?
I am going to separate my distaste for luxury condos and hotels from our need for new construction to be large-scale. I shared my thoughts on luxury condos in discussing the need to increase housing stock in general to create more affordable housing in my answer to #1. I will add that larger buildings can fit far more units than smaller buildings and therefore can do more to increase our desire for more affordable housing. I would prefer not to see more hotels, but the only property that the City Council has some control over is the McIntyre building. As discussed in my answer to #4, part of the reason why I initially supported Redgate-Kane is because they did not propose turning the federal building into a hotel, unlike Mr. Binnie’s current proposal. That said, I would have preferred Redgate-Kane’s new proposed buildings to be more modern looking, narrower to allow for wider outdoor pedestrian walkways, and both taller and larger overall to be even more energy efficient. Given that almost half of all energy used in the United States goes toward buildings and construction materials, larger new constructions are by far more energy efficient than new smaller constructions. Reducing the energy we currently use is as important, if not more important, than generating renewable energy when it comes to mitigating climate change.
Q7: What are your feelings on the idea of building a permanent covered stage in Prescott Park for festival events?
I continue to wholeheartedly support building a permanent covered stage at the Prescott Park Arts Festival (PPAF) and it remains unfortunate that my motion to include one in the Prescott Park Master Plan was defeated in February of 2017 in an 8:1 vote. A permanent stage would be safer for performers, the sound produced would be easier to control for neighbors, and the covered stage would make the PPAF more financially stable. Donations at the gate do not cover the PPAF’s larger-draw acts and the lack of a permanent stage has resulted in significant losses of revenue during the past two wet summers. However, the nonprofit continues to offer these concerts as a community service for those otherwise unable to enjoy such shows and it is not summer in Portsmouth without excited festival-goers carrying lawn chairs throughout downtown headed toward PPAF’s free family-friendly events.
Q8: Should the city add more bike lanes and/or take other measures to improve bicycle safety and/or reduce motor-vehicle traffic downtown?
Given that I took a $10,000 pay cut to trade my Boston commute for a bicycle ride across the bridge and that 72 percent of Portsmouth’s carbon dioxide emissions come from transportation, I wholeheartedly support adding more bicycle lanes and taking other measures to reduce motor-vehicle traffic downtown. Alternative modes of transportation and electrification are the only way Portsmouth will become a Net Zero Energy Community (see answer to #11). I am glad that the parking-revenue-funded Zagster bicycle-sharing program has started to expand outside of downtown, that most of the e-mails the City Council received regarding the Middle Street bicycle lanes were from grateful parents, and that Islington Street will soon be more bicycle friendly. I am also proud for having written our Electric Vehicle Charging Station Ordinance, for having organized Portsmouth’s first two Electric Vehicle Shows, and for having signed up over two-dozen Portsmouth businesses to participate in the Destination Electric campaign.
Q9: Are there any significant projects that should be undertaken outside of the downtown area and Islington Street corridor?
Every election, I give myself 10 weekends to knock on every voter’s door, leaving the downtown for last in case I don’t make it to every neighborhood. As of Oct. 1, I have knocked on every door in both Wards 3 and 4 to learn what is most important and needed in those neighborhoods. With our wastewater treatment facility and almost every bridge nearing completion, many are excited to start investing in additional ball fields and parks. However, the most significant project that should be undertaken that will benefit all of Portsmouth is the regional waste-to-energy anaerobic digester that will be able to turn all our restaurant industry’s organic waste, sludge from our wastewater treatment facilities, and feedstock from surrounding communities into electricity. I added the item that is set to be designed this upcoming fiscal year to our Capital Improvement Plan three years ago. Food waste, dairy waste, and fats, oils, and grease (FOG) contain 200-600 mL Methane/gram. This is why I plan to bring back a more robust residential curbside composting pilot program if reelected (the current City Council defeated the renewal of my previous program by an 8:1 vote) and why I desire to get all businesses composting (see answer to #3).
Q10: A 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?
Road closures continue outside my window on Islington Street, however the Woodbury Avenue bridge over the Route 1 Bypass will open to traffic sometime this November and, thankfully, the Maplewood Avenue work is almost complete. It is best to do roadwork like Islington’s when the ground is not frozen and the congestion created by detours was most noticeable during the tourist season. Staggering replacement of all three bridges over the Bypass may have caused the projects to stretch out over several years, but was undoubtedly the right decision compared to doing all three at once. Likewise, the pipes under Maplewood had to be replaced to service the neighborhoods along it. Like everyone else, I am glad that many these yearlong projects are coming to an end. :)
Q11: What actions should be taken at the city level to address climate change?
In early 2017, after President Trump began the process of withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, I approached the City Council about creating a Renewable Energy Committee that the mayor allowed me to recruit and chair. The Renewable Energy Policy that we wrote and the City Council subsequently adopted aims to move not just municipal operations but all residences, businesses, and both vehicles originating in and traveling through Portsmouth toward becoming a “Net Zero Energy” community. Since adopting the policy itself, the City Council has already begun pursuing some of the low-hanging fruits from our Renewable Energy Committee’s Final Report & Recommendations. Last September, we expanded our Solar Energy Tax Exemption that 63 homes now qualify for, this October the city’s electricity will be from renewable energy sources due to the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits, and in addition to the three electric vehicle chargers that have been installed in the new parking garage, a DC Fast Charger is in the works for either the Bridge Street Park or the Worth Lot Plaza. If reelected, I plan to lead the next City Council in using a Public Utilities Commission Renewable Energy Fund grant for a large renewable energy project, updating our codified version of the International Energy Conservation Code to require all new construction to have both energy-efficient building envelopes and design the anaerobic digester (see answer to #9). However, while we try to mitigate the worst of climate change, we must prepare for it and that is why I motioned this summer for the City Manager to bring forward to be adopted this term an updated Flood Hazard Overlay District.
Q12: Name one of the biggest challenges and one of the biggest opportunities Portsmouth will face in the next 10 to 20 years.
BONUS: What are you gonna be for Halloween?
I will rock either my Cobra Kai Halloween dance skeleton spandex onesie or the designer Where the Wild Things Are Max outfit that brought home second place at 3S Artspace’s Project Upcycle Runway competition this year. :)