Editor’s note: PortsmouthNH.com sent a questionnaire to all 18 candidates running for Portsmouth City Council in the Nov. 7 election. Some of the questions were suggested by readers, while others were generated by the PortsmouthNH team. For information on polling hours, voting locations, voter registration, and more, contact the city clerk’s office.
Name: Nancy Pearson
Occupation: State Director, the Center for Women & Enterprise
Years lived in Portsmouth: 6
Public service experience:
• One term on the Portsmouth City Council
• Council representative on Historic District Commission
• Council representative for Portsmouth Chamber Collaborative
• Council representative for Peirce Island Committee
• Chair, Project Planning Committee, Percent for Art-Foundry Place
• Chair, Project Planning Committee, Music Hall Public Art/Arch
• Blue Ribbon Committee member, Plan for Prescott Park
• Member, Worth-Bridge-Vaughan Redevelopment Committee
Q1: This year, the City Council has taken up several resolutions in response to comments or actions by President Trump.
A) Do you think it’s appropriate for the City Council to vote on resolutions concerning national/international issues?
I do if I think it will impact the residents.
B) Explain your position on the following resolutions:
- In April, in response to President Trump’s comments and executive orders regarding immigration, the council passed a “welcoming and diversity resolution.”
There are residents in Portsmouth who may be adversely affected by this executive order. With the University of New Hampshire just down the road, and so much high tech at Pease, plus hundreds of service workers in our restaurants and hotels, there are residents who, for one reason or another, are living and working here on a visa, and either they or their family members would be adversely affected by the president’s order.
- In June, after President Trump announced plans to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, Mayor Jack Blalock (with council approval) signed a letter supporting the goals of the accord.
Acknowledging and preparing for climate change is always good for residents in a coastal community.
- In October, the council passed a resolution denouncing President Trump’s recent comments criticizing professional athletes who choose to take a knee during the national anthem.
Recently, a group of varsity soccer players in Kittery exercised their constitutional right to take the knee in support of racial equality. I think it is incumbent upon us as community leaders to demonstrate through action that we not only understand the American right to free expression, but that we will protect that right and not incite punitive action on any protester.
Q2: Regarding the Prescott Park Arts Festival (PPAF), please share your thoughts on the following:
- Should there be fewer PPAF events each year?
The last two seasons were jam-packed, but also over in the blink of an eye. We live in New Hampshire. We have a short summer and we have to make hay while sun shines.
- Should there be limits on audience sizes?
I think that the physical makeup of the park does this already.
- Should PPAF events end earlier?
An 11 p.m. shut off on weekends and 10 p.m. on weeknights in the summer, when school is not in session, is reasonable to me.
- Should the volume of events be reduced?
This season, the city instituted a decibel limit of 90, which is standard in many communities. We were able to measure that through a small investment in technology and now we have data on every event that ran throughout the summer. This greatly improved the unpredictable sound levels and ensured that they did not get too high. I am satisfied with the results.
- Is consumption of alcohol during PPAF events a problem that warrants stricter enforcement?
I do not believe there is a problem with alcohol consumption at PPAF. But what I believe is not as important as the actual findings of the Portsmouth Police Department, who spent all season collecting data on the issue. It is their conclusion, not just my opinion, that there is no problem with alcohol consumption at PPAF.
Q3: Regarding government transparency and accessibility:
A) Do you think the council has been transparent enough over the last two years? If not, what can be done to make it more transparent?
If the definition of transparency asks if we have been open in our governance, then yes. If it asks if we have been acting with integrity and honesty, then I say yes.
B) Do you think city government has been accessible enough for residents? If not, what can be done to make it more accessible?
I was one of those who called for more accessibility for residents. There is no denying that a certain type of personality thrives on public comment. However, we are missing the input of other demographics of residents that do not feel comfortable in this setting, or who simply can’t make it to a meeting after 7 p.m. on a weeknight. As a body, we were not adequately engaging a diverse cross-section of our community.
I found myself asking why it had to be this way. Between email, social media, and the many ways to engage elected officials via our city’s website, there are many accessible, transparent, and considerably more efficient communication tools. I am more concerned that all modes of communication carry the same weight of importance.
Q4: Housing costs continue to rise in Portsmouth. Do you think the city should add more housing supply to ease pricing pressure? If so, what land could be used for this purpose?
I fully support increasing our housing supply, especially in the modest to mid-range market. One of the reasons that residential valuations increased so significantly is because the majority of housing we are adding is at the top of the market. This, combined with a supply and demand problem, has contributed to residential property values rising faster than commercial. This is simply unsustainable, and even though I voted not to adopt this year’s budget because of the rise in taxes, we still need to look at ways that long-time residents can continue to live in their homes.
We can increase our housing stock through density and also by looking at the gateway areas defined in the Affordable Housing Committee’s recommendations. By density, I mean the ability to add infill housing through the state’s new Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) law, as well as allowing certain areas where we can build slightly taller. Not in the historic downtown, but in the previously identified gateway areas outside of town. It won’t solve all the problems, but it’s a first step in tackling this growing issue.
Q5: Regarding residential and workforce parking:
A) Do you think Portsmouth should develop a downtown parking program for people who work in the city? If so, how would it work?
Yes, this work is already underway, at the request of the City Council. We expect a report out by the end of the year.
B) Do you think Portsmouth should develop a neighborhood parking program for people who live in the city? If so, how would it work?
Absolutely, and this work is already underway at the request of the City Council, and we expect a report by the end of the year.
Q6: Do you think the city should cut spending in order to lower taxes? If so, where specifically would you make cuts
I voted against adopting the budget this year because of the significant tax increase for the residents. I think setting expectations for a streamlined budget and closely evaluating the wants and needs of the departments is always a good practice. Most of us have experienced at least one work environment where there was never enough resources, and that is part of doing business. Smart people will always find a way to make a lot happen with limited resources. I trust our competent department heads to do that.
Q7: The council is attempting to take 4.6 acres of land containing a city sewer line from Toyota of Portsmouth owner James Boyle. In March, Boyle said he was seeking about $10 million in a settlement offer, but no settlement was reached.
A) Should the council have settled with Boyle at the amount he requested?
This is an ongoing suit so I can’t comment on the specifics, but broadly speaking, I think the city is taking the right approach.
B) Should the city proceed with efforts to take the land by eminent domain?
After careful consideration of the history of the parcel, and the specific instances where eminent domain is justifiable, I support the city’s approach to this.
Q8: What is your stance on the regulation of short-term rentals, such as those offered through Airbnb?
Generally I am in favor of short-term rentals, and there are many in my neighborhood. They don’t bother me and have had zero negative impact on me, on my property, or my quality of life. If allowing short-term rentals can alleviate some of the burden of property taxes by allowing residents to earn income from their “highly desirable” location, then that is a positive thing. Obviously if there is abuse or neglect on the part of the homeowner, that should be dealt with, but in the vast majority of cases, homeowners are respectful of their neighbors and follow the regulatory process.
One consideration on short-term rentals is the adverse effect they can have on rental prices, and that is something we should keep a close eye on moving forward.
Q9: What is your stance on allowing Keno gambling in the city?
Like the rooms and meals tax, the residents would be giving away more funding than we would receive from Keno, and yet, still likely have to deal with the outfall from having gambling in our taverns and bars. This would increase the need for law enforcement, traffic enforcement, and other services when the payoff is just not there. Plus, literally, nobody asked for it. Not a single resident or business owner. That’s an important point because Portsmouth residents care about and weigh in on almost everything. Except Keno.
Q10: Looking 10 to 20 years into the future…
A) What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Portsmouth?
Affordability and growth issues are only increasing, and until we address these with some bold policy changes, they are here to stay. Now, there are a lot of differing opinions on the best way to achieve this, which is why policymakers must make decisions based on sound policies and reason. It’s very easy to make grand sweeping statements about too much growth, or talk about stopping development altogether, and quite honestly, it can sound appealing to some people. But the reality is that we have a right to do what we want on our own property as long as we follow the law.
Our best and most realistic option is to understand the rights of property owners, adjust our land-use policies to work for the residents, and cooperate and coordinate with designers and developers on projects that are good for the residents, and not just good for the market. This is what I have tried to do for the past two years and I believe we are making headway. Large projects now include large public spaces, have more awareness of their surroundings, and we are even making progress on including a small percentage of affordable housing. It’s not where I’d like to see it, but it’s moving in the right direction.
B) What do you see as the city’s biggest opportunities?
I think our problem of affordability and growth is also our biggest opportunity. I travel all over the state for my work, and meet with community and business leaders from cities large and small. What I mostly hear is that our problems are the envy of New Hampshire. Other cities would love to have the business and development opportunities that Portsmouth has. Other cities are envious that our property values, which are the largest investment in most people’s lifetime, continue to increase in value. These are problems, but they are good problems. They are the problems of a healthy, vibrant city.
Portsmouth has been transforming and evolving for five centuries, and we’re at another transformation point as we adapt to the 21st century. Our city has been through this many times. No single era was better than another; the beauty of Portsmouth is that the last five centuries coexist together. I’m excited about the future of Portsmouth. I am encouraged by the city’s goal to better connect the neighborhoods to one another and to the downtown. I feel lucky every day to be part of a community where people care so much about where they live, and where visitors come from all over the world to enjoy what we have. How we manage our future has tremendous potential to make sure we keep Portsmouth strong and economically healthy for another 400 years.
C) How can the city start preparing for these challenges and opportunities now?
We start by understanding our ever evolving past, and continuing to embrace and manage change. We are the “City of the Open Door.” Even after five centuries, people still feel welcome here. I find that extraordinary.
BONUS: What are you gonna be for Halloween?
We are going on safari!
See responses from other candidates
(Candidate Brenna Cavanaugh declined to participate, citing time constraints. Candidate Rick Becksted did not reply to messages left by phone or email.)