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Name: Peter A Whelan
Occupation: current owner of Shoals Fly Fishing and Light Tackle; retired from a Fortune 50 company
Years living in Portsmouth: 19
Public service experience: Past president Coastal Conservation Association of New Hampshire, currently a board member and secretary; governor’s appointee on the N.H. Marine Advisory Board; board member Striped Bass Advisory Board Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission; past member of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Habitat Committee; board member American Professional Saltwater Guides Association
Q1: What can the city do to increase its supply of affordable housing?
The city can very carefully, and I repeat very carefully, through its land use boards, encourage a modest supply of affordable homes and condos with land use rules. Unfortunately, we are playing catch-up from over 12 years of Portsmouth becoming a destination where everyone wants to live. It’s a problem and opportunity when our city is so attractive to its residents who live here, and visitors/tourists want to move here. Portsmouth needs to keep its charm and historic nature. Expansion in several historic areas will ruin why people come to visit.
Unfortunately, the area out at Pease has already been developed with industry — the balance of the land is still a highly contaminated superfund site. We still have a few areas on the outside of downtown which can be developed with more affordable properties. Portsmouth already, outside of Manchester, has a large percentage of subsidized and public housing.
The other issue in controlling housing affordability is our city spending, as taxes have more than doubled in five years, thus raising rents and making the city more unaffordable. Landlords have no choice but to raise rents or condo their properties.
I would like to address all two areas if elected to the council. At this point in the cycle, to try and build your way out of this affordability crisis is not a solution.
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?
Yes, the budget now is filled with nice-to-have projects and programs. Fully funding Police, Fire, and schools should be our major priority moving forward.
We need to move to a zero-based budgeting concept where each department starts from scratch and justify each position and program. The current mindset of starting the budget process from the spending in the previous year and tacking on a 5-percent increase does nothing for the residents except raise our taxes. In the private sector, companies justify their fixed and variable costs each year. This is especially important with union contracts being negotiated over multiple years.
Some specific areas are — the bike lane on Middle Street, the bike-sharing program, and others. All are nice to do and maybe initially funded by grants, but the residents end up picking up the ongoing bill.
Q3: Do you support a citywide ban on single-use disposables such as plastic bags, plastic straws, and Styrofoam containers?
Yes, I do believe we can address this issue in many ways, but I think it was rolled out improperly and is extremely confusing. Being on the water in my business 200-plus days of the year, I see the effects of plastics in the ocean. The most plastic I see in the ocean daily are Mylar plastic balloons.
I think a better approach as a city council would have been to pass a voluntary program first with education, then move to a ban if necessary.
It would have been much better if the ordinance had been written by our city council and not a special interest group. I believe that the city council, through discussion and consultation with the residents and businesses (who are greatly impacted), would have been a better way to approach this city ordinance.
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?
Yes. All eight councilors had that chance except for one councilor, Rick Beckstead, who voted against the Redgate/Kane project. The council, by an 8 to 1 margin, decided to move forward with the application to the National Park Service and sign the Redgate /Kane agreement.
The prudent thing to do would have been to wait 60 days and thoroughly examine both proposals. There was not a deadline with the GSA.
This is a good example of where further discussion and true citizen involvement would have healed the divide in the city. It would have been better to take a step back and relook at the entire process to see where we went wrong in the process.
If I was on the council, I would not have supported it and voted against the project as presented. This is not just another development project; it will help shape our city center for the next 100 years. It’s too important.
Q5: What can be done to clean up and prevent PFAS contamination and other chemical contaminants on the Seacoast?
Portsmouth, being referred to as an eco-municipality, needs to lead on the Coakley group — not try to delay remedies for cleanup. We as a city need to take responsibility for the city’s action in creating this problem.
PFAS issues at Pease continue to be a problem in our water. The city and the federal government seem to be making progress. The expansion of Lonza at the Tradeport and their doubling of water needs, along with the increased discharge of their treated waste into the Piscataqua, has far reaching effects for Portsmouth and the Great Bay. This needs to be monitored and watched very carefully by the next city council. I have a great deal of experience dealing with water issues in the Great Bay and Portsmouth Harbor. If elected to the council, it will be high on my priority list.
Q6: Do you feel that development in Portsmouth — particularly of luxury condos, hotels, and other large-scale buildings — should be curtailed?
People have a right to developer their land. It seems that we have allowed things in Portsmouth to get a bit out of hand in terms of building height, mass, and scale. My approach would be to try and slow things down a bit and make sure that we get it right and there are no surprises as in the past with several projects.
In many cases, we allowed hotels to be built downtown with very little or no parking. The congestion and parking issues in our city need to be addressed. Workers and residents are competing for parking spots in the neighborhoods. Our city should be taking an active role in solving this problem. Taking a step back would be a good thing.
Q7: What are your feelings on the idea of building a permanent covered stage in Prescott Park for festival events?
This issue was addressed by the residents, consultants, and the city over a year ago with great public input, which I personally participated in as a resident. Under a Park First agreement or plan, it was decided a semi-permanent removable stage would be used in the park. There was not to be a hard-permanent stage in Prescott Park. Much research was done on this issue and several great removable stages were sourced and were being used in leading park venues across the country.
Prescott Park is a shared green space for our entire city and should be treated as such moving forward. I do enjoy the plays and concerts in the park, but I feel that the Park First principles were a pretty clear mandate for the master plan to renovate the park
Q8: Should the city add more bike lanes and/or take other measures to improve bicycle safety and/or reduce motor-vehicle traffic downtown?
I like the bike lanes we already have except for Middle Street. The bollards and the maze of lines could be reduced to lessen the visual impact. This is a gateway street for the city with the large homes on either side. I think the bike lane could be moved to one side and restore some if not all the lost on-street parking. Clearly this project did not achieve what it set out to accomplish. We need to clean it up and move on.
The new garage needs to be used more to help solve these issues. A shuttle bus coupled with using it for downtown workers at a reduced rate would help to alleviate the traffic in the downtown.
Q9: Are there any significant projects that should be undertaken outside of the downtown area and Islington Street corridor?
- Linking our outlying neighborhoods to the city center via walkability and transit.
- Sidewalks along Peavey Hill Road.
- Sound barriers for the neighborhoods along Interstate 95 — Panaway Manor — ensuring this project happens.
- In several areas in Elwyn Park, roads and sidewalks need some work.
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?
Unfortunately, with our New England winters, the window to get these projects done is very small. I do think the city needs to coordinate with the businesses that are affected by all these projects to ensure that the businesses have the least disruption possible.
Anther solution would be to work at night on some of the projects, especially in the summer, to reduce traffic congestion. As a councilor, I would be reaching out to the businesses to make sure they have full input into the process. It should not be a surprise to our local businesses.
Q11: What actions should be taken at the city level to address climate change?
We need to make sure that we take into consideration the rising waters around Portsmouth, especially the South End and areas around the North and South Mill Ponds. We must have a plan in place to accommodate these rising waters in all future and current projects. The Conservation Commission should be looking at all projects with an eye to climate change, which I think they are when it comes to wetlands, etc.
Q12: Name one of the biggest challenges and one of the biggest opportunities Portsmouth will face in the next 10 to 20 years.
- Proper growth in our city while maintaining our historic and cultural character.
- Keeping Portsmouth affordable for all residents.
Biggest opportunity for Portsmouth is developing the McIntyre parcel in the proper manner, as it will be a key defining project for our city.
BONUS: What are you gonna be for Halloween?