Portsmouth’s municipal election is Tuesday, Nov. 2. Below, incumbent City Councilor Peter Whelan responds to PortsmouthNH.com’s candidate questionnaire.
Occupation: Retired Executive PepsiCo/Frito-Lay; Owner Shoals Fly Fishing and Light Tackle
Civic experience: 2 years Portsmouth City Councilor. I also serve on several Conservation and Marine Fisheries state and national boards.
Years living in Portsmouth: 31
1) Do you think the city should impose any new measures or mandates related to the COVID-19 pandemic at this time?
No. The city of Portsmouth has been proper in its response to the pandemic. The decisions that the City made were based on science, including the mask mandate.
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?
We continue on the path to implement the park master plan. It was an open public process with much community input over the past few years. The stage should be temporary and should be covered. This was already decided when a “Park First” plan was put together by the residents and Weston and Sampson the consultants on this project. Through the pandemic Prescott Park was a refuge for the residents of Portsmouth seeking open space to walk and enjoy. It helped to reaffirm the park first approach which was decided by citizen input.
3) How do you feel about the current pace of development in Portsmouth?
Development does add to our tax base which is good. It does need to be responsible and be respectful to its surroundings. We have many large projects underway and planned for the future. Many of which required Conditional Use Permits for variances. I think the city needs to re-evaluate its use of conditional use permits especially in regard to wetlands and parking. We have very little open space left to build in this city — we do need to slow things down a bit to ensure that all new projects are meeting our zoning standards.
4) What, if anything, do you think should be done to increase access to affordable housing?
We have to work with Portsmouth Housing Authority as a city to take advantage of any federal funds available for new workforce housing. The city should put together a package of incentives for the private developers to create workforce housing. These could be in the form of tax incentives and other programs. This should be done as soon as possible during 2022. In the first 90 days the new council should create an incentive package for developers to encourage more workforce housing, at the same time we should make sure we enforce our current zoning rules.
5) What changes, if any, should be made to the city’s bike lanes?
We should continue to push for bike lanes when possible as part of our complete streets program in the Master plan. I did support the multi-use path on Peverly Hill Road. I did not support the bike lanes on Middle Street as did the majority of Middle Street residents, who were concerned about sight lines, driveways, bollards, and other issues. It was not a good first step on a protected Bike lane in Portsmouth, after many revisions the elimination of that part of the Bike lane was warranted.
6) Regarding the McIntyre building, what do you feel is the best path forward to avoid litigation and get the project done?
We need to continue on the path we are on with the National Park Service to get the community plan approved while continuing to work with our development partner Redgate – Kane. This path is part of a multi-step process to get the litigation settled and enable the project to move forward. This public-private partnership while not easy is the best way for the city to realize the community’s vision for the property, as it belongs to the residents of Portsmouth.
7) What additional measures do you think the city should take to slow climate change and prepare for its impacts?
The city is already moving several buildings at Prescott Park to prepare for climate change issues as our sea levels rise. This will become an ongoing theme throughout the city moving forward in our flood zone areas. We must make sure we are not violating our 100 ft wetland buffer areas around our Millponds and low-lying areas. Having a fishing business, I deal with climate change on a daily basis — our local waters have risen a full 2 degrees from their traditional levels, causing several species to move northward or collapse. The City must look at everything it does through a new lens of climate change and be prepared.
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?
I do support seasonal road closures and/or barriers to accommodate outdoor dining for restaurants. We must also be considerate of the other businesses in our downtown in regard to parking in front of their storefronts — there has to be a balance in regard to use. This will be a council and community discussion before next summer as this decision does impact revenue for the city and merchants in our downtown.
9) What do you think the council can do to cultivate an environment of respect and collaboration and minimize hostility in local government?
I have always respected other councilors’ opinions in all my dealings on the Portsmouth City Council. Unfortunately, our national politics have moved into our local politics for whatever reason. Our positions on the Portsmouth City Council are non-partisan — we are elected to a city council form of government where the city Manager is our CEO, and we act as a board of directors. Collaboration between councilors to solve problems, arrive at budgets and move the city forward are rooted in a series of compromises which in its nature hopefully builds respect and collaboration. This should minimize hostility in our council form of government. We are all in this this together!
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.
The neighborhoods are increasingly seeing an increase in speeding traffic all through Portsmouth. This needs to be addressed, as we continue to add development to several of our neighborhoods. Traffic calming measures and ways of addressing traffic and speeding on our streets would be one of my major priorities in the next two years.
BONUS: What are you gonna be for Halloween?
Myself — I will be a spectator at the Portsmouth Halloween Parade — after 2 years of Covid this should be a great event for our Portsmouth community — cannot wait to see it again!
To see other candidates’ responses, click here.