The Sound’s 2015 Portsmouth City Council Voter’s Guide: Brad Lown

Portsmouth Voters Guide
Brad Lown

Bradley M. Lown
Years living in Portsmouth:
Prior public service experience:
Six years on city council, four years on school board, many years on boards of charitable organizations in Portsmouth

How often do you walk into downtown or use public transportation? What can the city do to encourage more pedestrian traffic and public transit use?
I walk, and more frequently ride my bike, downtown on a regular basis. I am able to get almost anywhere in the city on my bicycle almost as quickly as anyone could drive in a car, and I never had any trouble finding a parking space. I don’t generate any greenhouse gases and I can stop and talk to people. Most important, I don’t take up any parking spaces.

I rarely use public transportation. As the chairman of the Parking, Traffic and Safety Committee, I am frequently involved in the debate about how to encourage more walking and biking. The city has placed a number of bike racks downtown. One of them is located in a prominent parking spot, which created some controversy because some of the surrounding shop owners — not all of them — felt that they were losing business as a result of the loss of a parking space. Bicyclists are consumers too, and 10 bicycles can fit on the rack in front of the Gaslight rather than just one car. Placing a bike rack in such a prominent place is a message to everyone we want to encourage bicycling, and that the city values it. On our committee, we also regularly address the installation of crosswalks and various places around the city. This is a visible way to let pedestrians know that they should be safe crossing streets in the city.

How would you address growth and development throughout Portsmouth? 
The primary challenge facing the city is one that other cities envy — how to control growth and at the same time protect the rights and legitimate expectations and needs of those who live and work here. In the past several years there has been an enormous infusion of capital; property owners are willing to invest in this city, and we should encourage that. One central, and important premise of property law is that private property owners should be able to use their property as they see fit as long as that use is in compliance with our ordinances and doesn’t interfere with someone else’s rights. Private citizens don’t have the right to design other people’s buildings; the Historic District Commission has the right to make decisions affecting the appearance of buildings in the Historic District. And the public has the right to speak up about those decisions. The public has spoken, frequently and vociferously, about the size and scope and design of various buildings downtown. This is a good thing, and we’ve had a good and healthy debate.

What can the city do to restore public confidence in the police department and the police commission?
The Webber case has grabbed headlines for two years now. It has obscured the good work of the many excellent police officers in the department. The Portsmouth Police Department has done an effective job of preventing and solving crimes, and the city is a safe place to live and work. It is time, however, to bring in an assistant chief from “outside” rather than from within. I will advocate for this.

The police commission is a vestige from another era, and we don’t need it. We’ve had a succession of good and well-intentioned public servants on the commission, but they typically develop relationships that make it difficult for them to be objective and independent. I proposed abolishing the commission, but only two other councilors voted with me. It is an unnecessary layer of middle management. Many people would hope that the commission would be a “watchdog” over the police department. Instead, in practice, at least during the 29 years I have resided here, the commission has been an advocate for the department. The commission has consistently advocated for higher budgets, more overtime, more personnel, and more equipment. Recently, the Police Department has argued that it needs a new building. Not surprisingly, the commission agrees.

How can Portsmouth encourage the development of more affordable and workforce housing?
Absent a subsidy from the city or some other governmental entity, housing can be made affordable by increasing density. This is primarily a zoning issue, and one the city frequently considers. Smaller units, generally speaking, are more affordable. And we need to zone to permit smaller units

What role should the council have in working with the Prescott Park Arts Festival to address residents’ complaints about noise?
For the last 40 years or so, the Trustees of the Trust Funds have operated Prescott Park. The trustees have formulated the budgets, provided for the care and maintenance of the park, and have had oversight of every aspect of the Arts Festival. By and large, this has gone quite well, and the City Council has had minimal involvement. Things have changed. The Arts Festival has gotten bigger and bigger. Its revenues have gone up substantially under the very capable and aggressive leadership of Ben Anderson. This is a good thing, and the mark of a successful operation and a successful manager. About three years ago, a dispute arose as to how much the Arts Festival should pay the Trustees for the use of the park. The dispute lingered, and the Mayor appointed a “working group” to intervene in an attempt to resolve the dispute. Some progress has been made, reportedly. It appears that the Arts Festival was, and maybe is, willing to pay an increased amount for the use of the park as long as the City agrees to a more long-term arrangement (rather than a year-to-year permit, as has always been the case). This central dispute has not yet been resolved. Both sides have meritorious arguments. The matter should be mediated, with both parties — the Trustees and the Arts Festival — actively participating seek common ground and to reach a resolution. The City Council should not be involved other than to ratify or reject an agreement.

How can Portsmouth respond and adapt to the impacts of climate change?
The city has studied the possible impacts of climate change and the rise of ocean levels. The city has taken a look at its seawalls and has mapped out the possible damage that might be caused by higher ocean levels combined with storm surges. What everyone can do to slow climate change, even if minimally, is to make reasonable efforts to reduce our carbon footprint. We can walk more, ride bikes more, conserve fuel, and conserve energy.

What is one recent change for the better in the city, and one you hope to champion as a councilor?
Over the last 15 years, the city has built a beautiful new library that is a landmark city building enjoyed by thousands and thousands of people. The city has rebuilt the Portsmouth Middle School, a capacious and beautiful structure that makes all of our students and teachers proud. The city sold the old Connie Bean Center and it is now generating substantial tax revenue to relieve the resident taxpayers somewhat of their ever-increasing burden. The city bonded and replaced the docks at Prescott Park, and the docks now welcome transient boaters to visit our city for a few hours or a few days and enjoy a safe dock with water and power. And it is generating substantial revenue. These are just some of the few projects in the city that make it a better place. I will champion continued improvements such as these.

What was the most recent cultural event you attended in Portsmouth? 
The opening of the African Burial Ground. Councilor Chris Dwyer deserves the utmost praise for her efforts over the