The Sound’s 2015 Portsmouth City Council Voter’s Guide: Josh Denton

Portsmouth Voters Guide
Josh Denton

Josh Denton
Occupation: Congressional liaison for Army Labs, attorney
Years living in Portsmouth: 6
Prior public service experience: Eagle Scout; United States Army, 2003-2007 (stationed in Baghdad, 2006-2007); helped organize Welcome Home/End of Iraq War Parade, 2012; member, Sustainable Practices Committee

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 my dogs daily into downtown. To encourage more pedestrian and bicycle traffic, the city can further expand the bike routes into downtown. It is great that a bike lane is in the works from the high school to the Margeson apartments on Middle Street, but I have heard from many residents while going door to door on my bicycle in Wards 3 and 4 that they would also like safe bike routes into the downtown. I support the controversial bike rack on Market Street and more tiered parking as a monetary incentive to encourage people to park further out and walk into downtown.

How would you address growth and development throughout Portsmouth?
Two years ago when I unsuccessfully ran for city council, I proposed implementing form-based zoning as a practical solution to balance growth and development with our beloved character in our historic district and then expanding it to the northern tier and Islington corridor. The 17 percent of Portsmouth’s 8,500 taxable properties that are commercial contribute 46 percent of our total tax revenue. Every new development increases our tax base and decreases our individual tax rates. Unlike previous ordinances that led to several large-scale new developments that neither inspire, fit their surroundings, nor contribute to our renowned charm, form-based zoning emphasizes building placement, scale, and architectural design. I was very pleased, almost two years after my previous campaign ended, when the current city council unanimously voted in agreement with me this past August, to expand from-based zoning to the Northern Tier and Islington Corridor as the most prudent way to balance growth and development with Portsmouth’s character.

What can the city do to restore public confidence in the police department and the police commission?
To restore public trust in the police department, the police commission should have immediately fired Chief Dubois, Capt. Schwartz, and Sgt. Goodwin upon publication of the Webber-Goodwin report on June 1. When this did not happen, the incumbent city councilors should have used their bully pulpits to publicly call for their firing and then pass a ballot initiative giving voters a say in keeping the police commission. Instead, the city council passed a half-measure charter amendment that the public will not even vote on and appointed a new police commissioner without a public guarantee to fire the department’s senior leadership at the reconstituted police commission. As a city councilor I will continue to call for the police commission to fire the senior leadership and will insist that the police commission submit the bi-annual report required by their charter which the incumbent city councilors never did until recently. The overwhelming majority of the men and women of our police department do an amazing job and deserve new senior leadership.

How can Portsmouth encourage the development of more affordable and workforce housing?
Encouraging affordable housing should be a priority of every city councilor. Having waited tables after the Army and again after graduating law school while studying for the bar exam, I understand how unaffordable Portsmouth has become. This issue is not just impacting service industry employees and employers, but Portsmouth’s blue-collar working class as a whole. I fully support the proposed 350 to 400 square foot micro apartments in a Deer Street Parking Garage liner (building) and would be comfortable allowing new developments to exceed height limits if they incorporate a certain percentage of affordable micro apartments. I am also glad that the former Brewster Street rooming house is being considered for such apartments over condos.

What role should the council have in working with the Prescott Park Arts Festival to address residents’ complaints about noise?
There is no “NIMBY” (not in my back yard) in the word community. The majority of the complaints I have heard regarding the Prescott Parks Arts Festival are about the people making the noise complaints themselves. These noise complaints have had an outsized influence on the current city councilors as demonstrated by their initial unanimous ban on school night shows. Wednesday night has always been my favorite night of the week during the summer to walk my dogs downtown because of the joyous crowds walking with their lawn chairs to the Prescott Park Arts Festival. I fell in love with Portsmouth’s energy as a UNH undergrad, thought about the city often while I was in the Army, and moved here the day I got out because of our outdoor activities, programing, and music that keeps Portsmouth vibrant. I will continue to support efforts like the Prescott Park Arts Festival’s proposed new stage, similar to how I supported Strawberry Banke’s Puddle Dock Pond ice skating rink two years ago.

How can Portsmouth respond and adapt to the impacts of climate change?
All politics are local. The environment, climate change, and America’s energy independence are not just big intangible ideas for only state, federal, and foreign governments to address. As individuals, communities, and as a city, we all have a stake in a more sustainable future. Portsmouth is both an eco-municipality and a recipient of the Gulf of Maine Council’s 2015 sustainable communities award. City staff are focused on sustainability, but we need city councilors that are willing to take action on large impact items, like the five initiatives I helped present to the city council last November as a member of the sustainable practices committee. I have led a successful public education campaign on these initiatives for over a year despite our current city councilors having chosen to take no action on any of these proposals. To learn more about my efforts on sustainability, visit my website.

What is one recent change for the better in the city, and one you hope to champion as a councilor?
One recent change for the better is the City Council agreeing on a Deer Street parking garage two years after I championed it as an alternative to a Worth parking garage during my city council bid two years ago. As a fresh face on the city council, I will continue to provide this needed forward thinking leadership. I am championing property-assessed clean energy financing for commercial buildings (C-PACE) by recently organizing and inviting every other candidate to attend a briefing on the subject. C-PACE encourages private investment in comprehensive energy efficiency and renewable energy projects ranging from any combination of air sealing and insulation for energy efficiency, biomass for heat, and solar for electricity or hot water. To participate, the city council would have to establish Portsmouth as a C-PACE district, which would help make these technologies more prevalent and then affordable for homeowners.

What was the most recent cultural event you attended in Portsmouth?
Assuming the Blue Mermaid’s honky-tonk night doesn’t count, it would have been either Art ‘Round Town or the Seacoast Rep’s “Midsummer’s Night Queens.” All of the art that decorates my home was purchased during multiple First Friday forays over the past eight years; in fact I have some things folded out of clay to pick up from Nahcotta when the recent Enormous T