Update on Minimum Wage

On October 20, 2016, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that our commonwealth’s cities do not have the power to increase the minimum wage, given the state’s existing regulations.  The decision reverses an earlier ruling by the Jefferson County Circuit Court, which upheld a challenge to Louisville’s minimum wage ordinance.  You can read the Kentucky Supreme Court’s majority opinion, concurring opinion, and the dissenting opinion here.

I am disappointed by this ruling.  I believe some of our community’s most vulnerable working members need relief.   I supported Lexington’s minimum wage ordinance and am hopeful for action at the state level by the Kentucky General Assembly.  At the October 25, 2016 Work Session, Council considered a motion that would repeal the minimum wage ordinance (Ordinance 130-2015) and a complementary ordinance (Ordinance 113-2016) that authorized the Human Rights Commission to enforce it.  Given this issue’s importance, I opposed that motion because keeping the ordinances creates no legal issue, emphasizes Lexington’s intention for a more livable wage, and continues to highlight the needs for state action.  The motion to repeal the ordinances failed by a vote of 8-6.

For additional analysis of the issue as it currently stands, please click here to read this op-ed by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy’s Jason Bailey.  For additional context on the local history of minimum wage, please see my earlier blog posts below:

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Change for the Better: How to Help People Who are Panhandling

Recently we have experienced an increase in people panhandling in our community. Most of us want to be compassionate and helpful to those less fortunate, but most of us are also unsure of what is really helpful. To gain a better insight on this issue for myself and for the community I interviewed  Charlie Lanter, the Director of Lexington’s Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention (OHPI),   for a Council Comment video (below) about constructive responses to people panhandling.

Below are the front and back sides of the “Change for the Better” cards Charlie displays and refers to in the video.  You can request cards for your organization by emailing Charlie at clanter(at)lexingtonky.gov.

Front

card1

 

Back

card2

 

Here are some of the helpful insights I learned from Charlie:

  • Giving cash directly to people panhandling can do more harm than good. Providing direct cash can enable destructive behaviors, such as substance abuse.  Cash on-hand can also undermine a person’s willingness to accept long-term, professional, and productive assistance.
  • Lexington, through the excellent work of OHPI and our network of nonprofits, now has adequate resources and the capacity to assist those who are homeless and others in need. No one has to be stuck on the streets or without food.
  • Many of those who are homeless do not like panhandling, and many people who panhandle are not homeless.
  • You can connect homeless people and others in need to professional services by calling or texting 211, a centralized intake and referral service.

Also, as those following the news might know, panhandling in the street and at intersections is currently illegal in Lexington according to Section 14.5 of the Code of Ordinances.   That ordinance has been challenged and is currently under review by the Kentucky Supreme Court.  You can read more on that story in the Herald-Leader here.  A Jefferson County District Court struck down Louisville’s panhandling law on October 13, 2016. More on that story in the Courier-Journal here.

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Update on Town Branch Commons and its Significance to Lexington

As followers of the local news likely are aware, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded Lexington’s Town Branch Corridor project a $14.1 million TIGER grant.  For context, the Town Branch Commons is the name of two complementary public spaces: 1) the Town Branch Corridor, the network of trails that will now interconnect through downtown, and 2) the Town Branch Park.  You can see a beautiful conceptual images of the Town Branch Park by clicking here.  It is the park that will be placed behind Rupp Arena in place of the Cox Street parking lot.

The TIGER grant, in combination with CMAQ, TAP, KIA, and local funding, will support the construction of a 3.8 mile connector for the Legacy and Town Branch Trails.  The additional funding will support the $35.5 million construction.  This investment will give our community a contiguous 20 mile trail network that connects our urban core to some of our most beautiful green spaces.  For example, one could ride a bicycle from Masterson Station to the heart of downtown and then to the Kentucky Horse Park.  This TIGER grant helps complete the Town Branch Corridor, the backbone of the Town Branch Commons project.  It demonstrates substantive progress and investment, an important signal to private donors for the Town Branch Park.  Much needed storm water and sanitary infrastructure improvements will also be part of the construction.  For a more detailed discussion, please see the presentation at the August 30, 2016 Work Session here.

I am enthusiastic and supportive of the Town Branch Commons project.  I believe it will be transformational.  As I’ve had the opportunity to travel to other communities I’ve observed how world-class parks contribute to the vitality and quality of life of those communities.  I look forward to seeing a world-class commons where Lexingtonians can convene for public events and leisure.  I am also hopeful that the Town Branch Commons can serve as a flagship example of the importance and value of public parks and as a stimulus to needed park improvement throughout our community.

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LFUCG Hiring Officer of Diversity and Inclusion

In the Fiscal Year 2017 budget negotiations Councilmember James Brown proposed that Council allocate funding for an Officer of Diversity and Inclusion.  You can view the discussions of individual Councilmember budget recommendations here and here.  Now that Fiscal Year 2017 has begun, LFUCG is moving swiftly to fill that position.

As Administrative Officer Jenifer Wuorenmaa explained during the August 30, 2016 Council Work Session, a work group began researching and designing the position over the summer and then assisted in the development of a job description for the position.  Human Resources expects to post the position in September 2016 and complete the hiring process this fall.

I am pleased with the rapid progress being made to fill this position.  The Officer will assist LFUCG in addressing our internal challenges, and will also work with community organizations and businesses that serve our community.  Adding this Officer of Diversity and Inclusion is a significant next step, along with Global Lex, in making Lexington a more welcoming place to live and work for all members of our diverse community.

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First Annual Field to Table Dinner September 9

field_to_table_dinner_flyerThe First Annual Fayette County Farm Bureau Field to Table Dinner  will feature a four course, family style meal courtesy of The Sage Rabbit and Sullivan University.  This event is co-hosted by Bluegrass Farm to Table, an initiative of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development to grow our local food economy.  In addition to celebrating delicious food, the event will benefit Bluegrass Double Dollars, a program of Bluegrass Farm to Table that doubles the purchasing power of low-income SNAP recipients who wish to purchase local fruits and vegetables for their families.

This wonderful event will be held on September 9, 2016 from 6:30 – 8:30 pm at Walnut Lawn Farm in Lexington, KY.  Enjoy the hard work and unique products of Clark Family Farm, Teal Tractor CSA, Rolling Fork Farm, Rosemont Bakehouse, Bellaire Blooms, and more. Beverages will be provided by local favorites West Sixth Brewing and Talon Winery.

For more details about this event, please click here for the Facebook event page.

To purchase tickets, please click here.

The ticket cost is $75 per person which includes a $35 tax-deductible donation to Bluegrass Double DollarsIf you are interested in attending but financially constrained, please send an email to Carrie.McIntosh@kyfb.com by Friday, August 26, 2016.  Please include the following information in the email: a brief bio and how you have/have not had the opportunity to access local food or connect with local farmers. Ten randomly selected entrees will each receive two free tickets to the event.

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Rural Recreation Zone Change Passes Council

Council has worked for approximately four years to determine appropriate recreational uses for Lexington’s rural area.  The challenge for Council has been balancing the need for action with the need to protect Lexington’s agricultural zones.  I believe we have achieved a responsible outcome with the Recreation and Tourism Zoning Ordinance Text Amendment (Rec ZOTA).

The issue reappeared before Council when Councilmember Susan Lamb brought it before the June 14, 2016 Planning & Public Safety Committee meeting.  The discussion focused on whether the following six uses should be classified as conditional or principal:

  • Educational classes related to agricultural products or skills
  • Commercial hiking & bicycling trails
  • Tree canopy tours
  • Equine trails
  • Canoeing & kayaking launch sites
  • Nature preserves

A work group convened by then-Vice Mayor Linda Gorton had recommended these uses be conditional.  The city’s planning staff concurred with this recommendation.  The Planning Commission voted 6-5, however, to change those recommended uses from conditional to principal.

At the Planning & Public Safety Committee meeting, I moved to amend the Planning Commission’s recommendation so that the activities are classified as conditional uses, to reflect the work groups initial recommendation.  The amendment passed 7-2 and the ZOTA went to the full Council as amended.  At the June 28, 2016 work session, following some debate, Council voted unanimously to place the legislation on the docket.  The Rec ZOTA as amended received a first reading on July 5, 2016, a second reading on July 7, 2016, and passed without objection.  I am pleased that Council passed legislation that allows expanded recreational uses and protects our hallmark rural area.   For additional background on this complex issue, you can view my earlier blog posts on this topic here and here.

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Courthouse Renovations Update

For those of you who missed the June 1, 2016 public meeting on the Historic Fayette County Courthouse and want to learn more about the renovations, here are  the final renderings of the project and information about the logistical changes coming during construction..

These final renderings are courtesy of K. Norman Berry Associate Architects and Deborah Berke & Partners.

The Historic Fayette County Courthouse’s exterior renovations are scheduled to begin in the 3rd week of July 2016.  The initial fencing is already built around the site.  Below are the upcoming landscaping, street, and parking changes you need to know about:

  • The White Ash tree at the corner of Upper and Short has been removed.  Unfortunately, the tree cannot be saved as it is infected with Emerald Ash Borer.  The White Spruce at Upper and Main will be relocated to a nearby park to make room for construction.  The project team plans to leave the Japanese Pagoda at Short and Upper and the Ginkgo tree at Main and the 5/3 Pavilion in place at this time.
  • The footprint of the current fencing will grow to the bollards of the 5/3 Pavilion and to the sidewalk on Main Street after July 4, 2016.
  • The Main Street sidewalk will remain open; the Short Street sidewalk immediate adjacent to the courthouse will not.  The closed portion will be from the Market Street crosswalk to the Upper Street intersection.
  • The current parking spots on the courthouse side of Upper Street between Short and Main will be unavailable.  Those spots will be replaced by new spots 1 block northeast on Upper.  Those spots will be in the right-hand lane of Upper between Church and Short, which will be for parking.  The next block northeast on Upper (between Church and Second) will have its right-hand lane converted to a right-turn only lane.  Traffic signals will be calibrated for the changing traffic pattern.
  • The 4 parking spaces on courthouse side of Short between Mill and Upper will be unavailable during construction.

If you would like more detail on the Courthouse renovations you can view the May 24, 2016 presentation to Council by Jenifer Wuorenmaa by clicking here.  It is item VI (c) on the work session agenda.  Prior to that, she gave an update to Council at the August 18th, 2015 Work Session. You can view that presentation [item VI (d)] here.

 

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Revised Downtown Design Excellence Proposal

If you have been following the Downtown Design Excellence saga, and you have a taste for detail and complexity, and you would like to understand where we are and where we are going on this issue, and you have the patience for a long post, read on.

Recent Events

On May 10, 2016, the Planning & Public Safety Committee reviewed the revised version of the standards and guidelines prepared by the Design Excellence subcommittee and voted 6-4 to recommend that the revised version be placed on the council docket for referral to the Planning Commission. Planning & Public Safety Chair Jennifer Mossotti had created the subcommittee and tasked it with reviewing and revising as needed the Design Excellence Task Force’s original proposal. You can view that meeting here, its committee packet here, and the design excellence addendum here.  The addendum includes the zoning ordinance text amendment (PDF pages 1-57) and the Downtown Design Excellence Reference Guide (PDF pages 58-130).  For additional context on Design Excellence, including its history, see my blog posts here.  All documents from the original proposal are available here for reference. If council approves the committee recommendation, the Planning Commission will be asked to initiate the zone text amendments needed to implement the revised standards and guidelines. The council will then need to approve or modify the version approved by the Planning Commission.

What follows is a summary overview of how the subcommittee revised the original proposal:

Design Standards & Guidelines

The standards and guidelines in both the original and revised recommendations apply to the B-2, B-2A and B-2B zones that encompass the downtown area.

The guidelines remain substantively the same.  However, they now apply only when a developer requests public support/incentives for a project.

The subcommittee revised the standards in the following ways:

  • Certain building materials are no longer expressly prohibited. Instead, a percentage of those materials is permitted.
  • In the original proposal a project could not build parking lots in certain locations.  In the revisions an applicant would have the option to seek a conditional use permit, which means he or she must receive design approval from the Board of Adjustment (BOA).
  • The height limit for the urban core portion of the B-2 zones was proposed to be 360 feet.  The revisions contain no height limit.
  • Streetscape requirements are incorporated and include such things as sidewalk pedestrian zone width specifications and amenity zone standards.  The Downtown Streetscape Master Plan influenced these changes.

As with any zoning regulations, a developer may seek a variance from the BOA for any of the standards.  It is also the case that both Urban County Council and the Planning Commission can initiate further amendments to the zone text deemed desirable.  For additional detail, please see the new Downtown Design Excellence Reference Guide available here.

Review Process

In the original proposal all projects in the B-2 zones would have had to follow a design excellence review process by staff or by a newly-created Design Excellence Review Board, with the level of review determined by project type and size.  In the revised version only projects that are in B-2 zones and request public support/incentives would have to follow an additional review process.  That process would be conducted by the Design Excellence Review Office. Creation of the Design Excellence Review Board is not included in the revised recommendation.  All other projects follow existing permitting review processes.  You can see charts of the processes in the Downtown Design Excellence Reference Guide here.

Projects seeking public support/incentives would work through a negotiated master development agreement similar to that required presently for any project requesting Tax Increment Financing (TIF).  In this process, the applicant would work iteratively with the Design Excellence Review Officer through the design guidelines review and approval process. The master development agreement would then require approval by Urban County Council.

Appeals Process

In the original proposal, any appeal from decisions by the board would go to Circuit Court. In the revised proposal, projects that follow existing permitting processes can seek variances/conditional uses through the BOA.  Appeals from a BOA ruling would go to Circuit Court. As noted earlier, projects seeking public support/incentive would create a negotiated master development agreement with LFUCG.  Decisions about a master settlement agreement are not subject to appeal since such an agreement is classified as a negotiated contractual process and not a regulatory process.

Demolition

In the original proposal the Design Excellence Board would have reviewed and approved any demolition, and a project would not have been able to receive a demolition permit until having first received a building permit.  The revised process will now send demolition requests to the Board of Architectural Review (BOAR) for review and approval. BOAR would then follow existing regulations and procedures applicable to demolition within an H-1 overlay.  Appeals of a BOAR ruling would go to the Council.

Next Steps

While not perfect from my perspective, the revised standards and guidelines are nonetheless worth supporting. They improve the zoning regulations for downtown, encourage thoughtful and responsible development, preserve opportunities for public review when the public provides support, and offer some protection from the least desirable forms of development.  I hope the Planning Commission initiates a zone text amendment consistent with the revised recommendations and that council then approves that zone text amendment.  Taking this long-overdue action will make for a better downtown.

If you have read this far you are either a policy wonk, or you have a dog in this fight, or you are an exceptionally concerned citizen.  In any case, I thank you for your attention.

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Consider Gehl Studio’s Research in Your Efforts to Improve Lexington

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has awarded two Knight Cities Challenge grants to Lexington proposals.  Knight offered only 37 awards from a pool of over 4,500 applications.  These honors are yet another indicator of our community’s collective talent and bright future.  If you are one of our engaged citizens brainstorming ways to improve Lexington, please consider the recent local Knight winners in the context of Gehl Studio’s research.  Gehl Studio focuses on mutually beneficial relationships between people’s quality of life and their built environment.  This framework can help you identify and strategically pursue opportunities for our city.

Phoenix Forward, one of the Knight award winners, will pilot new programming and space uses for Phoenix Park and the Central Library. This site has great potential for improvement because, according to the Gehl analysis, it has a high volume of citizens sticking around and low volume of citizens walking by.  You will notice its outlier status regarding that ratio on pages 98-99 of this PDF Gehl Studio’s presentation.  As a Gehl Studio representative discussed in a recent presentation to city leaders, the public space is predominantly occupied by one demographic—the homeless.  He also emphasized that programming around a public space should not displace a demographic but instead should increase the diversity of users.  A monopoly in a public space by any single group makes others feel unwelcome.  I am hopeful that Phoenix Forward, in addition to recent successes by the Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention, will make this public space more inviting to all Lexingtonians.

The second project is the Parking Lot Diaries, which will test a series of engagement activities for LexTran riders at the Transit Center.  Those experiments will be created with expert feedback from 8 80 Cites, a nonprofit that specializes in designing and analyzing engagement experiences.  The Transit Center’s significance is also supported by Gehl Studio’s research.   While Lexingtonians might consider Cheapside Park to be one of the most trafficked spaces downtown, Gehl Studio’s research reveals that the Transit Center also sees a high number of visitors (see pages 90 and 117 in the PDF).   That space should improve its engagement of pedestrians and the standing of public transportation in our community.   The Parking Lot Diaries intends to advance those goals, and I am hopeful the Transit Center will become a more vibrant public space because of that work.

These Knight-funded projects advance key opportunities highlighted by Gehl Studios’ research.  I encourage our community’s policymakers, grassroots activists, nonprofit leaders, and the public to review this presentation.  It includes Gehl Studio’s framework for thinking about urban design (pages 1-79) and insights for Lexington from the Public Space, Public Life survey (pages 80-123). I particularly encourage you to view pages 110-123 of the PDF.  These slides discuss priority pilot ideas and opportunity areas.  I hope you will review them, and I look forward to seeing more Lexington projects receive honors such as the Knight Cities Challenge awards.

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Homeless Data Update and Rapid Rehousing Grant

Vice Mayor Steve Kay thanks volunteers for their efforts to decrease homelessness during a press conference May 2, 2016.

Vice Mayor Steve Kay thanks volunteers for their efforts to decrease homelessness during a press conference May 2, 2016.

I am pleased to share good news regarding our city’s progress in addressing issues of homelessness.  Working with numerous service providers, the newly-created Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention (OHPI), directed by Charlie Lanter, has helped reduce homelessness (people living on the streets, in a shelter or in transitional housing) by 26% since the program began in 2014.  Chronic homeless–defined as someone with a disability who has been homeless for greater than 1 year or has been homeless 4 or more times in 3 years for a period that totals 1 year or more–has decreased 50% since 2015. Veteran homelessness has achieved functional zero. Newly adopted best practices such as the Housing First Pilot Project, Mental Health Courts, and OneDoor Lexington are improving outcomes.

OHPI also coordinated the successful application for a $333,323 Federal Rapid Rehousing grant to be administered by Community Action Council. Rapid Rehousing refers to providing rental assistance to help families leave shelters and the streets for permanent housing.

I am heartened by the good work our community has done and continues to do to tackle the challenge of homelessness.  Thanks to the decades of dedicated and resilient work of countless activists, including most notably Debra Hensley who most recently helped move this issue forward as co-chair of the Mayor’s Commission on Homelessness, we have made and will continue to make our city more just for those most in need.

 

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