The Wire’s 2013 Portsmouth City Council Voters’ Guide

Posted by on Sep 26, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Name: Stefany Shaheen

Age: 39

Years living in Portsmouth: 7

Prior public service experience: I was honored to serve as the National Chair for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation Children’s Congress and I continue to sit on the Foundation’s Advocacy Committee. I worked with the Seacoast Early Learning Alliance to create a system of shared services that enabled childcare centers throughout the seacoast to operate with greater efficiency. In 2006, Governor Lynch appointed me to serve on the New Hampshire Commission on the Status of Women and I was later appointed to be Chair by the Members of the Commission. On the Seacoast, I have volunteered for several nonprofits organizations including serving on the Board of the Seacoast Repertory Theatre.

1. Locally owned and independent businesses are a vital ingredient for a healthy community. With more chains opening in Portsmouth, what should the city do to encourage local business?

The BUY LOCAL campaign and Seacoast Local organization are excellent efforts to help residents think before they buy. The importance of supporting owner-operated businesses in Portsmouth cannot be overstated. It’s true that some shops may have to charge a little more for goods than the big box stores or those selling on the Internet, but the dollars spent locally are re-invested in the community. Small, independently owned businesses and restaurants are the backbone of our city — contributing to the unique experience of shopping and eating downtown. And of course, those businesses create local jobs. Encouraging and building business alliances and pooling resources to continue publicizing the importance of buying local is one step. Making it convenient for residents to support local merchants is also critical; it’s another reason the city needs to address the parking problem.

2. Portsmouth Now is asking the city council to agree to a 7-point plan to manage growth and preserve Portsmouth. How would you address concerns about growth and/or parking?

Form-based zoning holds promise as a means for approaching development and redevelopment in Portsmouth’s historic district. This approach also has the potential to prevent the construction of buildings that are inappropriate in size, scale and appearance for the area. It will be important for the community to carefully evaluate and understand the implications of this approach over the current zoning ordinances. Conceptually, I support formed-based zoning as it could address issues related to the character of the buildings in town. We can strike a balance between preserving the historical character of Portsmouth and smart development. Transparency in the process is critical.

It is essential that we address the current parking deficit not only for the business community and visitors, but most importantly for residents—many of whom do not come into town because of the parking shortage. Given the critical need for additional parking spaces downtown, we must consider every potential municipal and private location. We should also push more aggressively to obtain the federal McIntyre Building and ensure that parking is an integral part of any redevelopment plan for the building. Finally, we should promote existing satellite parking locations and identify other satellite options with adequate shuttle service.

3. This city council will oversee the update to the city’s 10-year master plan. Have you read the current master plan? Has the city lived up to it?

I have read the 10-year master plan. It is clear that there are many areas where we have made great progress. As the parent of a middle school student and two more who will follow, it is wonderful to see the Middle School renovation and expansion nearing completion. The master plan also addresses the inevitability that the city’s three elementary schools will need to be brought up to code. Ultimately, it will be up the community to decide how extensive those projects will be in the years ahead.

As I mentioned, I do think the city needs to make some tough decisions in the future to create more parking downtown.

The mandatory upgrade to the sewage treatment plant on Peirce Island is another area requiring attention. This is such a colossal and expensive undertaking that it is expected further increase our water/sewer rates. We need to work with the EPA to appropriately manage the timeline for this project in order to prepare for and manage the associated costs.

4. What should the city do to keep Portsmouth affordable for artists, restaurant employees, and a diverse middle class?

Keeping Portsmouth an affordable place to live is critical if we want to maintain a diverse community of people, young and old, working in a full range of occupations. We must keep Portsmouth’s tax rate from increasing faster than the rate of inflation, which is why I will work, as I have as a business owner and non-profit advocate, to find ways of providing municipal services more efficiently.

Jobs and the availability of work will also help to keep artists, restaurant employees and a diverse middle class in Portsmouth. I support the formation for an arts and cultural alliance as one way to help sustain and support so many non-profit organizations employing talented people in our community. By sharing resources, making group purchases, and leveraging expertise, these organizations can maximize efficiency and realize meaningful benefits.

5. What should the city do to encourage more citizen involvement in local government?

Organizations like Portsmouth Listens along with the public comment period during Council meetings provide invaluable opportunities for participation and input. However, I fear that some voices are left out of the debate. The city has a responsibility to ensure that those who want to participate have the chance. If elected, I will encourage the Council to hold meetings in other public locations throughout the city and listening sessions to invite public comments on issues such as form-based zoning without the constraints of a regular meeting. Ultimately, better decisions are made when diverse perspectives are represented and many voices are heard.

6. What was the last cultural event you attended in Portsmouth?

Two of my daughters are currently performing in Whimsical the Musical at the Seacoast Repertory Theatre. We were at the Theatre for opening night on Friday and plan to be there again this weekend. We are also looking forward to the upcoming NH Film Festival. The incredible diversity and quality of theatre, music, dance, literary and other cultural events in Portsmouth is a big part of what makes this community such a remarkable place to live.

7. What is the most important issue facing the city that no one is talking about yet?

People are beginning to talk about the impact that rising sea levels will have on our community, and we are in the early stages of thinking systematically about how to incorporate the impacts of more uncertain climate patterns into overall city planning. I feel it’s an issue we need to take seriously as we make other decisions about growth, investment in transportation and infrastructure, and projections for energy use. With Portsmouth’s 400th birthday just ten years off, we should be constantly mindful of the ways in which our decisions today will impact the community’s future. I believe I can help bring the community together to set our priorities and tackle the difficult task of defining what we want to leave behind for those who come after us. Building on our collective admiration and affection for this city, we can preserve, prepare and protect our home now and in the future.

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