Chat about the Lawrence City Commission race with candidate Rob Chestnut

February 19, 2007

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Rob Chestnut, the CFO for Lawrence-based Allen Press, says that he wants to use his business experience to help boost economic development efforts to bring jobs to the community.


This is 6 News Reporter Laura McHugh. I'll be moderating today's chat with city commission candidate Rob Chestnut. Thanks for joining us. We have a lot of questions, so let's get started.


How do you feel about preservation of historic property in Lawrence? Do you think the state and local laws provide enough protection, too much protection, or not enough? Also, do you think that the city council should be paid more in salary?

Rob Chestnut:

The preservation of historic property in Lawrence is essential to keeping the nature of our community intact. I do believe that the laws are sufficient, but I believe the issue is understanding what is in place and making sure that all of the stakeholders in the community understand how the process works. I met with the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association last week, and they were discussing a property owned by the county on 11th and Rhode Island on the historic register. It is clear to me that the process is in place to assure that the property is protected, but the property and adjacent lots are going to take a long time to for development to what we hope is affordable housing. I am hopeful we can look at ways to educate everyone involved to make the process go more smoothly.

I do not believe the city council should be paid more in salary. This is a labor of love to Lawrence, it is not about compensation.


What is your opinion on building the SLT

Rob Chestnut:

We have a traffic problem in East Lawrence that is not acceptable. I was a commuter for several years to Kansas City and found myself driving through neighborhoods that have no business handling commuter traffic. It is a dangerous situation for both commuters and the people that are in those neighborhoods. We need to see the final recommendation from the Federal Highway Adminstration and KDOT that includes an environmental impact study. I want to support that recommendation and see the project move forward.


there seems to be no discussion of the city ever reducing a budget or improving efficiencies , seems to be the nature of a public entity to just increase everthing a few percentage points every year unlike private business , would your approach to budget building be any different from the current process

Rob Chestnut:

Yes. First, I would like to see the budget process become more transparent for both the City Commission and the citizens of Lawrence. I have particular interest in this area since I have worked on budgets of very large size in my professional experience. The information now available is either a very high level summary, or an incredible amount of detail that is difficult to digest. With the county real property assessments growing less than previous years, it is clear that the city will need to make tough choices about how we fund the city services. I think we will need to take the time to look at things line by line to see what has appeared in the budget in recent years that may need a closer review to make the budget work for the city.


Why should Lawrence Firefighters vote for you, instead of other candidates?

Thank you.

Rob Chestnut:

I have had one meeting with some representatives from the firefighters union, and I support the funding of recent fire stations. I also share concerns that we have created difficulties in city traffic with roundabouts and other traffic calming devices that have slowed response times for our emergency personnel in the city. I would like the input of all emergency personnel to review the current traffic calming devices to see if we are compromising our safety by dropping response times to certain portions of the city.


Assuming the state Attorney General gives it his legal "OK", what is your position on the proposed domestic partner registry ordinance that has been proposed here in Lawrence?

Rob Chestnut:

As you stated, I would like to ensure that we are not going to have any legal entanglements going forward in considering the domestic partner registry. Secondly, I need to understand more about the potential benefits that it offers citizens of Lawrence. I am not aware of those employers that offer benefits to domestic partners, so I would like to make an informed decision on the impact of the ordinance. Finally, I would like to know what the cost is to the city. This would allow me to make an informed decision.


If elected, will you recuse yourself from the library debate and vote, since one of the proposed sites belongs to your employer?

Rob Chestnut:

To my knowledge, the only proposed site that is going to be considered by the city is the project just adjacent to current library where the post office now resides. All other proposals at this point are not relevant since they are not in consideration.


What is your position on building a new library in downtown Lawrence?

Rob Chestnut:

I support enhancing the library facilities downtown. We have over 450 thousand visits each year, 70,000 patrons and the library processed 1,000,000 circulated items in 2006. I toured the circulation area that is a very small room with 4 people working in it. We need to improve from a facility that was built in 1972. I hope that I can contribute to making a new library a reality for Lawrence in the future.


The Lawrence tax base has seen it's most expanded growth in new residential so considering new housing does not pay for itself with regard to Cost of Community Services, which is true in any city, how do you intend to make up this loss in revenue to prevent further escalation in residential property taxes or sales taxes? How do you know your plan will work?

Rob Chestnut:

There is some controversy about whether or not new housing pays for itself. Some segements do and others may not. I think the primary focus is to create a higher percentage of our property taxes from commercial/industrial sources. Currently, this segment only contributes about 30% of the total taxes, while residential generates 70%. We need to attract employers and jobs to the community. How? First, we need the attitude that it is a priority for the city. Secondly, we need to look at some infrastructure issues that proclude us from industrial development now. We have no land parcels ready for development now that are 100+ acres. This eliminates a lot of opportunities. Third, we need to look at our economic development tools and realize we are competing against surrounding communities with more tools. We do not need all the tools, but we need to use the tools we have at our disposal. Finally, we must make the community an easier place to do business in as a whole.


It seems that Lawrence has very higly skilled jobs (Biotech/KU) and very low skilled jobs (manufacturing/customer service). Would you bring professional jobs in that are somewhere in the middle?
Thank you.


Do you see any changes in store for our tax abatement programs for incoming business? It seems the "living wage" has killed it.

Rob Chestnut:

I think you have hit on an important topic. The Biotech initiative is important, but it may or may not bring significant opportunities to many who now live in Lawrence due to their technical nature. I would like to target our economic development in areas that 1) fit our profile of the right type of employers and jobs and 2) start to fill out that "somewhere in the middle" place that is a void in the community. It would seem to me that we have an ideal workforce for this type of work that has people who can work flexible schedules and have a significant amount of education. I also believe we do have good opportunities in manufacturing. I would argue that many manufacturing jobs are very highly skilled with very good wages. We simply have not been able to bring them to Lawrence in large numbers.


There seems to be a built-in mistrust of real estate developers, because people care a lot about how Lawrence will look and function as it grows in the big picture, do you think that their endorsement of certain canditates can hurt them?

Rob Chestnut:

No. I am happy to have support from all walks of life. Our next financial report is due today, and I know that you will get more information on the base of support that I have received from the community. It is broad and I think demonstrates that my message is receiving a great deal of support across the entire community. We need to find a way to realize that stakeholders in the community whether they are in real estate, part of a neighborhood association or other group are looking for strong, consistent leadership in their local government.


Rob, what are your views about transit in Lawrence? Do you support the "T"? On the "T" website there are reports from a study about possible coordination of services with KU on Wheels -- what do you think about this idea?


JOEHAWK: Rob, Do you see any changes in store for our tax abatement programs for incoming business? It seems the "living wage" has killed it.

Rob Chestnut:

I do support the "T" and I would like to see its ridership increase over time. I am also aware of the possible merger of the "T" with the services provided by KU. What I have not seen is what the implications are for the "T" in this merger. Will it reduce the level of service? What are the cost implications to the city? If it enhances service at a better cost to the city, I would certainly want to review this option more closely. But, I think this is a big question mark at this point.

Rob Chestnut:

I do not believe that the "living wage" has killed tax abatements. The ordinance addresses a very small percentage of the employees. I think that perception is the primary problem. The reality that the living wage ordinance does not really present a significant obstacle is overcome by the perception that the city has made the process too difficult. We need to be clear about our expectations and ensure that potential employers do not feel that we will move the bar once they commit.


The Placemakers presentation, which promotes, among other things, walkable neighborhoods will be a strong issue. Did you attend the presentations and if so, what are your thoughts on their suggestions for Lawrence? And do you feel that Lawrence needs a 2nd Walmart?

Rob Chestnut:

I went to one of the presentations. I think there are some good concepts, but there are a lot of practical considerations that need to be considered with walkable neighborhood retail. First, can some parts of the city handle more high density development with their flood issues? North Lawrence is a prime example. Secondly, will commercial retail support smaller, more accessible retail that is around the corner? I know that grocery retailing has gotton larger versus smaller in recent years. Is a 4000 sq ft grocery viable? The market will need to determine this question. Finally, I know that neighborhoods are nervous about the ability to bypass the city commission if the parallel code is abided to by a developer in total. We need to keep in mind that strong neighborhood input is critical. Do I think we need a 2nd Walmart? Not necessarily, but I am not a retailing expert. The city needs to have a planning process with proper zoning that ensures we have consistent development and allow the market to determine how to meet the demand for goods and services from the community.


How can we promote Lawrence to attract more business to our community. It seems we need to broaden our business tax base to help offset home owner tax increases.

Rob Chestnut:

I had a similar question earlier. I think we need to decide that attracting employment is a high priority. I do not see this now. So, we actually do need to promote in a unified fashion. There have been a number of questions about planning, and this issue applying to attracting business. If our planning is fair and consistent, we make it easier for businesses to look at us as a potential employer. I also commented earlier about the lack of industrial land and real estate availability, and I think this is another factor that would help us if we expanded.


The last election the PLC packed group won by running as a group.
Do you support having any commissioners elected from districts instead of at large?

Rob Chestnut:

No. I think it is important to have at large seats. I think it encourages candidates to understand the complex issues across Lawrence. We work better together than apart.


Rob's been answering your questions for over an hour. Unfortunately, we still did not get to all of them. We want to thank him for being the first of the nine city commission candidates to join us.

Rob Chestnut:

I want to thank everyone for their questions. It was a very diverse group of questions that covered a lot of topics. If you would like to send questions that were not answered to my website, I would be happy to answer them as quickly as I can get to them.


Stephen Roberts 11 years, 4 months ago

I will vote for Rob even though I personally believe we need to get rid of all of the at large seats on the commission. We should have 3 seats voted by preceint or districts and two seats voted at large.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 4 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

cowboy 11 years, 4 months ago

Merrill , how many times are you going to post this crap !

try posting an original thought

Sen_Fudgepack 11 years, 4 months ago

Don't trust anyone from the Allen Press...

Change is afoot there and I'm not buying the garbage that any downtown real estate deal has been decided... Talk about a conflict of interest... Watch the debate of where the library will be located change if Mr. Chestnut gets elected....

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