Jimmy Leas

2017 City Council Candidate Questionnaire: James Leas

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Thursday February 23, 2017

1.What do you see as the single most pressing concern for the City of South Burlington, and how would you address that issue? (100 words)

Loss of an entire section of our city. Hundreds of affordable homes demolished. More tapped for destruction. Charming neighborhoods eliminated. All because of F-16 fighter noise. All South Burlington residents are affected: those who lost their homes, those remaining in noise zones with “buffer” houses gone, and the rest of us in the city who pay higher taxes to make up for the property tax loss from those demolished homes. I’d use South Burlington’s municipal tax authority, as detailed in the answer to question 3, to protect South Burlington’s vital interests and our authority over our own city.

2.Voter approval for the Market Street and Dumont Park Tax Increment Financing District (TIF) projects marked the start of City Center. What project(s) would you put forward as the next step in the development of City Center? What are the benefits/challenges of this project?(150 words)

I’d return to the pedestrian friendly, green concept of city center that was overwhelmingly favored by city residents. I’d start with the heart of the city center by creating a lush village green surrounded by small shops, with affordable housing on upper floors. The city core would house our city hall, a library, and senior, recreation and art facilities. This area would be safe for children to play and for adults to relax, socialize, dine, conduct business, shop, recreate, create music and art, and enjoy life.

This city core would evoke a ‘sense of place’ with a Vermont look and feel. Residents would feel pride in creating a smartly-designed energy-efficient city that aligns with our commitment to planetary responsibility. The challenge would be to think, plan, and build in a smart, green, and responsible way, and learn from cities elsewhere which have built smartly and profitably.

3.South Burlington has a unique relationship with Burlington International Airport (BIA), The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Vermont Air National Guard (VTANG), and the airport’s owner – the City of Burlington.
A) What is the councilor’s role as these competing interests grapple with governance, taxes, expansion, land use, noise, and home buy-outs/ demolition? What is your vision for the future of the airport?
B) If you are elected, how would you balance the needs of airport neighborhood homeowners with the needs of the City of South Burlington ? (400 words total)

A. The people of South Burlington are the one and only priority for its elected representatives on the City Council. As the host city for the airport, and the city most affected by its operation, our city council must take the lead to zealously protect all our citizens, especially those who live near the airport. By effectively using our municipal tax authority South Burlington can require Burlington, the Vermont Air National Guard (VTANG), and the FAA to work together to accomplish this goal.

Burlington is continuing to purchase homes in South Burlington. However, South Burlington has leverage through our ability to impose taxes on Burlington for the houses they purchase in our city. This might dissuade the demolition of the latest houses purchased, and might halt further purchases for demolition. Using our tax authority could not only protect the airport neighborhoods but also protect the rest of the taxpayers in South Burlington.

Here is how it would work: first, South Burlington would enact a replacement tax on every house Burlington demolishes without replacing. Burlington itself has such a home replacement tax. Second, if Burlington leaves houses vacant, South Burlington could enact a vacancy tax because vacant homes contribute to neighborhood deterioration.
Third, South Burlington could impose a tax on the Burlington airport for the serious damage being done to those living in the F-16 noise zone, which is being caused by its tenant, VTANG. Placing a substantial tax for the financial and emotional burden on the families in the noise zone might cause Burlington to encourage VTANG to fly aircraft that do not generate damaging noise. This is consistent with VTANG’s mission to protect Vermonters.

B. Eliminating the source of damaging noise--jet fighters--is consistent with my vision for the airport. Without this military jet noise, thousands of people in the current noise zone can continue to enjoy living in their homes without fear for their health or their children’s health and learning ability, or property devaluation. Without the impacts of military jet noise, and the accompanying loss of housing, we can avoid tax increases for the rest of the people living in South Burlington (to make up for taxes lost to demolition). This also saves FAA (taxpayer) money. Removing the source of the noise will remove a major source of tension between South Burlington, Burlington, the airport and VTANG.

4.What are your views on growth in South Burlington regarding commercial and residential development, affordable housing, city services and infrastructure, and open space? (200 words)

South Burlington has been allowing unsustainable and environmentally unfriendly development to occur in our city for years. At the behest of certain developers, we have seen the spread of large housing developments, which do not adhere to smart growth….or energy efficient guidelines. Moreover, because of the types of developments we have allowed, our population does not reflect the goals stated in our comprehensive plan…to be a city “with housing for people of all incomes, lifestyles and stages of life.” Sadly, thousands of people who work in South Burlington cannot afford to live here. The vast majority of the newly constructed houses are unaffordable for average Vermonters. Our suburban sprawl is upsetting the natural balance, destroying our open spaces, squeezing out our wildlife, polluting our waters, as well as draining and straining the city’s resources and services. The types of developments that have been, and continue to be approved, do not pay for the share of the city services that they require. In effect, they use more services from the city than they pay for in taxes. I would strongly advocate that we conform to sustainable, smart growth principles.

5. What is your long-term vision for the South Burlington community? If elected, what steps would you take in this direction?(100 words)

I see a city that takes climate change seriously and weighs its actions in light of their effect on our planet -- a radically responsible city that puts people and planet over profit – a City Center that instills pride for its energy efficiency, its solar power use, its people-centric design, its environmentally respectful approach, and its affordability, creativity and beauty. I see our open spaces preserved and our majestic views intact. I see our transportation lines with dedicated and safe bike lanes. I see a city united in its effort to be responsible stewards of our part of the world.

6. Closing Statement (100 words)

I decided to run for city council because I was inspired by Bernie, because I wanted to participate more fully in the democratic process, and because I believe that change comes from the bottom up. The bureaucracy is not a stumbling block at the city level, as it is with higher-level governing bodies. So, WE THE PEOPLE, can actually affect positive change at the city level. We can start a chain reaction of smart, responsible decisions that have the good of the people and the planet as their guiding principles.