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Questions for the candidates: City Council at-large, Byron Champlin

Published: 10/24/2019 4:04:43 PM

Two seats, 3 candidates

Byron Champlin

How long have you lived in Concord? About 40 years. I arrived here in 1981 to work as public information officer for the N.H. House of Representatives and never left.

Profession: I retired in May 2018 after 27 years working for Lincoln Financial Group and its predecessor companies in Concord. Over the years my role changed from public affairs to marketing communications and finally to corporate philanthropy and communications for the Lincoln Financial Foundation.

Other experience: Professionally, I spent seven years working for the Legislature and three as director of public relations for Colby-Sawyer College before joining Lincoln Financial. As a community volunteer, I’ve chaired the boards of the Capitol Center for the Arts, the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce and the city’s 2007 Task Force on the Creative Economy. That last project spawned the Chamber’s Creative Concord Committee, which I chaired at inception and now co-chair. I currently serve on the city Planning Board, Fiscal Policy Advisory Committee, Community Development Advisory Committee and Parking Committee. Also on the boards of the CCA, CATCH Neighborhood Housing and the N.H. Preservation Alliance.

What two issues are most important to you, and what would you do to address them?

The greatest challenge we face is keeping the municipal tax rate low while providing police and fire services, maintaining city infrastructure like roads, water and sewers, and encouraging wise growth. To my mind, the best way to do this is to expand the commercial tax base to keep the pressure off the individual homeowner. The most immediate opportunities to do this are downtown in the area around the abandoned state highway garages and off Exit 17 in Penacook Village on Whitney Road. The former opportunity is why it’s critical that the city has a say in the state’s I-93 expansion plans in order to ensure that we meet our long-term goal of access to the Merrimack River from downtown and maximize developable land between Centre Street and Horseshoe Pond. Current plans to extend Storrs Street to Commercial Street is another part of this puzzle that will meet our Concord 2020 goal of making Storrs another Main Street, hosting commercial, retail and downtown housing. The Greenway and Rail Trail projects will make the city more appealing and generate rail trail tourism dollars for downtown Concord and Penacook Village.

The other challenge we face is insufficient housing to draw and retain the workforce we need to attract and grow businesses, and thus our tax base. Concord’s residential vacancy rate hovers around one percent; a healthy vacancy rate is five-to-seven percent. This contributes to our homeless population and discourages business and light industry who wonder where the potential workers are to justify their presence in our city. I believe that addressing this challenge requires a multi-pronged approach. First, development projects that the city controls, such as the former Employment Security Building property, should include upper story housing, preferably mixed income, as part of the plan. Second, the city should work with agencies like CATCH Neighborhood Housing, Concord Housing and Redevelopment, and the N.H. Housing Finance Authority to ensure existing affordable housing is retained and new projects for workforce housing are in the pipeline. Finally, as a member of the Planning Board, I think we also should consider tools such as detached accessory dwelling units, subdividing existing residential lots for small houses and providing density bonuses for mixed income projects. At the same time, we need to ensure that the parts of our city’s historic building landscape that give Concord its unique character are preserved.

What voice/skills would you add to city government?

In my almost four decades living in Concord and New Hampshire I’ve developed a longstanding network of relationships with businesses, nonprofits and government agencies, which I’ve leveraged to be a more effective city councilor. I’ve advocated for a comprehensive city economic development strategy, as well as policies that will attract and retain young people – the entrepreneurs, business owners and workers of the future. Above all, I try to listen to all the voices I can before making a policy decision. Every decision has the potential to make some people unhappy, but everyone should feel that they’ve been heard.

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