Spokesman: Obstructionist group tried to block development
By Jeff McMenemy
Posted Oct 22, 2017 at 3:01 AM
PORTSMOUTH — Paul Young has seen what can happen when a small group of people oppose a major downtown mixed-use project.
Young, the principal of Novus Public Affairs in Portsmouth, served as the spokesman for developer Chris Thompson as North End Portsmouth received near unanimous support from land-use boards and the City Council after its long review process.
The project was then hung up for nearly two years by a small group of people who filed multiple appeals, then a lawsuit that ultimately went all the way to the state Supreme Court before in late May the high court ruled against the group.
North End Portsmouth, planned to be built on Deer Street between Maplewood Avenue and Russell Street, will include a parking garage with more than 500 spaces, conference center, boutique hotel, condos, the North End Plaza community space and a rooftop garden that will be open to the public. The development included a Whole Foods grocery store, but the chain pulled out, citing delays caused by the residents’ appeals against its approval. A replacement supermarket remains a possibility.
Young praised the city for its public process of reviewing projects, but said that process was misused by the group in this case.
“It’s meant to give the public a voice to express their concerns and improve projects to bring out the facts about why that project is good or not,” Young said. “It is not meant to be used as an obstructionist tool. What we were seeing in Portsmouth is individuals using the public process not in a constructive manner but to stop and block any new development.
“I wasn’t pleased with that… I think the majority of people in town weren’t pleased with that judging from the election results two years ago.”
The 2015 City Council election saw a field of winning candidates who had more favorable positions toward to larger developments but with adjustments to zoning such as the character-based zoning that was subsequently implemented.
When projects get delayed or put on hold, Young said the costs of those projects go up and that results in higher housing or project costs.
“It takes a long time to get anything developed here,” he said. “Costs do not go down when that happens, they go up.”
Young, who has worked with companies around the country on projects and now lives in Portsmouth, said “we’re finding out that getting affordable housing here is going to be a real challenge. Portsmouth has very limited land area that can be developed and very high property values. The only way to get more affordable housing is to increase height and density, and I’m not talking about a story or two.
“You’re going to have to allow high-rise apartment buildings and condos to get the affordability people are looking for.”
Another option, he said, is to allow for clusters of inexpensive housing, like so-called “tiny houses.”
“I’m talking about 200- to 400-square-feet tiny houses,” he said. “I think there’s some possibility there. I believe some other urban areas are already doing it. It could help bring in younger demographics, which the city needs.”
Young began his career working for Wheelabrator Technologies in Hampton, where he literally “went around the country working to build support for waste to energy facilitates and also wastewater treatment facilities.”
He eventually opened a public affairs company with a former partner before starting his own companies.
He’s also worked for a series of Republican presidential candidates, including Jack Kemp and Lindsey Graham.
“The political world is very fast paced with high stakes,” Young said. “My experience in politics has really helped me work in the business world.”
Young said he enjoyed working with Graham, the senator from South Carolina.
“I really liked the guy because he came from very humble beginnings,” Young said. “He remembers his past. I think he’s very well grounded that way. He doesn’t take himself too seriously like a lot of politicians do. “If you think he’s funny during his speeches, you should hear him in the car.”
Young started working on presidential campaigns in 1987, and added he’s seen “some wild things.”
At one point he worked with legendary GOP political consultant Roger Stone, who is the focus of a recent Netflix documentary.
“I can’t tell you any stories about him,” he joked.
Going forward, Young said he hopes to “continue working with companies from Walmart to small developers.”
“We have a lot of national clients, but I really like working with a wide variety of clients and am looking to pick up more clients on the Seacoast,” he said. “Working with a small firm is more fun because there’s more at stake for small business owners.”