For 25 years, Bluegrass Tomorrow guided region on growth

July 7, 2014 

  • At issue: June 26 Herald-Leader editorial, "Without farmland, no Breeders' Cup; Visionaries worked to preserve soil, culture"

The June 26 editorial definitely hit the target. Congratulations to Keeneland for being selected for the 2015 Breeders' Cup, and to its president, Bill Thomason, who was also a board member of Bluegrass Tomorrow.

I would like to help clarify who the editorial said were visionaries who worked to preserve the soil and culture and realized that the Bluegrass region and our precious soils are a world monument to be protected and promoted.

Bluegrass Tomorrow, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, was created in 1989 by a unique group of visionary leaders. When Toyota was being built in Scott County, they knew there needed to be a balance of land use and development, and a need to focus on other quality-of-life issues that make our region special.

Some of those visionaries included original trustees of the organization: Alex Warren of Toyota, Robert Clay of Three Chimneys Farm, Josephine Abercrombie of Pin Oak Stud and Lewis Owens of the Herald-Leader.

The original board reads like a who's who in the Bluegrass in the '80s and '90s. Besides those mentioned above, people such as Helen Alexander, Farra Alford, John Barr, John Gaines, Joe Graves, Will Rouse, Mary Ellen Reed, Terry McBrayer, W.T. Young and Will Farrish served.

This group worked to preserve the natural and cultural heritage of the region and to enhance the quality of life through orderly development of future growth. Promoting and advocating for comprehensive planning in all of our counties was a big emphasis in the early years.

Perhaps no other organization has done more to significantly impact quality of life and how the region looks today. If it were not for Bluegrass Tomorrow, the Purchase of Development Rights program and the Bluegrass Conservancy would not exist.

Bluegrass Tomorrow formed the Bluegrass Conservancy in 1995 and was integral in developing the PDR coalition that brought original ordinances to the Lexington council in January 2000, including the change from 10- to 40-acre lot sizes. Longtime board member Don Robinson of Winter Quarter Farm brought that motion to the council.

The second decade of the organization was the Smart Growth Decade.

Some of the other leaders who served in that period include: Gov. Steve Beshear, Brad Cowgill, Mayor Jim Gray, Ben Fister, Bob Hewett, Louis Prichard, Darby Turner, Luther Deaton, Tim Kelly, Joe Graviss and Nelson Maynard.

Smart growth and infill became popular buzz words then because of literally thousands of presentations, symposiums, work sessions, political debates, op-eds and news stories created by Bluegrass Tomorrow in those years promoting these concepts.

Consider that, just perhaps, all of the infill changes and improvements made in downtown Lexington and other surrounding cities, would never have happened without this effort.

Just two years ago, Bluegrass Tomorrow organized the Bluegrass Higher Education Consortium to advance the region academically and economically, led by our 12 university presidents.

It's hosted two presidents/superintendents summits, focusing on college and career readiness, and a new Bluegrass Academic Leadership Academy graduated 42 faculty members from the inaugural class in May.

We are, in fact, still sustaining the Bluegrass with our conservation, preservation and sustainability initiatives, with the protection of precious Bluegrass soils and our equine, agricultural industry as its centerpiece.

This includes our Bluegrass Greenvision sustainability planning in communities and the Bluegrass Bike Hike Horseback Trails Alliance working to extend the Legacy Trail north into Scott County.

We are also a partner with Kentucky Riverkeepers on the Kentucky River Water Trails Alliance, creating blueway trails on the river and other Central Kentucky waterways. Our first River Blast festival will take place at Fort Boonesborough State Park on August 16.

What's next? In my opinion, the next major initiative on the horizon needs to be to re-engage in an 18-county discussion on regional planning. When we first brought this up in 2007 there was much pushback and criticism. Are we ready now?

We invite the public to celebrate the achievements of Bluegrass Tomorrow and our 25th anniversary, fittingly enough after a day of racing at Keeneland on Oct. 9, with a dinner at Normandy Farm, hosted by board member Nancy Polk. Certainly, many of the visionaries mentioned here will be present to celebrate with us.

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