When the Urban Service Area was last expanded in 1996, more than 500 acres were added and set aside for economic development.
Twenty years later, about 350 acres off of Newtown Pike near Interstate 64 and Interstate 75 and a little more than 200 acres off of Polo Club Boulevard near the Hamburg shopping center have not been developed.
Under a proposed text amendment to the economic development zone pending before the Lexington Urban County Council, more types of businesses would be allowed in the economic development zone.
The current permitted uses in the zone include hospitals, offices, manufacturing and laboratories. Under the changes, additional types of businesses would include breweries, wineries and distilleries, nursing homes, agricultural research, and a combination of warehouse and office space. It would also allow for some supportive uses such as restaurants, hotels and motels, libraries and museums, banks and nursery schools. Only 20 percent of the entire development could be a supportive use. Residential developments — restricted to apartments and townhouses — could be only 15 percent of the 20 percent.
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Other changes included increasing maximum building height from 90 to 120 feet.
“This proposal does not include single-family detached houses or big-box retail or something more than 80,000 square feet,” said Jim Duncan, the city’s planning director.
The proposed changes were presented to the council during a special meeting Thursday. The council discussed the changes for more than 90 minutes but did not vote on them.
Councilwoman Kathy Plomin tried unsuccessfully to send the zoning text amendment to a committee for further review. That motion was ultimately defeated. It is likely a public hearing on the proposed changes will be set soon.
A 16-member work group began examining changes to the economic development zoning ordinance in 2014. The Urban County Planning Commission tweaked the work group’s proposal and then sent the changes to the council in late September.
Three landowners own the land.
Dennis Anderson owns 350 acres near Newtown Pike. Anderson has developed some of it. About 120 acres of the Polo Club Boulevard parcel is owned by Baptist Health, which has said it eventually wants to put a hospital there. The remaining acres near Polo Club are owned by Buddy Cowgill. All three landowners served on the work group.
Duncan said that land costs more in Fayette County than in surrounding counties, which is one reason the land has not been developed.
“Surrounding counties sell their land at 10 percent of Fayette County land,” Duncan said.
Still, Duncan said tweaks to the current economic development zone could help spur development. People want to live near where they work, and businesses want to have hotels and restaurants nearby. Suburban office parks that have only offices have fallen out of favor, Duncan said. Some of Lexington’s most successful developments are a mix of restaurant, retail, office and some living space.
Some on council questioned whether those supportive uses would be appropriate in that zone. Others questioned whether the recommended amount of land for supplemental uses — restaurants, hotels, apartments and townhomes — was too high. The purpose of the economic development zone is to create high-paying jobs, they said.
“If the purpose of the zone was to create more jobs, how does the 20 percent supportive uses meet that intent?” said Councilwoman Susan Lamb. “I’m not sure if creating all of these supportive uses is going to be the answer.”
Councilman Fred Brown said he was on the council in 1996 when the land was added to Lexington’s urban service area, the city’s boundary line for development. Brown said he was surprised the land had never been developed and said he felt the proposed changes were worth considering.
“This plan looks like a pretty good compromise,” Brown said.