Lexington city planners recommended Thursday the city keep its current growth boundary, encourage more density and housing options along key corridors and loosen some zoning restrictions to make infill development easier.
The recommendations were announced at an Urban County Planning Commission work session Thursday as part of the goals and objectives for the 2018 Comprehensive Plan, which guides development for the Lexington-Fayette merged government over the next five years.
The last boundary expansion was in 1996, when 5,400 acres were opened for development.
Many planning commissioners with connections to the building and real estate industries said during Thursday’s meeting they weren’t happy with staff’s conclusion that the urban service boundary should remain where it is, arguing there was a shortage of housing. The planning commission will vote on the goals and objectives of the comprehensive plan — including whether to expand the urban service area — as early as Aug. 31, the date of a public hearing. The commission will meet several times before Aug. 31 to either tinker with or make changes to the staff’s recommendations.
The planning commission’s recommendations will then be sent to the Urban County Council for a vote — likely sometime in the fall.
Chris Woodall, director of long-range planning, told the commission during the work session that the staff recommended not moving the growth boundary after extensive public hearings, a review of a recent housing market study and its own analysis of available land for development.
“There are 5,616 total vacant acres — roughly 10 percent of the urban service area,” Woodall said. “And 35 percent is in tracts 100 acres or larger.”
“We need to continue to focus on our infill,” Woodall said. “We need to try to activate these large parcels that make up about 35 percent of our total inventory.”
Other recommendations included focusing on key corridors and making them more dense. One way to do that is by decreasing parking requirements. For example, strip-mall like developments that currently have lots of parking could be further developed by taking some of the parking spots.
“By highlighting our corridors for redevelopment, we concentrate growth in currently developed, but underutilized areas with traffic and infrastructure to support it and increase the viability of public transit,” Woodall said.
Prioritizing higher density and mixtures of housing types was another key recommendation or goal.
Mike Cravens, a home builder and planning commission member, said he didn’t want to see Lexington become a city of apartments and multi-family dwellings. People want single-family homes, he said.
“I don’t think you listened to us. This is typical planner stuff,” Cravens said of the recommendations. “More than half the people that work in Fayette County don’t live here, didn’t that tell you guys anything?”
Cravens was referring to a recent housing study that found approximately 51 percent of the people who work in Fayette County don’t live here.
Jim Duncan, the director of planning, said lack of housing stock may not be the reason workers aren’t living in Fayette County. Many are driving from places as far away as Garrard and Franklin counties. “They may be choosing to live there for different reasons,” Duncan said.
Karen Mundy, a real estate agent and planning commission member, said there are not enough homes on the market to meet the current demand for housing.
“We have people who have been recruited to come here and they don’t because they can’t find a place to live,” Mundy said.
Frank Penn, another planning commission member, said there is still land available for development. That land could have been developed for housing, if builders thought there was demand for it.
Long-term planning is not about creating profits for the building or real estate industries, Penn said. It’s about creating a vibrant and unique place to live, he said. “We can be progressive and unique,” he said. “Or we can be like any city of 300,000.”
Infill development downtown has created a much more vibrant and dynamic city, he said. Penn said he had been downtown three nights so far this week. That wouldn’t have happened a decade ago. It never would have happened if the urban service boundary had been expanded in 2013, he said.
“We went from 12,000 people downtown to 28,000,” Penn said.
The planning commission will continue to make changes to the goals and objectives over the next two months. A date for a vote on the comprehensive plan was not set at Thursday’s meeting. A public hearing where citizens can give feedback will be scheduled for Aug. 31. The commission could take a vote as early as that meeting.