A divided city council narrowly voted Tuesday to keep Lexington’s growth boundary in its current location — for now.
The 8-7 vote by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council to maintain the existing growth boundary came after an afternoon of intense debate and a last-minute vote change.
The vote means the goals and objectives for the 2018 Comprehensive Plan, which will guide growth in Lexington over the next five years, will get its first reading at a council meeting Thursday. A final vote is likely at the council’s Nov. 16 meeting, but there could be amendments before the final vote.
On Tuesday, one amendment that would have allowed the council to adjust the boundary of Lexington’s Urban Services Area before the next five-year comprehensive plan is adopted briefly won approval.
Councilman Joe Smith voted “yes” to the amendment during an early afternoon council meeting, but Smith later said he meant to vote “no.” During a council work session later Tuesday, that amendment was defeated after Smith changed his vote.
Councilman Kevin Stinnett proposed the controversial amendment, which would maintain the current boundary with the “exception of adjustments to the Urban Services Area.” Stinnett argued the amendment would give the city flexibility to expand the growth area in limited circumstances.
The proposed comprehensive plan already calls for a study to determine triggers and guidelines for bringing land into the growth boundary, but that study will likely take a year or longer, city planners said. The city needs flexibility now, said those who supported the amendment.
“It allows the planning commission to be flexible,” said Councilman Fred Brown. “We are not being specific about any land or any developer.”
Others argued the amendment was too vague and would essentially eliminate the growth boundary.
“This is an amendment that would do away with the urban service boundary,” said Vice Mayor Steve Kay. “This is not flexibility. This is doing away with the boundary.”
Other council members noted that the Urban County Planning Commission and the city’s planning staff had recommended not expanding the boundary. The council has been debating the comprehensive plan for several weeks.
Councilwoman Kathy Plomin said more than 11,000 people had participated in round-table discussions about the comprehensive plan and the vast majority of those people did not want expansion.
“I have a problem with not listening to our community,” Plomin said. “We told them their voice matters. … And they told us they did not want expansion.”
Plomin said only a very vocal minority supports expansion.
The five-year plan has always been contentious. The last time the growth boundary was expanded was in 1996, when 5,400 acres were opened for development. There are still large tracts of that land that have not been developed, but many of those land owners are in no rush to sell or lease it.
Much of the debate over the past year has focused on whether Lexington has enough land to attract new businesses and jobs. The Bluegrass Business Park off Georgetown Road is full and the city has no publicly controlled land available to entice new businesses.
Business leaders said that deal should address the county’s need for economic development land for the near future. It’s roughly twice the acreage of the Bluegrass Business Park, which took about 15 years to fill.
But some council members said they were still worried the deal could fall through. UK must get sign-offs from the state to deed the property to the city and the timing of when the city would take control of the land is unclear, they argued. The city may need land for job growth now, they said.
Those who eventually voted to defeat the amendment and keep the current growth boundary were Kay, Plomin, Smith, Jake Gibbs, Jennifer Mossotti, Susan Lamb, Angela Evans and Peggy Henson. Those who voted in favor of the amendment were Stinnett, Fred Brown, Richard Moloney, Jennifer Scutchfield, Amanda Bledsoe, Bill Farmer Jr., and James Brown.