Lexington will push growth and development into its existing urban area for the foreseeable future and avoid expanding the Urban Service Area into the surrounding greenbelt, Mayor Jim Gray said Tuesday.
Flanked by representatives from a broad array of community groups — ranging from home builders to land preservationists and 10 Urban County Council members — Gray said Lexington must grow within the existing Urban Service boundary.
By agreeing to keep the existing boundary, the community recognizes that "building our brand and our economy means that first we preserve what is special and unique about Lexington — our Bluegrass landscape," Gray said.
Lexington's economy can grow "by continuing to build our urban core, our downtown and by restoring neighborhoods and commercial areas weakened through the recession," Gray said.
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Every five years, the city updates its comprehensive land-use plan, which designates about one third of Fayette County's 285 square miles for various types of residential and commercial development and reserves the balance for rural uses.
The minimum lot size for new housing outside the Urban Service Area is 40 acres and most commercial development is not permitted.
Work on the latest update officially got under way on Tuesday and will take approximately two years to complete, said Carolyn Richardson, chairwoman of the Planning Commission.
The rate of vacant Lexington land used for development has slowed significantly in recent years due to the sluggish economy. The city's planning staff has identified 6,700 acres of vacant land throughout the Urban Service Area available for development, which is projected to take a decade to develop.
Of that, 4,500 acres are designated for residential growth, said Jim Duncan, the city's director of long-range planning. An additional 2,500 acres are underutilized and could also be considered for development, he said.
The last major expansion of the Urban Service Area was 1996, when 5,400 acres were added.
Five years ago, there were 8,900 acres of vacant land inside the Urban Service Area, but 800 of those acres have since been deemed not suitable for development because of environmental and other issues, said Chris King, the city's director of planning.
There is no pressing need to expand the boundary again, Gray said.
Having a broad coalition of interests agree that expansion isn't necessary is "a big step forward," Gray said, noting that the city's development and preservation factions have historically found little common ground on the issue.
"In the past, we have not seen this level of consensus," Gray said.
Removing discussion of expanding the city's urban area from the agenda will allow the planning commission and the community to focus on other priorities that will make Lexington more livable, said Bill Farmer, chairman of the council's planning committee.
"This has the makings of the strangest family reunion I've ever been to," Farmer quipped at one point as he looked around at representatives from Commerce Lexington, the Lexington Home Builders Association and the Rural Land Management Board.
The decision to focus growth within the city's urban core will make Lexington "more dynamic" while also preserving "an incredible rural landscape" that is "the factory floor of a very important economic industry — agriculture," said Knox van Nagell, president of the Fayette Alliance, an advocacy organization that promotes and lobbies for sustainable land-use policies.