There will be a temptation to use a housing study released this week to justify bulldozing farmland in Fayette County for new subdivisions.
The Planning Commission and the Urban County Council must resist that temptation.
Instead, as they work on the comprehensive plan that will guide our growth for the next five years and beyond, they must take on the complex challenges of making better use of thousands of acres within the city already that are vacant or underused. And, given that half our workforce lives in neighboring counties, they must also reach out to encourage better regional planning and cooperation.
The Fayette County Housing Demand Study, commissioned by the city, the Fayette County Property Valuation Administrator and several private groups, estimated that the county will need almost 23,000 new housing units — single family houses (about a quarter of the whole), as well as townhouses, condos and apartments — by 2025.
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This means making the absolute best use of the land that’s already in the Urban Services Boundary — the part of our county targeted for development — which includes over 5,000 acres that are vacant in addition to thousands more that are underdeveloped or primed for redevelopment.
The commission and council must work hard to sort out the financial and regulatory hurdles to developing and redeveloping in areas adjoining existing neighborhoods and commercial zones while protecting the quality of life of current residents. As part of the package they must assure that affordable housing for moderate to low wage workers and older people living on fixed incomes are included in the mix.
It also means that Lexington/Fayette County must acknowledge the obvious — that many of our suburbs are in neighboring counties, including Scott, Jessamine and Madison, where population growth outpaced that in Fayette between 2000 and 2015.
The study confirms that more and more people work in Fayette but live in other counties. In 2014, just under half of all Fayette jobs were filled by people who live in the county compared to just over 60 percent in 2002.
This is not necessarily a bad thing for our county, which relies primarily on payroll, not property, taxes for revenue. While Fayette County bears the costs of making this a desirable place for their employers and provides civic services for those workers while they’re here, we don’t bear the cost of paving the roads in their neighborhoods or providing them with police or fire protection.
But, the reality of our interconnected regional economy demands better planning for the entire region, particularly for getting around within it.
Currently, the Lexington Area Metropolitan Planning Organization coordinates transportation planning for Fayette and Jessamine counties. But the growing interdependence of our regional economy demands that effort expand to include the entire region, and planning for effective public transit to connect communities.
Relying on private automobiles to make every trip for work, school, professional services, shopping or entertainment will ultimately constrain the economy and compromise the environment.