Planning for a community’s growth is a little bit like prepping a room to be painted.
If you don’t carefully do the tedious, often unrewarding, work of sanding and patching and sanding again before applying the first brush stroke of paint, the new coat will only highlight the scars you left behind.
Lexington/Fayette County planners have been doing the hard prep required to move toward a community that works better for more people.
Last week they presented the results to the Lexington/Fayette County Planning Commission and the big takeaway is that this county’s future growth can, and should, happen without expanding into the farmland that surrounds our urban core.
To get to that recommendation, planners collected input from over 10,000 citizens; analyzed future demands for housing; engaged with groups that recruit businesses, build homes and advocate for neighborhoods; studied approaches used in other communities and looked closely at how we’re using land now.
Fayette County led the country decades ago when it developed an urban services boundary to protect farmland by containing urban growth within a defined area. The pattern for that growth is set by a comprehensive plan — developed by planning staff and then tweaked and approved by the planning commission — that is updated every five years. A perennial debate is whether to push out that boundary by opening more farmland to development.
While the green, bulldozable fields of our farmland beckon to some developers, there’s plenty of space inside the urban services boundary.
The city’s planning staff calculates that 5,616 acres, about 10 percent of the total land within the boundary, are vacant. An analysis performed for the Fayette Alliance found over 17,000 acres either un- or underdeveloped within the urban services boundary. Think of the vast, empty parking lots you drive by daily, the stand-alone, one-story commercial buildings lining some of our major corridors.
It’s true, as the real estate professionals on the planning commission have been quick to say, that building in already-developed neighborhoods can be more costly for them. But it is a bargain for the community because we already provide fire and police protection, roads, sewers and storm water control in those areas.
The staff has offered several strategies — amend zones and parking requirements to allow more flexibility and more density, develop design guidelines to protect existing neighbors, streamline the development approval process, partner with Lextran to improve public transit options — to make redeveloping these untapped acres more feasible and productive.
The commission must move beyond the expand/don’t expand question to debate and refine these strategies to encourage the best possible infill development.
Televise the meetings
All the planning commission meetings on the comprehensive plan update, while public, have been held on weekdays in a conference room that’s not set up for televising the meetings through the city’s channel GTV3. The staff and commission chose this approach to allow for better give-and-take.
While we appreciate the intent, one result is that almost no one in the public can follow these important discussions, even though thousands shared their thoughts during the public input process.
It’s unfortunate that the only space set up to accommodate GTV3 is the august council chambers but it would be a blow for transparency and citizen engagement to move the remaining meetings into that space, or resolve the technical issues that prevent televising from a meeting room.