For months we’ve heard that Lexington-Fayette County’s longstanding urban services boundary must be breached to make way for economic opportunities.
The 17,000 acres within the boundary that are either vacant or underutilized weren’t enough. No, the need was for “shovel-ready” large tracts close to the interstates. Without them, we were told, job creators were passing us by.
Monday, one day before the Urban County Council took its first vote on the Planning Commission’s recommendation to hold the line on expansion for the next five years, the University of Kentucky and the city announced they’re in negotiations on a promising proposal that, if approved by the state, would provide abundant shovel-ready land for development within the Urban Services Boundary.
UK has tentatively agreed to give the city 200 acres between Interstates 75 and 64 and Georgetown Road in exchange for control of about 13 acres of city streets and alleys in and around campus; UK also said it would sell 50 acres in its Coldstream Research Park to potential companies. The total would be more than double the size of Bluegrass Business Park, operated by Commerce Lexington that, after 15 years, has become full.
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End of discussion? Unfortunately not. Proponents of expansion fumbled for reasons to continue, fretting the deal might not go through.
In the end, the council voted 8 to 7 to stick with the recommendations of the Planning Commission and the city’s professional planning staff.
But, this serious game isn’t yet over. Tuesday a council committee (albeit made up of the entire council) was voting to put the proposal on the agenda for a first reading and vote at tonight’s council meeting. Legislation requires two readings and votes for passage so the council will likely consider it again next week. Amendments are still not only possible but likely.
What’s clear now is that amendments proposed under the guise of promoting economic development are about the economic development of the land owner, not of the community.
Council members truly concerned about the economic welfare of the entire community should work hard to make sure the proposed swap between the city and UK moves forward. And they should demand Lexington settle for only the best employers. No politician can go wrong crying “jobs, jobs” but Fayette County, with 3.2 percent unemployment, needs quality, career ladder opportunities not employers who bring low-skilled jobs at wages that keep families in poverty.
Another common rationale for expansion is creating affordable housing, but an expansion could thwart rather than promote that goal.
Extending urban infrastructure into new areas is very expensive and would drain money desperately needed to modernize crumbling services in older, long-neglected urban areas. Without those upgrades, it will be impossible to develop employment and housing opportunities close to struggling families with limited transportation budgets and older citizens no longer able to drive.
Lexington-Fayette County has achieved remarkable prosperity and quality of life in large part through smart, consistent land-use planning.
Within our prosperity too many people live in poverty and are priced out of the housing market.
But those problems can only be solved by thoughtful, persistent community commitment — not by expanding the boundary and bulldozing farmland.