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Growth in the balance: What’s at stake as Lexington updates its Comprehensive Plan?

Aerial photo of downtown Lexington.
Aerial photo of downtown Lexington. Herald-Leader

Podcast

Lexington is in the process of updating its 5-year Comprehensive Plan, a recurring process required by state law. Tom Martin talked with Jim Duncan, Director of Lexington’s Division of Planning, for the first of a series of interviews with a variety of stakeholders in the outcome of the 2018 plan.

Click here to hear the audio version of the interview: http://bit.ly/2jFUpyf

Q: Why is the Comprehensive Plan important?

A: The comprehensive plan serves as a guide for how the community is going to grow and develop in the future. We try to look 20 years and beyond down the road. And we really encourage participation and encourage input from our citizens.

Q: Five public input meetings have taken place around the city. They happened in February. Community organizations have been participating in input sessions. In March, the Bluegrass Community Foundation’s “On the Table” event generated more than 6,000 individual comments about what people would like to see happen in the city. Your staff has been combing through those comments, identifying leading trends and areas of concern. What issues are emerging as some of the things that people would like to see addressed in the next plan?

A: We got our most diverse set of comments from “On the Table,” a very successful event and we were pleased to get different voices that we haven’t heard before. Some of the things that emerged from that, and from the February public input, include affordable housing; the effects of infill and redevelopment; and the desire for more parks and open space. We’ve also been hearing some new themes that relate to homelessness, crime and drugs, particularly with the heroin epidemic. And there are concerns about education in the community, as well as nontraditional transportation themes such as walkability, public transit and more bike and pedestrian type facilities.

Q: Any burning issues?

A: Some of the top priorities will be housing affordability and affordable housing. We are also hearing a lot of concern about infill and redevelopment and how to ensure that that enhances neighborhoods, not take away from them. Another issue that we have more trouble dealing with is regionalism. We find that many, many counties surrounding us and beyond have daily interactions with us, including working here. And so, the impact of the region is significant and that’s a very difficult one to address, but we still acknowledge that we want to do what we can to address it.

Q: Which of these issues do you regard the stickiest? You mentioned affordability and also infill and redevelopment.

A: When we’re talking about infill, and that’s been our dominant growth policy for the past two comprehensive plans, what does that mean particularly in already established areas? What does that mean for existing residents? And, what kind of changes does infill impart to them that may not be in their best interest? That remains a challenge and one that we will continue to work towards. I think part of that can be helped with design. And I don’t mean just the design of buildings, but the layout of the infrastructure: the roads, the connections that are made, the opportunity for different types of development so that you can ensure that children of all households have the opportunity to go to the best schools in Fayette County. More diversity in how we distribute our housing I think would help towards that. Affordable housing will always need a partnership with the public sector in order to achieve. Housing affordability needs to be thought about, as well, to ensure that we keep working households in Fayette County — that we don’t relegate them to other counties just because of affordability issues. There may be other reasons that people choose to live outside of Fayette County and work here, but we don’t want it to be because they can’t have housing here.

Q: How do we make sure housing remains affordable?

A: Part of that is just ensuring that we have a good supply of housing, but that may not mean the type of housing that we’re used to seeing. We are seeing that more retirees are interested in continuing to own their home, but they don’t necessarily need to own the house that they lived in with four side yards and a roof and all of that to maintain. They’re more interested, perhaps, in moving into something else that they would own and then that helps to free up the housing stock for younger households with children who want a yard and are ready for that. So, I think the solution in part lies in ensuring that as a community we are able to provide the variety of housing types that perhaps we don’t have an abundance of right now.

Q: An implication of infill and redevelopment is increased density. How do you reconcile that prospect against the capacity issues presented to us under the EPA Consent Decree in the face of growth?

A: For one thing, it provides a certainty of outcome. The developer knows that if they don’t have the capacity that’s required that they will not be able to develop their property. So, therefore, they either participate as they can to help with that capacity or they will wait until that capacity is available. Neighborhoods should not fear infill as compromising their water quality or their sanitary sewer capacity because that’s going to be taken care of through the regulatory process and development will be held back until in those particular areas those systems are available to handle it.

Q: Are you hearing any advocacy for expanding the urban services boundary to accommodate more growth and development?

A: This time around the question about expansion has really been more of a discussion question from all sides. Certainly during the public input process we heard strong support for the urban service boundary and particularly the preservation of agricultural and natural lands. That’s extremely important to this community. So, the question of expansion at this stage of our progress and development would be more in increments rather than anything in large scale.

Q: Are there any matters that we’ve not touched on in this interview that you’d like to mention?

A: It’s important to note that this is a community plan and that even though we’ve had public input for the “goals and objectives” phase at this point, there will be ongoing public input opportunities as we develop the plan. It takes us two years even to update our plan as often as we do. So, there will be public hearing opportunities this year for the goals and objectives and then additional public input opportunities in 2018 as the planning commission then turns the goals and objectives into the plan. So, I think that’s important for the community to understand if they felt like they missed out, they really haven’t. The opportunity to participate in the Comprehensive Plan is throughout the two-year process. And we would invite that participation.

Tom Martin's Q&A appears every two weeks in the Herald-Leader's Business Monday section. This is an edited version of the interview. To listen to the interview, find the podcast on Kentucky.com. The interview also will air on WEKU-88.9 FM on Mondays at 7:35 a.m. during Morning Edition and at 5:45 p.m. during All Things Considered.

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