As Lexington considers its next five-year Comprehensive Plan, due for an update in 2018, a big question encompasses land use and how to balance urban growth against the preservation of the rural landscape hugging the city’s Urban Services Boundary. For one perspective, Tom Martin talked with Todd Johnson, executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Central Kentucky. This is one in a series of Q&As with those involved in the comprehensive plan from various points of view.
Q: With the updating of our comprehensive plan underway, what are the key issues for builder members of your organization?
A: Our association is concerned about the ability to meet the needs of a growing community and the prosperity for our citizens. And that puts jobs at the top of our list of concerns in our opportunity for economic growth. We’ve been involved with the housing market demand study. We’ve been watching population growth here in Central Kentucky and in Fayette County for the past several years. We know our population is growing. And we’re going to have an increased demand for housing as we move forward.
Q: Some people, citing traffic, have said that our population is exploding. Do you believe that to be true, or is it an exaggeration?
A: It might be a little bit of an exaggeration. If you look at history, I think we’ve been growing pretty consistently for about the last 10 years according to the Kentucky population data center and our local planning commission. They check those numbers and seem to agree with it. So, “exploding,” I don’t think so. We’ve been pretty steadily growing. We did notice in the housing market demand study that we’re at the point where there are actually more people coming to work into Fayette County from other areas than there are people who are getting up in their bed in Fayette County and going to work in Fayette County today.
Q: The current plan, put together in 2013, spells out how to establish strategies for infill and redevelopment. What are your organization’s views on infill and redevelopment?
A: We see infill and redevelopment as a very important part of the overall picture for providing jobs and housing in our community. Since I’ve been here since 2002, our members have been actively involved in the conversations around infill and redevelopment. So, we are interested in it. We have members who are doing it today. We’re very supportive of it. Infill and redevelopment is very challenging. It’s very expensive to do. In topical conversation, it seems like a great concept until something’s going to happen near your neighborhood and then usually people tend to have a different view of it.
Q: On Thursday, the city’s Planning Commission is scheduled to take a final vote on whether to recommend that the Urban Services Boundary be expanded. Opponents of expanding the Boundary argue that the city has more than 17,000 acres of vacant, undeveloped and underutilized land inside the Boundary. Developers, real estate companies and the builders you represent are arguing that Lexington does not have enough land available to accommodate growing businesses or attract new ones and needs to expand its growth boundary What is standing in the way of developing acreage within the boundary before expanding outward?
A: When you look at vacant land and then you look at how much of that land is actually available, vacant and available are not one and the same. When we have looked at the vacant land map we find hundreds of acres of that land is the UK Ag Farm. We find hundreds of it has already gone under development since the 2016 Planning Commission study was completed. When you get down to it there really is less than about 1,800 acres available in the market to satisfy our housing needs. Given consumer preferences and the way that we are meeting market demand for housing, that’s not enough land to last four years under current market conditions.
Q: If the city were to expand the boundary, where specifically should that happen and why?
A: I don’t know specifically where expansion should occur. I think it should make sense for access to the interstates and travel corridors to accommodate traffic for jobs. One of the things we hear from CommerceLexington all the time is the need for “shovel-ready land.” Companies that are looking to bring businesses here can’t find land adequate to meet their needs. Wherever the jobs go you need housing fairly close by to make sure you have a short commute time and you utilize that land to the greatest extent possible.
Q: Is affordability, both residential and commercial, an issue for builders?
A: Housing affordability across the board is something that is top of mind with us always. It’s at the forefront of just about any issue we get involved in because regulation, supply, and demand all affect affordability overall. And at the end of it, no matter what price point of house you’re buying or what rent you’re able to pay, the consumer pays for all that on their end. So yes, affordability across the board is a big concern for us.
Q: Lexington is a car culture. And as we mentioned earlier, we’ve seen quite an increase in traffic in recent years. Are your members concerned about transportation issues and is there any support for improved or expanded public transit?
A: I would say that we do concern ourselves with traffic issues and transportation concerns. I think most of the time the developers and the builders get blamed for a lot of the traffic problems that occur when we really have little responsibility or authority to how the main arterials work and we build the roads as we’re told to build them. We make the connections where we’re told to make them. Yes, we are concerned about transportation. I mean, we all live here. We all have to deal with it. And yeah, we are supportive of public transportation.
Q: If, after all is said and done, only one thing could be achieved in updating the comprehensive plan, what would you and your organization want that one thing to be?
A: We know what our community needs are. There are facts and data points out there that tell us what is ahead of us. I would hope that we would be more proactive than we have been in the past in making the necessary steps to ensure that we have every resource available to us to promote our community — to have what we need for economic prosperity, for job growth, and to meet our housing need for those who are moving here.
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.