Fayette County

Don’t expand Lexington’s urban area, city planners say. You can weigh in Thursday.

Downtown Lexington.
Downtown Lexington. File photo.

Fayette County’s planning commission has recommended keeping Lexington’s current growth boundary, encouraging development in underutilized areas of the city instead of on virgin farmland in Kentucky’s second most-populated county.

The Urban County Planning Commission’s draft recommendations for the 2018 Comprehensive Plan will be discussed at a public meeting at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the Lexington Government Center. The commission has been working for several months on the goals and objectives that will guide development for the next five years in Fayette County.

The most controversial draft recommendation would change the way Lexington plans for future expansion after 2022, when the 2018 comprehensive plan expires. That recommendation includes a study to identify rural areas the county wants to protect over the long-term from future development.

Land not identified for the rural land preserve could be considered for development, but only after certain thresholds or triggers are met. Those thresholds and triggers would be defined by the study.

An example of a possible trigger: evidence that development inside the Urban Service Area has become more dense. In other words, “how are we doing with the land that we have?” said Chris Woodall, director of long-term planning for the merged government.

That study could begin in 2019 if the recommendation is approved.

Lexington’s Urban Service Boundary was last expanded in 1996, when 5,400 acres were opened for development. There are still large tracts of that land that have not been developed, but many of those land owners are in no rush to sell or lease it.

Under the new proposal for determining land expansion after 2022, developers would be required to have financing in place before getting approval to develop land. That would discourage developers and speculators from holding land indefinitely. It would also create competition between developers to create the best development, those that back the proposal say.

Susan Speckert, executive director of the Fayette Alliance, said details of how future expansion would take place and the study are still not known. But the “recommendation raises many questions,” she said. The Fayette Alliance supports the preservation of farmland.

Speckert said the group supports keeping the current Urban Service boundary.

“With 17,000-plus acres of vacant, undeveloped and underutilized land inside the boundary, we have plenty of room to accommodate our future growth,” Speckert said.

A building trade group and some in the business community have pushed for an expansion of the growth boundary in 2018. Both groups have said there is too little available land in Fayette County for additional housing and new businesses.

Todd Johnson, executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Central Kentucky, said businesses already can’t find land to locate in Lexington. Waiting another five years to expand the Urban Service Area could hurt Fayette County’s economy, he said.

“We are seeing jobs that want to locate in this community that are going to other communities right now,” Johnson said. “We have a growing population that is going to continue to grow into the future. We should be more pro-active about meeting the market demand for housing and job growth with this current comprehensive plan.”

Bob Quick, president of Commerce Lexington Inc., said the chamber of commerce needs more land for a public or private business park to recruit more businesses to Fayette County.

“We are urging for flexibility in the Comprehensive Plan to allow for the park in whatever location is deemed the most appropriate for our community, while protecting our signature equine industry,” Quick said.

After hearing public comment on Thursday, the commission could take a final vote at the meeting or decide to vote on final recommendations at a later date, Woodall said.

The planning commission’s recommendations will be sent to the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council, which will have final say on the 2018 Comprehensive Plan. City officials have previously said the goal is to have the council vote on the goals and objectives before January.

In addition to keeping the city’s Urban Service Area unchanged, other goals in the Comprehensive Plan include encouraging a wide range of housing choices with an emphasis on affordable housing, protecting the environment, enhancing mass transit along major commercial corridors and encouraging development of underutilized property in those commercial corridors.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall

If you go:

What: Public meeting on draft recommendations for the 2018 Comprehensive Plan

When: 1:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: Lexington Government Center, 200 E. Main St., Council chambers on second floor

To learn more: The draft goals and objectives are available at www.lexingtonky.gov/node/2088