Mayoral candidates Ronnie Bastin and Linda Gorton appeared Wednesday night for the first of more than a dozen scheduled forums before the Nov. 6 election. They generally agreed on every issue, including one of the historically hottest issues in town.
Gorton, a 16-year council veteran and former vice mayor, has always been reluctant to open more of Fayette County’s rural land for development. Her record on that issue helped earn her early support from several major farmers.
Bastin has no record on growth and development issues, because they were never part of his jobs as public safety commissioner, police chief or Lexington police officer. But when asked by forum moderator Eric Patrick Marr of the non-profit group LeXenomics where he stood on expanding the Urban Services Boundary, Bastin could not have been more clear.
“I’m not in favor of expanding the boundary, either,” Bastin said after Gorton explained her view that expansion wasn’t needed anytime soon because “we still have a lot of acreage left inside to develop.”
“We’ve been blessed with a very unique piece of land that we’re all proud of,” Bastin said. “People come from all over the world to see what we have and who we are with the agricultural land we have. We have to protect that. Once you lay asphalt and concrete, you don’t get it back. We have to protect it. It is so big to the economy here.”
Bastin went on to say that his belief in “responsible growth” included putting infrastructure in place before allowing either expansion or infill development.
“Think about it,” he said. “What did we do in Masterson Station and the development out there? We created gridlock with growth, and how many years did it take for us to get the road fixed to unlock that?”
The Planning Commission and Urban County Council decided against expansion of the boundary last year as part of the regular five-yea update of Fayette County’s comprehensive land-use plan.
But this time, there was a twist. Rather than having an every-five-year fight between developers and preservationists based mostly on perceptions and emotions, the council decided to create specific, measurable criteria that could trigger future expansion.
Before he leaves office at the end of the year, Mayor Jim Gray is to appoint a committee to set that criteria. Who is appointed and what that criteria turns out to be bears close watching by every person in Lexington who cares about this issue, which seems to be pretty much everybody.
In the mayoral primary, most development interests lined up behind Kevin Stinnett, a respected council veteran. But his pro-development stands — including a surprise amendment to the land-use plan that other council members voted down saying it would essentially do away with the Urban Services Boundary — cost him politically.
Gorton won the seven-candidate non-partisan primary with 42 percent of the vote. Bastin was second with 26 percent, also advancing him to the general election. Stinnett, who raised more outside money than any other candidate, got only 14 percent of the primary vote, finishing fourth behind former Mayor Teresa Isaac.
Last year’s comprehensive plan update process made one thing clear: Public sentiment is strongly against expansion and in favor of recent city policies focused on infill and redevelopment of land inside the boundary.
So it makes you wonder where pro-development campaign donations will go before election day. Will developers sit this one out? Hedge their bets and contribute to both candidates? Choose one they think can be persuaded?
While Bastin and Gorton will have to focus on their differences over the next few weeks — that’s what campaigns are all about — they seemed Wednesday night to agree on most big issues. Both praised Gray’s eight-year record and said they want to continue Lexington’s positive momentum.
To my ear, both candidates are saying the right things. Both have distinguished, but different, records of public service for voters to evaluate. Both are smart and genuinely nice people who seem to have Lexington’s best interests at heart.
And, so far, both candidates are running positive campaigns based on important issues facing Lexington. Let’s hope they and their supporters keep it that way.