Tom Eblen

Both candidates talk ‘smart growth’. So why is one getting most pro-development support?

Does Lexington need to spend more on affordable housing?

Lexington mayoral candidates Linda Gorton and Ronnie Bastin discuss affordable housing in Lexington at a forum on Oct. 2.
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Lexington mayoral candidates Linda Gorton and Ronnie Bastin discuss affordable housing in Lexington at a forum on Oct. 2.

Mayoral candidates Linda Gorton and Ronnie Bastin have publicly stated very similar positions on “smart growth.” Both say they are hesitant to expand the Urban Services Boundary anytime soon so more farmland can be developed.

So it seems curious that so many Realtors, builders and bankers are lining up behind Bastin. Are they hearing or sensing something on this issue others are not?

Most startling was a mailer last week from the National Association of Realtors Fund in Chicago promoting Bastin’s candidacy. It may be the first time a national political action committee has gotten involved in Lexington’s non-partisan mayor’s race.

Veteran council member Kevin Stinnett was the overwhelming choice of local pro-development forces in the primary. Last November, Stinnett sponsored a “flexibility” amendment to the comprehensive land-use plan that critics say would have essentially abolished the 60-year-old Urban Services Boundary.

Stinnett finished a shocking fourth on election day, behind Gorton, Bastin and former Mayor Teresa Isaac. One reason may be that most Lexington residents seem to be against expansion of the boundary anytime soon and for the city’s current policy of infill and redevelopment to accommodate growth.

Since Stinnett left the race, Bastin has gotten far more campaign contributions from Realtors, builders and bankers than Gorton has, despite their similar campaign platforms on growth. Gorton has received more money from farm owners than Bastin has.

Brochure sent to Fayette County residents by the National Association of Realtors Fund, a national real estate PAC, supporting Ronnie Bastin, a candidate for mayor.

The Lexington-Bluegrass Association of Realtors (LBAR) has endorsed Bastin. Interestingly, it did not endorse two of its own members: Council incumbents Jennifer Mossotti and Joe Smith, who voted against the Stinnett amendment.

Karen Mundy, a Realtor and consistently pro-development member of the city Planning Commission, and her husband, Roy, a retired executive with Kentucky American Water Co., hosted a fundraiser for Bastin on Sept. 23 that raised about $3,000 after costs.

The fundraiser was co-hosted by the Mundys’ daughter, Monteia Mundy Owenby. With LBAR’s endorsement, she is challenging incumbent council member Kathy Plomin in the 12th District, where most of Fayette County’s rural land is located.

The Webb Companies, developer of the long-delayed City Center project formerly known as CentrePointe, have helped Bastin by posting giant campaign signs on its commercial property all over town.

The Urban Services Boundary was last expanded in 1996, when more than 5,400 acres, including most of what is now the Hamburg area, was opened for development. Since the Great Recession, construction and real estate interests have been clamoring for more land to develop and more houses to finance and sell.

In the past, an expansion decision has come only every five years, with the required update of Fayette County’s comprehensive land-use plan. That has often involved a fight based more on emotions than facts.

Last year’s plan update created a different process: Before he leaves office this year, Mayor Jim Gray will appoint a committee to set objective, fact-based criteria for boundary expansion. But expansion could be triggered at any time that criteria was met. Who is on that committee and what that criteria turns out to be will shape Lexington’s future growth.

Still, the mayor and council members have a lot of say over growth and development policies, both in their own roles and because they appoint and confirm members of the Planning Commission, where most decisions about individual projects are made.

Gray and the current council haven’t been anti-development. They have approved many new infill projects, some of which were quite controversial. But they also haven’t let developers get away with as much as some past administrations have.

Gorton, who served 16 years on council including a term as vice mayor, has a lot of experience handling growth and development issues —and a record of standing up to developers. Bastin, a career Lexington police officer, chief and public safety commissioner, has never made decisions on these issues.

In response to a news story about the Realtors’ PAC mailer, Bastin said in a statement: “A Bastin Administration will bring a much-needed fresh perspective and fresh leadership to this issue.”

And what would that fresh perspective and leadership be, exactly? Bastin didn’t say. Apparently, though, Realtors, builders and bankers seem to think it is something they would like.