Goal: Protect rural Fayette County

A horse grazed in a paddock on the Calumet Horse Farm on Versailles Rd. in Lexington, Ky., Thursday, April 19, 2012. Charles Bertram | Staff
A horse grazed in a paddock on the Calumet Horse Farm on Versailles Rd. in Lexington, Ky., Thursday, April 19, 2012. Charles Bertram | Staff Herald-Leader

Almost everyone has known someone whose home-improvement ambitions exceeded his needs, his abilities and his pocketbook. Expand the kitchen, add on a great room, close in the garage, dig a bigger basement, etc., etc.

It's the kind of thinking, and acting, that can transform a perfectly lovely home into an ill-proportioned mess, leaving the owner burdened with high utility bills and a big balance on a home equity loan.

The same thing can happen to communities. Add a subdivision here, extend sewer service for an industrial park there, make way for a shopping center in another place and before you know it, a pleasant place to live sprawls into nowhere-land USA with infrastructure costs running ahead of tax revenues.

That's why planning is so important. Good planning offers a map for growth without destroying a community's advantages or busting the bank. Lexington became the first city in the nation to create an urban services boundary in 1958, a foresighted move that has allowed us to develop a compact, viable city and retain our signature farmland. Within the rural area outside that boundary there are rural activity centers that pre-date 1958.

Every five years the Planning Commission updates the comprehensive plan that guides development. One of the first steps in that process is, understandably, to review the overarching goals and objectives that guide more detailed decisions on everything from zoning categories to street width.

While the Planning Commission does the heavy lifting on updating the comprehensive plan, the Urban County Council must approve the goals and objectives before the process goes forward. That's scheduled to happen Thursday.

It is virtually assured that each time the comp plan, as it's called, is reviewed there are efforts to expand either the urban services boundary or one or more of the rural activity centers. This time is no exception.

The council should just say no. Expanding now would be fiscally irresponsible.

We are in the first stages of an overhaul of our sewer and storm water systems. That work is mandated under a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which sued Fayette County a few years ago because the untreated sewage pouring into streams and basements created violations of the Clean Water Act.

This is remarkably expensive infrastructure to build or repair and the cost of fixing what we have now could approach a half billion dollars. That money will come from fees paid by residents, which have already risen significantly to fund the early phases of the project.

Bottom line: Unless there is a clear line between expansion and revenue that will more than pay for infrastructure costs, Lexington and its residents simply can't afford it.

Related to this is the question of whether Fayette County needs to develop into rural acreage to keep its economic engine running. It doesn't. There are roughly 12,000 acres of unused or underused property currently within the urban services boundary.

That includes more than 400 acres of vacant land designated for manufacturing and more than 300 acres at the University of Kentucky's Coldstream Research Park.

There's plenty of room to grow.