Op-Ed

Land use map essential to plan how we want to grow

Amy Clark
Amy Clark

Take the road to the future without a map? Unthinkable.

Yet our Planning Commission voted in 2013 to drop the color-coded land use map from the Comprehensive Plan. This map had been the basis of our planning for future growth and development ever since the Urban Service Boundary was created in 1958.

Now, as we first settle the goals and objectives of the coming 2018 Plan — among them, a decision on our critical urban/rural boundary — we want that map back.

A Comprehensive Plan without a comprehensive map? It’s an experiment that has failed signally in the years since 2013, as the mounting number of confused and contentious zone-change hearings brought before the Urban County Council will attest. Peninsula at Squires Road was only the last and largest of many. All too often, by the time these re-zonings get to council for final decision they are past mending.

What was left to guide us in the mapless plan? A bundle of ambitious, visionary goals and objectives, broadly sketched — the opening chapter, the mere scaffolding of a plan. Fuller policies promised for complete streets, great neighborhoods, etc., not yet delivered. Small Area Plans composed with time, toil and expense, covering but 3,863 of the county’s 182,761 acres.

Any and all such endeavors can greatly benefit our community; every one of them can serve better if incorporated in a comprehensive land use map. In the years since its loss, we have learned just how much is missing — how radically difficult it is to make good and balanced decisions ad hoc, without a plan that maps our future uses of the land — our needs and ambitions — in the real world.

Real estate agents get it: Location is everything.

Only a map can target types of development for the places that need them most — and set boundaries to defend the integrity of places that can least survive them. Only a map can balance market demands that are immediate and focused against our broader public purposes. What actual locations are best for high-density housing to meet the needs of our growing population? For fostering major employment? For commercial centers and their traffic? For protecting natural resources and our urban tree canopy?

The larger plan adopted in 2013 has lofty goals and objectives. But where these goals conflict and overlap — where any definite piece of land is at issue in a zone change — only a map can give real clarity and direction.

The 2013 plan left us with only two colors: Urban development, or the green pastures beyond the Urban Services Boundary. The old plan had shades of yellow and brown for housing density; aqua for offices; purples for industrial employment; red for retail. Pinks and two-tone stripes for mixtures like office and retail uses with residential. Olive for agriculture; a spectrum of greens and blues for parkland, water and public schools.

These are the colors of our diversity. They guide not just how we use our land, but where. They preserve difference and distinction, protecting the identity of a wide range of neighborhoods where we are most deeply invested. Without that map to show the colors of our community, it’s anything goes.

We urgently need the map to complete our Comprehensive Plan. We need the old map restored for without it the plan currently in force remains unfinished and deeply faulted. Then we must give that map a careful update in the 2018 plan — with the active involvement of every neighborhood and council district.

We neighborhoods stand ready to do our part.

Amy Clark is a board member of the Fayette County Neighborhood Council.

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