Lexington is ‘just right;’ plan to keep it that way

Herald-Leader file photo

As I talk with people about our community I often hear the belief that Lexington is in a Goldilocks moment of “just right” in a number of ways: not too big and not too small; not too rural and not too urban; not growing too slowly and not growing too fast.

If that is true, our challenge is to ensure the quality of life we enjoy, a key to our long-term economic vitality, is maintained for future generations. One way to do that is through wise decisions about land use.

As the Planning Commission and Urban County Council work on the five-year update of the Comprehensive Plan over the coming months, there will be opportunities for everyone to share their ideas, concerns and preferences for changes in this important document.

The biggest question will be whether or not to expand the Urban Service Boundary and thus designate for development some land that is now zoned only for rural uses.

Some people say that we need more open land for development to accommodate projected growth. I understand that viewpoint, but believe it is literally short-sighted.

If we look at the next 50 to 100 years, rather than the next five or 10 or 20, it becomes obvious that if we continue to convert farmland to development, at some point we will have no more open land to develop, no matter the projected growth.

There are 128,000 acres of land outside the Urban Service Boundary. Of those, 50,000 acres are either currently protected or projected to be protected from development by the Purchase of Development Rights program.

An additional 26,000 acres is unsuitable for development because of topographical, environmental or other factors. That leaves roughly 42,000 acres.

If we expand the Urban Service Boundary by 5,000 acres every five or 10 years, in 40 to 80 years we will have no more rural land to develop. And we will radically alter the rural-urban balance, compromise the defining distinction of our community, decrease our quality of life, and possibly undermine our standing as the Horse Capital of the World.

We will eventually stop expanding the Urban Service Boundary, either by choice or because there is no rural land left to develop. What do we want Fayette County to look like, and feel like, when that happens? That is the overriding question we must answer together as we complete this and future comprehensive plans.

After careful research, the Urban County Government planning staff has made recommendations for goals and objectives for the update of the Comprehensive Plan. Their recommendations include language against expansion, with a compensating focus on infill and redevelopment strategies to accommodate projected future growth.

I support those recommendations as right for our present and right for our future.

By striking the appropriate balance between rural and urban use of Fayette County land, we can protect, for ourselves and future generations, the “just right” quality of life and economic vitality so many of us presently enjoy.

Steve Kay is vice mayor of Lexington and a former member of the Lexington Fayette County Planning Commission.