Residents of Lexington/Fayette County are fortunate to live, work and play in a community that has pursued progressive land use policies since 1958. The county’s urban services boundary was the first in the country and has been used effectively to manage growth, conserve our unique rural landscape and natural areas and direct investment inside our city limits.
This innovative land-use tool has been recognized nationally and, following our lead, used by over 100 communities seeking to limit or repair the devastating effects of sprawl, revitalize city centers and conserve vital rural and natural landscapes.
Now, the Urban County Council is once again updating the comprehensive plan and debating whether the boundary should be expanded or not. This community-wide discussion occurs every five years and is critically important to our future vitality.
As a longtime Lexington resident who has lived and worked in cities as diverse as Hong Kong and Washington D.C., I cherish what makes Lexington/Fayette County unique, our beautiful farms and natural areas and our increasingly vibrant urban core. I urge the council to hold the line and keep this the very special place it is.
Our farms distinguish our community from Anywhere, USA. According to VisitLex, the No. 1 request from visitors to our community is to visit a horse farm. Our farms attract visitors from around the world as evidenced by the 2015 Breeder's Cup held at Keeneland and the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games.
A recent study published by Kentucky’s Tourism, Arts & Heritage Cabinet shows just how important travel and tourism is to our economy. In 2016, total expenditures attributable to travel and tourism was over $2 billion in Fayette County alone. Additionally, these industries supported over 15,000 Fayette County jobs.
Our farms represent productive economic engines that constitute the “factory floor” of our signature agricultural industries and save taxpayers money. According to a study published by University of Kentucky economists, Fayette County’s agricultural industries generate $2.3 billion in annual economic activity and support one out of every 12 jobs.
Importantly, agriculture contributes $8.5 million annually in occupational taxes, which is the primary funding source for our city. The urban services boundary was last expanded in 1996 with an addition of approximately 5,400 acres of land for residential and commercial development. According to a recent study, there are more than 17,000 acres available for development or redevelopment within the existing boundary.
If the council expands the boundary, it will drain investment away from the urban core, increase traffic congestion, drive up taxes, hurt existing neighborhoods, create more sprawl and diminish our community's quality of life.
We all pay less in taxes because many public services are only provided to those within our urban services area. For every dollar of revenue generated by our rural area, it only costs the city $0.88 to provide public services. Compare that to residential development: For every dollar of revenue generated by residential development, it costs the city $1.69 to provide public services.
Following over a year of research, study and input gathering, the Planning Commission and its staff have both recommended no expansion. The city invested resources to fund the research and process. In addition, the city invested resources to assess the public’s sentiment on growth issues, including the urban service boundary. The community overwhelming does not support expansion.
We urge the council to listen to the planning staff, planning commission and community and hold the line on the existing urban service boundary.
Margaret Graves, former chair of the Rural Land Management Board, is an attorney active in land conservation efforts.