Saving Fayette County’s beautiful countryside is a widely shared value in Lexington. But our population is increasing, so what do we do?
As of 2017, the county’s population was 321,959. A 1.2 percent annual growth rate is anticipated, leading to a population of 354,318 in 2025.
In 2015, there were 139,840 housing units. By 2025, an additional 22,780 housing units will be needed. The development within the Urban Service Boundary will be infill.
Successful infill and re-development are not random acts of developing a few vacant lots here and there, nor is it tearing off a chunk of an existing neighborhood and densifying it to purportedly protect valuable land somewhere else.
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According to the non-profit Municipal Research and Services Center, “a successful infill development program should focus on the job of crafting complete, well-functioning neighborhoods. … Attention to design of infill development is essential to ensure that the new development fits the existing context, and gains neighborhood acceptance.”
Guiding Fayette County’s infill development is the draft 2018 Comprehensive Plan (Imagine Lexington). The plan encourages development “to enhance the cultural, physical, and natural resources that have shaped the community.” Goals of the plan include promoting “the adaptive reuse of existing structures,” and preserving “structures that have value within the community.”
Lexingtonians support these goals with their pocketbooks. Between 2011 and 2016, the highest median price for any category of homes was for those built prior to 1950.
Unfortunately, the plan goals and reality are not necessarily in sync.
Our neighborhood recently voiced opposition to the rezoning of a parcel along Nicholasville Road. The real estate developer proposes to demolish a structurally sound and occupied 95-year-old Craftsman home; the replacement – eight subdivided townhomes – will add only 400 square feet of living space.
Our issue is not simply “not-in-my-backyard.” The issues are: how does this development affect the people who invested in this neighborhood and what is the good served by this development?
We support the right of private owners to develop their land and to request a zone change. But if the zone change will increase the traffic burden, create stormwater issues, decrease green space, degrade the city’s aesthetic, and jeopardize pedestrian circulation, shouldn’t our concerns be taken seriously?
To our dismay, the Planning Commission has approved this rezoning based on another goal of the comprehensive plan: to develop along the city’s arterials.
Obviously, other options exist. With the transition to online shopping, excess retail space exists. For comparison, Canada has 13 square feet of retail space per capita. For the United States, it is 46.6 square feet and Lexington has a whopping 71 square feet of retail space per person, some of it vacant.
The example of Sleep Outfitters filing for bankruptcy due to “Too many locations...” provides a redevelopment opportunity; the planning department should cease issuing future retail building permits and rezone for mixed-use residential.
Monroe, N.C. offers grants for redevelopment of upper levels of retail buildings for residential use. Some cities offer tax-increment financing and other incentives to help owners redevelop underutilized retail areas into new neighborhoods where people live, work, eat, and play. Cleveland, Ohio provides incentives to artists to convert old retail space into affordable housing.
Models such as these should be adopted in Lexington to not only protect existing housing and green spaces, but also create exciting new communities. In 2025, Lexington will likely need 4,400 more affordable housing units than will be available; ideas like those in Cleveland could help address this need.
The bottom line is that we don’t have to destroy either the character of this lovely city, or destroy the farmland, in order to accommodate a growing population.
We urge all neighborhood associations to set up meetings with their Urban County Council members to discuss Imagine Lexington.
Don’t wait until a developer files for zone change; it will be too late.
Rebecca Glasscock, Barbara Szubinska and Dennis Webb are residents of Wabash Drive and Suburban Court in Lexington.