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Lexington growth management advisory group mapping out land use options

Lexington Planning Director Jim Duncan at a map during the meeting of the Urban Growth Management Master Plan Advisory Committee 08-22-23
Stu Johnson
Lexington Planning Director Jim Duncan at a map during the meeting of the Urban Growth Management Master Plan Advisory Committee 08-22-23

Planning for the growth around the state’s second-largest city has taken on a different form this summer. The whole picture changed when the Lexington City Council easily approved adding what could be, over time, 5,000 acres in urban county government-served areas.

The Lexington Council vote on urban service expansion occurred back in June. That decision came as a surprise to some people on both the preservation and development sides. The last urban service boundary redrawing occurred in 1996. And now it’s happening again.

“This was considered the starting point and from then on you…the Committee gets to push and pull where they want to. This is just really a way to get us launched….ok,” said Duncan.

That’s Lexington Planning Director Jim Duncan, commenting during this week’s Urban Growth Management Master Plan Advisory Committee. He was responding to a question from Vice Mayor Dan Wu about future development mapping.

The Council asked the Planning Commission to have a future expansion plan done by December of next year. The Commission then formed this growth management advisory group to make some recommendations. Lots of questions are raised during advisory panel meetings each week. Like this one from Vice Mayor Wu.

“Is there a way for us to know on some of this land or these parcels..like are these landowners willing to sell…are we gonna identify a bunch of land that just gets sat on for another 20 years? Do we know which areas or which parcels people are eyeing for either sale or development?” asked Wu.

Duncan said the answer is no, referring to the first expansion map in 1958 which still includes agriculture land use. He said that’s the same case for the 1996 expansion.

The urban growth management advisory group includes government members, but also representatives of the building and equine industries, plus other community leaders. Todd Johnson is the executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Central Kentucky. One of the maps displayed this week included floodplain areas in the potential new acreage. Johnson says that, in itself, is not a major barrier to residential development.

“It really doesn’t. We have to deal with floodplains everywhere we develop. We’re used to that and, you know, there’s probably not a development that’s been done in Lexington in the last 20 years that hasn’t had to deal with some type of flood plain or another,” said Johnson.

Another discussion point was the potential impact on rural settlements and African-American hamlets in parts of Fayette County.

Watching the advisory committee work is Brittany Roethemeier, executive director of the Fayette Alliance. The Alliance mission is described as a non-profit dedicated to achieving sustainable equitable growth in Lexington Fayette County through land-use advocacy, education, and research. Roethemeier said the 14-member advisory panel is limited in its scope. She noted that will likely change when a consultant is brought on to develop a master plan for the area.

“Later down the line beginning in 2025 pursuant to the goals and objectives, when the Council and the Planning Commission will consider a data-driven process. So, I think it’s really important to remember what this is focused on.. so far… is pretty limited in criteria and factors,” said Roethemeier.

The Fayette Alliance filed a lawsuit, in the aftermath of the expansion vote by Council, asking for the Court to intervene. Roethemeier said unless an injunction comes, the work of the advisory group will continue. No hearing date is currently scheduled.

Roethemeier said the process is moving incredibly quick. Todd Johnson with the builders' group agrees, saying it’s a very fast pace, but that doesn’t make it undoable.

Serving on the urban growth management group is John Phillips with Darby Dan Horse Farm. Phillips said there are future costs related to development like education facilities, police and fire coverage, and mass transit. And he said horse farms could see direct impact.

“You start putting large subdivisions, heavy traffic next to a horse farm and suddenly it’s less desirable to be a horse farm, a much higher risk and that sort of thing,” said Phillips.

And Phillips said people don’t come to central Kentucky to look at suburbs but horses and the farms they are on.

Much of the focus so far has been on sewer service some day in the 27 hundred to 5,000 acres. A recent sewer ability study lays out what might be involved to provide sanitary sewers in these areas. Water Quality Division Director Charlie Martin doesn’t foresee a need for a third treatment plant, but additional pump stations would be a given.

Keith Horn is serving in the re-started position of Urban County Government Planning Commission. He said all major roadway corridors are potential areas of expansion. But, even when the Council gets final maps at the end of next year, bulldozing will not begin right away.

“They’re probably two different questions. One is when will the area be designated and available which is very different from when developers might actually be able to go out and start developing,” said Horn.

And then there is the public comment piece of the puzzle. The growth management group is expected to take up the mapping of five areas next week. But, after a draft plan is developed, there will be opportunities for formal public comment at different stages before next December.

Stu has been reporting for WEKU for more than 35 years. His primary beat is Lexington/Fayette government.
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