Horse Industry Mobilizes to Protect Fayette Farmland

An update of the Comprehensive Plan for Fayette County, Ky., has attracted heightened interest from the local horse industry, which has formed the Fayette Alliance to protect farmland.

Possible expansion of the Urban Services Area boundary to allow for future development is one of several elements to be discussed this year by elected officials, planning officials, and the general public. There are about 128,000 acres outside Lexington's Urban Services Area, the portion of Fayette County where intense development is allowed.

"This decision is important to the Thoroughbred industry," said Margaret Graves, a Fayette Alliance organizer and former director of the Blue Grass Conservancy, which protects thousands of acres in Fayette and surrounding counties. "The farmland in Fayette County is what makes it such a special place to live. (The alliance) wants the community to have a dialogue of how and where we want to grow so that we have a balance between farms and housing."

Graves is now a member of the Purchase of Development Rights board for the Lexington-Fayette County Urban Government.

Other Thoroughbred industry names on the board of the Fayette Alliance are Greg Goodman of Mt. Brilliant Farm, Don Robinson of Winter Quarter Farm, Nick Nicholson of Keeneland, Kentucky Horse Park executive director John Nicholson, Helen Alexander of Middlebrook Farm, Fasig-Tipton president Walt Robertson, and John Phillips, managing partner of Darby Dan Farm near Lexington.

"We need to work on our preservation of the exterior, but on the flip side, encourage the build-up of our urban core," said Phillips, chairman of the Fayette Alliance. "This is our factory floor. In order for it to operate efficiently, we need to maintain the critical mass. Suburban sprawl intrudes upon our factory floor and there's incremental erosion to that floor.

"The mission of the Fayette Alliance is to educate Fayette County of the importance of the industry, its importance to the economy, and the importance to the welfare of the community as a whole. Obviously, Thoroughbreds play a major part in that process."

The Lexington-Fayette County Planning Commission, which hopes to decide on any expansion by January, will hold several meetings beginning in June to let each side state its case. Not many changes have been made to the Comprehensive Plan since 1996, when the Urban Services Area boundary was expanded 5,400 acres to be used for development over the next 20 years.

At the county's current consumption of 400 to 600 acres a year, available land will simply run out within 10 years, Todd Johnson, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Lexington, told the Lexington Herald-Leader. So far, at public meetings, developers haven't specified where or by how much they would like to see the boundaries expanded.

The Fayette Alliance hopes to educate the public on the issue, said Knox van Nagell, director of the group.

"We hope to promote the development of the urban core to protect our most prized assets--the Thoroughbred and agricultural industries," van Nagell said. "We want to have a factual discussion of how we can grow and talk about the consequences of reckless sprawl that doesn't benefit the community as a whole. The alliance is about a collective approach--we're not anti-growth."

Expanding the boundary, Knox said, would require new sewers, water pipes, and other groundwork that could cost $16,000-$20,000 an acre. Those funds could be used to improve current conditions and neighborhoods, she said.

"Sooner or later, Lexington is going to have to decide what kind of community it wants to be," said Frank Penn, owner of Pennbrook Farm near Lexington and one of 11 people on the local planning commission. "I want Lexington to continue to be the horse capital of the world. The question is do we want to develop Fayette County or others? Our decisions will affect the pressure (neighboring) counties have.

"Looking at it from a Thoroughbred standpoint, we have to keep stallions and we have to keep farms. Every successful stallion keeps two farms in business because of the mares he breeds to. We have a lot of things going here (in Fayette County) if we have the vision to keep it."