A majority of community members that packed into one of the final public hearings regarding the expansion of Lexington's Urban Service Area were in a celebratory mood Jan. 18.
After numerous requests from concerned citizens and city officials at past meetings, the controversial "urban reserve" concept was deleted from the initial draft of the 2006 comprehensive plan. The plan is reviewed every five years to decide whether Lexington should expand its Urban Service Area--the region of Fayette County that can be used for major residential or commercial development.
"We want to express our appreciation to the Planning Commission for their hard work, hours, and patience," said John Phillips, co-managing partner of Darby Dan Farm, and chair of the Fayette Alliance. "It's been a difficult task, and we thank you."
The text was amended before the Planning Commission accepted public comment at the Jan. 18 hearing. Other work sessions and opportunities for public comment on the area's expansion have taken place over the last several months.
About 7,700 acres of rural land on Lexington's east and southeast sides were designated as "urban reserve" in the first draft of the plan, which meant it would be one of the first areas considered when the Commission looks to expand the urban service boundary.
The reserve area included 2,200 acres east of Interstate 75 and south of I-64, and 5,500 acres from Athens-Booesboro Road south to Tates Creek Road, which encompasses several Thoroughbred farms.
Urban County Planning Commission chairman Dal Harper, along with Vice Mayor Jim Gray and Urban County Council members Dick DeCamp and Linda Gorton requested the urban reserve concept be removed because it had not been discussed at any previous meetings. Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry was also in opposition to the concept.
And though an expansion is not currently included in the second draft of the plan, a final decision to accept or amend the text will be made by the commission in another hearing Jan. 22.
During the Jan. 18 hearing, horse farm owners, neighborhood groups, and others with agricultural interests were relieved to read the new plan, as it will allow city planners to focus more on developing the urban core and infill instead of supporting urban sprawl.
The commission said legal procedures regarding the plan would be put in place based on the public reactions at that day's meeting.
"This draft is a fair articulation of the countless hours the members of the Planning Commission and people of this community have put into this process," said commission director Chris King.
Of the 5,400 acres the Urban Service Area expanded in 2001, 3,336 remain vacant, leaving many questioning the purpose for further expansion, especially considering the poor infrastructure of some areas and difficulty of providing quality sewer service.
Among the numerous voices that spoke in support of the plan's second draft were Tom VanMeter, owner of Stockplace Farm and co-owner of the major consigning company Eaton Sales; David Switzer, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association; Don Robinson, owner/manager of Winter Quarter Farm and president of the Fayette County Farm Bureau; Margaret Graves, a Fayette Alliance organizer and chair of the rural land management board; and Helen Alexander, owner of Middlebrook Farm and chair of the Bluegrass Conservancy.
Frank Penn, owner of Pennbrook Farm and member of the commission was also among those who also showed enthusiasm for the new plan.
Though they were outnumbered, a few attorneys representing developers spoke in favor of the reserve proposal, noting it was a reasonable step in land-use planning, as less vacant land for residential growth becomes available inside the urban service area.
"In this urban mix, Lexington-Fayette County remains the number two county in agricultural cash receipts in the state," Robinson reminded Planning Commission members after stating his support of the second draft.
Following an expression of his appreciation to the Planning Commission, Phillips added, "(Fayette County) has been given so much, and to whom much is given, much is expected. As a result, the purpose of the Fayette Alliance was to create focus on the creativity and preservation of our unique resources, and the vitality of our urban core and neighborhoods…The dialogue of redevelopment is just now starting, and we want to work with you and encourage that dialogue--what it really means, and what (ideas) we can borrow from other cities that might work. The land use management has found a good route, and provided there are no changes, we can strongly support it--we believe it gives us time and clarity to study some of these (redevelopment) issues."