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LFUCG’s Sustainable Growth Study Envisions a Bright Future for Lexington-Fayette County

The Urban Service Boundary protects what makes our part of Kentucky unique–the thriving city of Lexington and the lush countryside and farmlands that make up Fayette County. The boundary was established in 1958 to protect these spaces for current and future residents and businesses by increasing the development of urban spaces while allowing rural areas to stay rural. While this was initially a way to preserve tobacco farms, it now includes the safeguarding of our world-famous horse farms.

The 2018 Imagine Lexington Comprehensive Plan outlined the need for a task force to develop a new process for making data-driven, long-term growth decisions and the USB. This task force, made up of Lexington-Fayette County stakeholders, resulted in hiring local planning firm Stanec to look at what was possible. Their detailed findings are outlined in the Sustainable Growth Study

At its heart, the Sustainable Growth Study provides much-needed data around past land-use trends, our development needs moving forward, and a framework for how Lexington-Fayette County can find a balance between all the elements that make it such a fantastic place to live. Achieving this state of equilibrium means thinking of ways to develop already existing land to meet the needs of our population now and into the future. The study evaluates how much land we have, how much we have developed in different categories of uses, and produces a guide to help our community make future land use decisions based on this necessary data. 

urban service boundaryLFUCG’s Sustainable Growth Study

The 2018 Comprehensive Plan, Imagine Lexington, was created with the input of thousands of community members. Recognizing that decisions around growth and the USB are difficult and political every 5 years, the Plan called for creating a diverse task force comprised of community stakeholders to study “existing conditions, development needs, and to create a process for making long-term land use decisions including identifying triggers that could indicate when expansion might need to be considered.”

Stantec, the consultant hired by LFUCG to assist the task force, conducted a study on existing conditions of land use in Lexington-Fayette County, how much land we were developing in areas like residential, commercial, industrial, and retail uses, and how much vacant land we had that still had the opportunity for development. They then created three growth scenarios for development of the land within the USB. One model included what would happen if current development trends continued without substantial changes. Another model gave a glimpse into the future of Lexington-Fayette County if the policy changes called for by the 2018 Comprehensive Plan were put into place allowing more dense development throughout the community.

One important conclusion was that if LFUCG works towards implementation of the Comprehensive Plan there would be “enough existing land” to meet future needs – for all uses from housing to jobs land. The data and recommendations established will inform future growth recommendations for Lexington/Fayette County.

The Importance of Multiple Sector Involvement

The Sustainable Growth Task Force was comprised of people from various sectors of the business community, including developers, agricultural leaders, conservationists, planning experts, and more. Vice Mayor Steve Kay and Councilmembers James Brown and Amanda Bledsoe also served on the task force, and they all agreed to adopt the data established by the Study.

Buy-in from diverse stakeholders in different aspects of the Sustainable Growth Study was critical and will be important moving forward to be on the same page about future land-use decisions. 

The Impact of the Study Grows as Lexington Grows

The Sustainable Growth Study was built to be flexible in accounting for accurate and needed updates every year. Therefore, it will never lose its relevance. Now it will be possible to learn how much land is available for development and how much has been developed in any given year – and for what purpose. This intensive look at Lexington-Fayette County’s future growth possibilities will benefit the region’s residents and businesses wherever they are based.

In addition to accounting for year-to-year growth, another committee at City Hall was formed after the Sustainable Growth Study report was provided to the council. This committee is called the Goal 4 Workgroup, and the members of that group determined what land in Fayette County should be permanently preserved, what land might be suitable for future development if a need is established to expand the Urban Service Boundary in the future, and what the long-term process should be for determining each of those criteria. Vice Mayor Steve Kay, Councilmembers James Brown, Amanda Bledsoe, and Kathy Plomin served on the workgroup, along with other Lexington-Fayette County stakeholders representing a variety of interests. The Goal 4 Workgroup’s aim is to “create a new process for determining long-term land use decisions involving the Urban Service Boundary and Rural Activity Centers.” The Goal 4 Work Group released its initial report on November 7, 2022, which will go to the Planning Commission for review and then to the Urban County Council to be reviewed and incorporated into the 2045 Comprehensive Plan. Fayette Alliance supports the Sustainable Growth Study’s plan to work within the current Urban Service Boundary, utilizing the land we have and ensuring any future processes are driven by data and research. Lexington-Fayette County will continue to grow. By thinking creatively, this growth can benefit both urban and rural areas and continue to attract residents, businesses, and tourism. What doesn’t work is having the same conversation about the USB every five years that doesn’t lead to policy changes that will ensure we grow smart into the future.

It’s clear from our Comprehensive Plan and community research that Lexington-Fayette County residents prefer to focus on responsible infill and redevelopment while assuring the protection of farmland and natural resources. With the release of the Sustainable Growth Study, there is now a clear way forward based on sound data that measures what is available and what is needed for sustainable growth. This is the way to proceed—with growth grounded in fact rather than opinion. This is community-based planning at its best.

Fayette Alliance advocates for policies that promote community-driven investment and maintenance of the Lexington Urban Service Boundary. Take a look at 10 frequently asked questions about the Lexington urban service boundary to discover more ways it preserves our unique region’s character and economic sustainability.