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Nimbyism and Lexington’s New Urban Growth Management ZOTA

According to public opinion surveys, a majority of Lexingtonians want to see new housing built inside the USB with a focus on infill, redevelopment, and the creation of more walkable, liveable communities. The Urban Growth Management (UGM) ZOTA is designed to foster this growth within our community. 

The proposed UGM ZOTA stands as one of the most dramatic changes to our city’s zoning code in decades, and it serves as the best development solution for growing our city, limiting urban sprawl, and preserving our productive rural landscape. 

  • Important: Evaluating and revising accordingly throughout its implementation and beyond will be key to a successful transition.

Moving forward, as the UGM ZOTA makes its way through Council, residents have a choice: to stand in opposition to change (NIMBY), or to embrace this new development style that will modernize and grow our city (YIMBY) responsibly.

Nimby v. Yimby

The term “NIMBY” stands for “not in my backyard,” and refers to individuals who oppose development they deem as unpleasant or hazardous in the area in which they live, but have no objections to similarly styled developments being constructed elsewhere. 

  • Example: A NIMBY might say, “I don’t want these townhomes built near me. They should put those somewhere else, but not in my neighborhood

In opposition to nimbyism, you have the “YIMBY” movement. The acronym stands for “yes in my backyard,” and is a pro-infrastructure development movement that focuses on public housing policy, real estate development, public transportation, and pedestrian safety. 

  • Example: A YIMBY might say, “I’m okay with these new townhomes being built near my neighborhood because I understand there is a housing shortage across the US, and we must diversify our housing types to meet the growing demand.”
  • Also: A YIMBY might check in with the city’s planning commission to see if there will be updates to traffic patterns, parking requirements, etc. to accommodate new growth near their neighborhood.

The Urban Growth Management ZOTA

The newly proposed UGM ZOTA looks to update Lexington’s zoning regulations to connect people to places, jobs, and each other through compact and thoughtfully designed development. 

  • Yes: This means adding new housing types, such as duplexes and townhomes, to neighborhood areas that were not previously zoned for this type of development.
  • No: This doesn’t mean a 20-story skyrise will be built on the lot next to your house.

The proposed changes would impact three different residential zones that have been underutilized in the development of Lexington-Fayette County thus far:

  • R-2 — Mixed Low-Density Residential
  • R-4 — Medium Density Residential
  • R-5 — High Density Residential

Proposed changes from the urban Growth Management ZOTA. | Photo from imaginelexington.com


This change does not impact areas zoned R-1, which comprise nearly 60% of residential areas throughout Lexington. R-1 zoning is reserved for detached single-family homes, and areas currently zoned as such will remain the same. The problem, however, is that Lexington has historically relied too heavily on R-1 zoning for development.

Overutilizing R-1 zoning is an inefficient land-use model, one that creates car-dependent, low-density neighborhoods and continues to contribute to the growing problem of urban sprawl in the Bluegrass region.

Permitting more types of housing to be built in areas already zoned for residential development will allow for the creation of more “Missing Middle” housing — townhomes, duplexes, triplexes, etc. —  at prices more Lexingtonians can afford; close to jobs, services, transportation, and more.  

  • Important: These changes enable more types of homes to be built while also preventing urban sprawl, which threatens the farmland that surrounds our vibrant city. 

Major Corridors

The UGM ZOTA will also prioritize building high-density, mixed-use developments along major corridors such as Nicholasville Road and Richmond Road, which are better equipped to handle larger apartment buildings and mixed-use development projects. 

In the years to come, expanding our zoning in this manner will lead to the creation of more walkable, higher-density neighborhoods.

This image demonstrates an example of “Missing Middle’ housing — the housing types most commonly missing from residential development in Lexington KY.


Think of the Chevy Chase neighborhood, specifically around the corridor of Fontaine Rd. One of Lexington’s most beloved and sought-after neighborhoods is comprised of a mixture of single-family homes, duplexes, and quadplexes — all located within walking distance of retail and dining options.

The zoning restrictions currently in place in Lexington-Fayette County don’t allow for other neighborhoods to develop in the same way as Chevy Chase did because so much of our city is now strictly zoned as R-1, which only allows for the construction of detached single-family housing.

If we want to continue to grow and modernize our city, changing our zoning policies and allowing more diverse housing types in existing areas already zoned for housing will be essential. 

It’s important to note that the UGM ZOTA does not prevent the development of more single-family homes, or change the areas that are currently zoned R-1, but it does increase the types of housing allowed in the other zones mentioned above so more neighborhoods can develop like Chevy Chase and other more walkable neighborhoods.

Throughout the implementation process of the UGM ZOTA, it will continue to be important to protect and promote our existing and vibrant neighborhoods. It is, however, also possible to carefully make our neighborhoods more accessible to more people, and improve the quality of life for all neighbors throughout Lexington-Fayette County.

Housing for the Future

Continuing to divert our development efforts away from infill, redevelopment, and “Missing Middle” housing types is also a bad investment for the current and future residents of our city.

The average cost of a new home in the US is $329,000, which is unattainable for most first-time homebuyers. 

Due to many factors, including inflation and the cost of materials and labor, constructing single-family homes for under $300K has become increasingly difficult.

  • Fact: In 2022, no new homes were constructed in Lexington-Fayette County that cost under $300K

In the coming years, as we look to provide more housing for our growing population, it will be essential to find ways to build housing that two distinct demographics of residents can afford: college graduates and retirees.

College Graduates

Focusing on the development of smaller types of housing will allow younger working professionals and families to invest in Lexington-Fayette County, which, in turn, has the potential to diversify our workforce and attract young, top-tier talent to our city.

Combined, the University of Kentucky and Transylvania University boast a yearly student enrollment of ~35,000, and university students comprise ~10-11% of our population. 

If we truly want to move our city forward, then we must work to keep these graduates in Lexington. We do this by providing them with economic opportunities and housing types that are affordable and located within walkable communities.

Because of Lexington’s consistently new influx of collegiately educated individuals, diversifying our housing production to accommodate a younger workforce is an investment in our city’s future economic health and growth. Additionally, these more diverse housing types can benefit Lexington’s senior residents as well.


According to the US Census Bureau, in 2024, 12,000 US residents will turn 65 every day — approximately 4.4 million people annually.

  • Fact: According to information from worldpopulationreview.com, approximately 18% of Lexington-Fayette County’s population is age 60 or older.

This means, in the coming years, and as more residents of Lexington-Fayette County look to age in place, retirees may be looking to downsize from their larger homes to a house that requires less maintenance and upkeep — such as a townhome, duplex, or accessory dwelling unit.  

As it stands, because of historical development patterns, these two different demographics — young, college-educated professionals and residents aged 65+ — will both be competing for housing types that are largely missing from Lexington-Fayette County. The Urban Growth Management ZOTA will look to add these more diverse housing types to accommodate growth in the coming years.

Future Growth

Currently, the Urban Growth Management ZOTA is in Council Committee, meaning it is still being discussed amongst our elected officials. A vote to either approve or dismiss this progressive new ZOTA will take place in the coming weeks.

At this point in the process, the power lies with the residents and neighborhood associations of Lexington-Fayette County. Lexington is growing and changing, and residents have the opportunity to foster that growth, ushering in a new development era for Lexington-Fayette County. 

To grow our city in a smart, sustainable, and equitable way, to build more diverse housing types that attract a younger workforce, offer alternative living options for senior residents at a more affordable price point, to create more walkable, liveable neighborhoods close to amenities and public transit, and to mitigate the negative environmental and cultural impacts of urban sprawl — our elected officials need to know that the majority of Lexington’s residents are YIMBYs. 

Moving forward, residents should say “yes” to responsible development in their backyard. If we are to grow our city and promote our farms, there’s no room for NIMBYism in Lexington-Fayette County.