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I Love It When a Comprehensive Plan Comes Together

It’s that time again – Lexington has been and remains busy assembling its 2018 Comprehensive Plan, titled “Imagine Lexington,” which will provide guidance on how the city will regulate land use over the next five years. This is a complex process that takes place in two phases. The recently concluded Phase I has already set out the goals and objectives of the plan, which we’ll examine in this blog post. The next phase, Elements and Implementation, may take the remainder of 2018 to hash out, although the Planning Commission suggests it will draft it through the summer. This plan is not just mandated by law; it helps mold a vision for the community of how it handles growth and expansion, which will shape the city for decades to come.

City hall

Why a Comprehensive Plan?

A key aspect of land use regulation in a city is the creation of a Comprehensive Plan (“Comp Plan”). In fact, Kentucky statute KRS 100.183 requires communities engaged in land use regulation to create or revise a Comp Plan every five years. The Comp Plan is a top-down policy that gives planners a “road map” for regulating growth, development, and redevelopment. For instance, the Comp Plan is a significant part of zone change evaluations, generally ensuring that changes in property usage follow the community’s vision for itself.

2018 Comprehensive Plan – Goals and Objectives

KRS 100.187 mandates that a comp plan has a statement of goals and objectives, “which shall serve as a guide for the physical development and economic and social well-being of the planning unit…” Lexington’s Urban County Council approved the Goals and Objectives portion of the comp plan – Phase I – in November of 2017. This piece of the comp plan includes 21 goals listed under seven broad themes, which we’ll take one at a time:

  • Theme A - Growing Successful Neighborhoods

The goals here are to expand housing choices, support infill and redevelopment, provide well-designed neighborhoods and communities, and address community facilities. Generally speaking, there’s nothing groundbreaking about any of these goals, which mirror goals from Lexington’s 2013 Comprehensive Plan.  Generally, this theme promotes higher-density and mixed housing, more infill, and more schools, libraries and other social services.  Though these goals are seemingly uncontroversial, they can become so at times, as established neighborhoods often balk at increasing density in nearby vacant or underutilized areas. 

  • Theme B - Protecting the Environment

Lexington’s comp plan will continue to implement a Consent Decree reached with the Environmental Protection Agency, which is a laudable goal, considering it is mandatory . It will also endeavor to reduce the area’s carbon footprint and enact environmentally-sustainable practices.  These goals remain largely unchanged from the 2013 Comp Plan. 

  • Theme C - Creating Jobs and Prosperity

The comp plan has the goal of showcasing local assets to create jobs as well as attract and recruit better jobs and job-seekers. There is also a goal to identify “publicly-controlled economic development land” and amend the Comp Plan as necessary should it interfere with economic development. Recent announcements that the LFUCG is pursuing a property swap with the University of Kentucky for land in the Coldstream Research Park may help with securing this vitally needed economic development land. 

  • Theme D - Improving a Desirable Community

Here, the Comp Plan puts forth the goal of creating a more pedestrian-friendly environment, focusing on alternative transportation infrastructure and better mass transit options along major corridors. There is a cultural component as well, protecting historic resources and supporting public art.  These goals, too, remain largely unchanged from the 2013 Comp Plan. 

  • Theme E - Maintaining a Balance between Planning for Urban Uses and Safeguarding Rural Land

This section is far and away the most controversial component of the Comp Plan debate. Lexington has not added to its supply of developable land (land located within the Urban Service Boundary) since 1996, and many development, real estate, and building industry representatives expressed the sentiment that it was time to add additional developable land.  Conversely, agricultural community representatives and rural preservationists felt there was an adequate supply of land within the existing boundary. Ultimately, a compromise (of sorts) was struck. Rather than elect to add additional development land as part of the Comp Plan update, one goal states that it will preserve the current boundaries, while simultaneously commissioning a study on the most effective way to expand the urban service boundary in the future without putting unreasonable pressure on the surrounding agricultural areas.  This study is proposed to conclude on July 1, 2020, so it seems likely there will be no movement on the Urban Services Area boundary until sometime after that date. Until then, development will be required to occur within the current Urban Service Boundary. 

  • Theme F - Implementing the Plan for Lexington-Fayette County and the Bluegrass

There are three simple goals to this section: involve Lexington-Fayette residents in the planning process, implement the full comp plan, and increase regional planning. The implementation portion involves creating a system of metrics to mark the progress of the plan, as well as criteria to guide zoning decisions.

What Next?

The Elements and Implementation portion, as stated before, may be here as soon as the summer or as late as the end of the year. The Planning Commission is slated to hold meetings and other opportunities for public input throughout the process to gauge public buy-in to practical aspects of implementation. This Comp Plan will shape Lexington for at least the next five years, but the effects will be felt for decades, so interested stakeholders should continue to be involved in the process.

Jacob WalbournJacob C. Walbourn is an associate in McBrayer’s Lexington office. Mr. Walbourn focuses his area of practice on planning and zoning law handling a wide variety of land use matters for clients in the private sector. His responsibilities include attending Planning Commission and Board of Adjustment hearings and working with developers, business owners, and government agencies on land use applications, zoning ordinance text amendments, comprehensive plan updates and other land use issues. Contact Mr. Walbourn at jwalbourn@mmlk.com or (859) 231-8780, ext. 102, or reach out to any of the attorneys at McBrayer.  We take a team approach to deliver effective counsel to all our clients, so other attorneys in the firm may perform these services as well.

This article does not constitute legal advice.

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