Lexington Council Approves Urban Boundary Expansion Amidst Intense Debate

Lexington, Ky. – In a remarkable shift, the Lexington council has approved the expansion of the city’s urban service boundary, potentially adding up to 5,000 acres of land for the first time in nearly three decades, the Herald-Leader’s Beth Musgrave reports.

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council voted 10-3 during a recent meeting, indicating that the expansion would range from 2,700 to 5,000 acres. However, development within the expanded boundary would not be immediate, said Councilman Preston Worley, who initially pushed for the addition of 5,000 acres.

The city has directed the planning commission to develop a master expansion plan to address cost-related and development-related considerations. The commission has until December 1, 2024, to prepare this expansion master plan.

Controversially, the master plan cannot assure the creation of affordable housing in the newly expanded region, a revelation that stirred a heated debate during the council meeting. While some council members argued that expansion might not necessarily translate to affordable housing or lower housing prices, others pointed out the necessity to address the city’s mounting housing crisis and demand for land to generate more jobs.

“Rents and home prices in Fayette County have skyrocketed,” argued Councilman Preston Worley. “It’s simply not affordable to live in Lexington.”

However, Council member Hannah LeGris expressed concern over the lack of a defined cost for expansion, calling the process “piecemeal”. The council is expected to take a final vote on the 2045 Comprehensive Plan this June.

The expansion of the urban boundary, a contentious issue for the city for several years, has profound implications for Lexington’s future. The last time the boundary was expanded was in 1996 when around 5,400 acres were added, nearly half of which still remain available for development. The decision for expansion is influenced by several factors, including water and sewer capabilities, escalating housing prices, and the need for more land for businesses and jobs.

The 2045 Comprehensive Plan also reveals a greater emphasis on sustainable growth, green initiatives, affordable housing, and racial justice. For instance, the council proposed a 2050 deadline to achieve carbon neutrality and emphasized policies to rectify historically motivated racial land use.

While the urban boundary expansion is being widely scrutinized, the city’s lobbyist registration and donor disclosure rules are under the spotlight too. Groups that are advocating for or against the expansion, including the Fayette Alliance and Lexington for Everyone, are not obligated to disclose their donors or register as lobbyists under city ethics rules.

Vice Mayor Dan Wu, who oversees the council, has accepted substantial campaign sums from the family of Fayette Alliance board chair Greg Goodman, the owner of Mt. Brilliant horse farm. Wu said he “needs to know more before taking a stance on whether Lexington needs to revisit its disclosure laws,” Musgrave writes. He voted against the expansion.

Photo: Horse farms just outside Lexington KY, Known as the “Horse Capital of the World”. (Adobe Stock)