Create a new process for determining long-term land use decisions involving the Urban Service Boundary (USB) and Rural Activity Centers.
The 2018 Goals & Objectives for Imagine Lexington call for creating a new process for determining the when, where, why, and how of future USB modifications. This advocacy for a new way of looking at the USB is the cornerstone of this Comprehensive Plan, and is the next evolution of the nation’s first urban service boundary. It should be a revolutionary take on the concept, which could create a nationally replicable model. Council has already appropriated $150,000 to hire a consultant to assist in the creation of this process, which will determine the elements listed below.
It will also separate the question of whether or not to modify the USB from the Comprehensive Plan, and will create a long-term plan for Lexington’s sustainability.
The Urban Service Area concept, while instrumental in retaining Lexington’s compact form and preserving farmland, is not without its drawbacks. Throughout the years, there have been many contentious debates about the size and location of the boundary. The same conversations have been occurring for years, with development interests insisting there is not enough land to develop, while others advocate for preserving farmland and halting suburban sprawl. In fact, the debate begins anew every five years with the state statute-required update to the Comprehensive Plan. Increasingly, these deliberations dominate the proceedings, and, though vitally important, they distract from many of the other crucial issues that face a city with steady growth and trending desirability. The conversations turn from how Lexington should grow, to whether or not the USB should be modified, with each interested property owner in the Rural Service Area making their individual pitch. The resulting plans are not as robust as they could otherwise be if additional time were dedicated to other important topics and issues. It also increases the overall time required to spend on the update. Now, staff spends roughly two years updating the plan, leaving only three years to implement.
Additional difficulties exist with expanding the Urban Service Boundary through the current five- year structure. There is uncertainty on all sides of the issue, and therefore a heightened sense of anxiety and concern. Also, given that several major landholdings within the USB are currently held by a few large developers, some of the development interests believe that expanding the USB could provide additional opportunities for the smaller developers or builders to work.
However, there is no indication that simply adding new land to the USB would alleviate this concern, as many of the same large landholders would have the means to acquire those properties as well. However, the primary issue with the current system of determining whether or not to modify the USB is the unsustainability of the method long-term. This system will eventually lead to consuming all land in Lexington for development, even if that is decades or centuries in the future. It is crucial to create a long-range plan now; if Lexington continues to make ad-hoc decisions about whether or not to alter the boundary without such a plan in place, city leaders and citizens might not realize the potential negative impacts of additional development until it is too late. Instead, a controlled release of smaller amounts of land as truly needed to meet the Comprehensive Plan goals and objectives, understanding ahead of time which land can be used and which land is off-limits, will create a much more intentional development pattern. Infrastructure can be more efficiently planned, and everyone will understand what the future of Lexington development is to look like.
In 1958, Lexington created the nation’s first Urban Service Boundary. Throughout the years, this boundary has seen many evolutions; it has been expanded, it has been contracted, and it has been effectively maintained for over 20 years. The American Planning Association designated the Urban Service Boundary as a “National Planning Landmark” in 1991, an award for projects at least 25 years old that are “historically significant, initiated a new direction in planning or impacted American planning, cities or regions over a broad range of time or space.” Fewer than 100 of these landmark awards have been granted nationwide, illustrating the significance of the boundary and the impact it has had nationwide, as well as locally.
The Urban Service Boundary has served Lexington well and has provided a number of benefits over the years. Most people immediately recognize the role it has played in preserving the signature horse farmland for which Lexington is internationally known; however, it has, first and foremost, provided for more compact development patterns that reduced suburban sprawl, created infrastructure efficiencies and budgetary savings, and resulted in more sustainable development overall. For these reasons, this mechanism has been replicated in areas all over the United States and is one of the urban planning profession’s standard growth management tools. Improving how Lexington addresses such a critical part of what defines the community is one of the most important policy goals of Imagine Lexington.
- Establish a new process for long-term land use decisions involving the Urban Service Boundary.