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Urban Service Boundary Process

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.

Action Item(s)

  • Establish a new process for long-term land use decisions involving the Urban Service Boundary.

Goals and Objectives

GOAL A3: Provide well-designed neighborhoods and communities.

Objective: A3a

Enable existing and new neighborhoods to flourish through improved regulation, expanded opportunities for neighborhood character preservation, and public commitment to expand options for mixed-use and mixed-type housing throughout Lexington-Fayette County

GOAL B3: Apply environmentally sustainable practices to protect, conserve and restore landscapes and natural resources.

Objective: B3b

Identify and protect natural resources and landscapes before development occurs.

Objective: B3d

Coordinate interrelated planning, programs and activities that impact the protection, conservation and restoration of landscapes and natural resources.

GOAL C2: Attract the world’s finest jobs, encourage an entrepreneurial spirit, and enhance our ability to recruit and retain a talented, creative workforce by establishing opportunities that embrace diversity with inclusion in our community.

Objective: C2a

Prioritize the success and growth of strategically-targeted employment sectors (healthcare, education, high-tech, advanced manufacturing, agribusiness, agritourism, and the like), and enable infill and redevelopment that creates jobs where people live.

GOAL C3: Identify, provide and sustain readily available publicly-controlled economic development land to meet Fayette County’s need for jobs, amending the Comprehensive Plan as necessary to ensure it remains an up-to-date and workable framework for economic development.

There are no objectives related to this policy that further this particular goal.

GOAL D1: Work to achieve an effective and comprehensive transportation system.

Objective: D1a

Support the Complete Streets concept, prioritizing a pedestrian-first design that also accommodates the needs of bicycle, transit and other vehicles.

Objective: D1b

Develop a viable network of accessible transportation alternatives for residents and commuters, which may include the use of mass transit, bicycles, walkways, ridesharing, greenways and other strategies.

Objective: D1c

Concentrate efforts to enhance mass transit along our corridors in order to facilitate better service for our growing population, as well as efficiencies in our transit system.

GOAL D2: Support a model of development that focuses on people-first to provide accessible community facilities and services to meet the health, safety and quality of life needs of Lexington-Fayette County’s residents and visitors.

There are no objectives related to this policy that further this particular goal.

GOAL D3: Protect and enhance the natural and cultural landscapes that give Lexington-Fayette County its unique identity and image.

Objective: D3a

Protect historic resources and archaeological sites.

Objective: D3b

Incentivize the renovation, restoration, development and maintenance of historic residential and commercial structures.

Objective: D3c

Develop incentives to retain, restore, preserve and continue use of historic site and structures, rural settlements and urban and rural neighborhoods.

GOAL E1: Uphold the Urban Service Area concept.

Objective: E1a

Continue to monitor the absorption of vacant and underutilized land within the Urban Service Area.

Objective: E1b

Ensure all types of development are environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable to accommodate the future growth needs of all residents while safeguarding rural land.

Objective: E1c

Emphasize redevelopment of underutilized corridors.

Objective: E1d

Maximize development on vacant land within the Urban Service Area and promote redevelopment of underutilized land in a manner that enhances existing urban form and/or historic features.

Objective: E1e

Pursue strategies to activate large undeveloped landholdings within the Urban Service Area.

GOAL E2: Support the agricultural economy, horse farms, general agricultural farms and the rural character of the Rural Service Area.

Objective: E2a

Protect and enhance the natural, cultural, historic and environmental resources of Lexington-Fayette County's Rural Service Area and Bluegrass farmland to help promote the general agricultural brand and ensure Lexington-Fayette County remains the Horse Capital of the World.

Objective: E2b

Support the Purchase of Development Rights and private sector farmland conservation programs to protect, preserve and enhance our signature agricultural industries, historic structures, cultural landscapes, natural environments and community welfare.

GOAL E3: Maintain the current boundaries of the Urban Service Area and Rural Activity Centers; and create no new Rural Activity Centers. To ensure Lexington is responsive to its future land use needs, this Goal shall be superseded and no longer in effect upon completion of Theme E, Goal 4, Objective D.

There are no objectives related to this policy that further this particular goal.

GOAL E4: Protect Lexington’s invaluable rural resources and inform long-range planning for infrastructure, community facilities and economic development through the creation of a new process for determining long-term land use decisions involving the Urban Service Boundary and Rural Activity Centers.

Objective: E4a

Establish the process via a study, involving diverse stakeholders and constituents, that meets the projected needs of the agricultural and development communities, by preserving key agricultural resources from development pressures and identifying land for future urban development.

Objective: E4b

Ensure the study designates rural land for long-term preservation, identifies land for potential future urban development and specifies triggers, thresholds and timing for the addition of the identified urban land into the Urban Service Boundary, keeping infill and land use efficiency as the continued primary objectives.

Objective: E4c

Complete the study with the assistance of a consultant by July 1, 2020.

Objective: E4d

Implement the process resulting from the study as an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan, superseding Theme E, Goal 3 at time of adoption by the Planning Commission.