Should Lexington's urban boundary expand? Mayoral candidates weigh in on affordable housing challenge

Posted at 12:27 PM, Sep 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-22 15:01:52-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — For more than a half century, a city-created boundary has protected the horse farms from Lexington urban sprawl.

Councilman David Kloiber, who is challenging Mayor Linda Gorton in the upcoming mayoral electing, said he would like the see that boundary expanded to help create more affordable housing in the city, and prevent rising rents from forcing people out.

“We need to make sure the people who work in our city can live here, and the people who live here are not pushed out,” Kloiber said. “We need more housing to make sure our prices go down, it’s supply and demand.”

It’s an idea that Gorton says both won’t work and is unnecessary.

She points to two things; the first looks toward the past to show what could happen in the present. When the boundary was last expanded in 1996, the space left over was filled with almost no affordable housing, she said. The second, she says, is how there is still a lot of land left inside the boundary where more housing can be built.

“Just expanding the boundary won’t bring affordable housing, we know this from experience,” Gorton said, explaining that her current plan has been working, and the focus should be on putting more resources on it to make it more successful. Millions of dollars have poured into the effort and 3,000 units have been built since 2014, she said.

“We put $10 million in ARPA (American Rescue Plan) funds this year into affordable housing,” Gorton said.

Asked about why expanding the boundary, known as the Urban Service Boundary, would create affordable housing now while it didn’t in 1996, Kloiber said that twenty years ago, “we didn’t expand with a plan, we didn’t intentionally decide this is what were going to do, that we need these houses.”

Kloiber says the boundary is the reason housing prices in the city have increased so much.

A 2017 University of Kentucky study found Lexington’s land use policies, which include the Urban Service Boundary, did not appear to be causing housing prices to grow faster than prices for other cities and states.

“If Lexington were to expand its urban service area, housing prices might decrease slightly, or rise at a slightly slower rate,” the report says. “However, the impact on housing prices would likely be temporary.”

There’s another concern for the Fayette Alliance. Their executive director, Brittany Roethemeier, told LEX18 they oppose changes to the boundary right now because they could pose risk to the equine and agriculture industry around the city.

“I think what we’re putting at risk is not only our identity as the horse capitol of the world, but our entire agricultural industry,” Roethemeier said.

The area Kloiber wants to see the boundary expanded is near Hamburg, which is further from horse farms, he said.

Regardless of it is a horse farm or just open space around the city, Roethemeier said the focus for creating affordable housing should be inside the boundary. A 2017 study the Alliance commissioned found there are more than 17,000 acres of land for potential development and redevelopment opportunities within the boundary. The firm Lord Aeck Sargent completed the study. Roethemeier said 50% of the land the last expansion opened up has yet to be developed.

“Well, a lot of that land, just because its available, doesn’t mean its developable,” Kloiber said. “It doesn’t mean the person who owns it wants to build on it, and doesn’t mean it’s ideal for homes.”

Affordable housing is best created through smart and intentional land use policies, Roethemeier said.

“We have to look to the research, we have to look to the data, to dispel the false narrative about the relationship between the urban service boundary and affordable housing,” she said.

Stephanie Hensley told LEX18 she’s been looking for affordable housing for 3 months. Her 4th child was born last week.

“Having that fear in your head that you’re going to be homeless with your kids and have no where to go, it’s hard,” she said

Kloiber said his initiative, released Monday, hopes to help people like her. Called the affordable Lexington initiative, it would make zoning changes to make more complete neighborhoods.

“We must implement intentional development practices that balance both growth and infill to prevent sprawl while protecting our precious farmland,” part of the plan reads

In addition, he wants to create a Support Zoning classification, which the plan says would incentivize businesses and amenities to be located in areas they are needed. He also wants a public vote to be held about creating a dedicated funding source, in this case a 5 cent tax increase, for the affordable housing trust, which increases the number of units available yearly, the plan says.