Lexington mayor pushes council to make affordable housing mandatory in new expansion area

Amy Wallot/Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government

Mayor Linda Gorton wants the Lexington council to ensure affordable housing will be built on any new land added to the city’s growth boundary.

“A lot of my concern is this push to expand but there is no plan,” Gorton said. “To the council’s credit, they want affordable housing in the expansion area.”

But when the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council voted 10-3 on June 1 to add between 2,700 and 5,000 acres to Lexington’s expansion area, there was no provision to mandate that affordable housing be built.

“The planning commission and planning staff can’t do it,” Gorton told the Herald-Leader Friday. “It has to come from the council.”

Gorton wants the council to consider amending the goals and objectives of the 2045 Comprehensive Plan, which includes the directive to expand the county’s growth boundary. The council could amend the plan to include language that dictates a percentage of any new land added be set aside for affordable housing, Gorton said.

At-Large Councilman James Brown, who voted for the expansion, said he would need to know more about any potential changes before making a decision.

Affordable housing is heavily subsidized by city, state and federal programs. If a certain percentage of new development is set aside for affordable housing, the money would likely come from taxpayers or city coffers, he said.

“The price of subsidizing affordable housing is going through the roof,” Brown said. “We need all types of housing.”

Brown said the University of Kentucky has struggled to find housing for all incoming students.

“That’s what concerns me. Where are we going to put all these people?” Brown said.

The council is expected to take a final vote on the new comprehensive plan at its June 15 meeting.

It’s under a tight deadline. If it does not pass the 2045 Comprehensive Plan by June 15, the original plan passed by the Urban County Planning Commission will take effect. The planning commission’s proposal did not include an expansion of the boundary. Rather, the commission recommended building on other data-driven reports to come up with a plan on how and when to expand.

Developers and those in the business community have pushed and lobbied hard for the expansion, citing rising housing costs and lack of housing for lower-income Fayette County residents, Gorton said. Those in favor of expansion have also said the city needs more land for new and expanding businesses.

“Those who have pushed for the expansion have never built affordable housing,” Gorton said. The city only has one or two developers who build affordable housing, she said.

If those in the building or business community really want to make housing more affordable, Gorton has a message: ”Get in the game. Make it work.”

The council gave the Urban County Planning Commission until Dec. 1, 2024, to develop an expansion area master plan after it identifies up to 5,000 acres to be added to the expansion area. If that plan is not finished by that date, an expansion can occur without the master plan. It’s not yet clear how that would work.

City planning staff has repeatedly warned there is nothing in the city’s current regulations that would mandate affordable housing be built in any expansion area. A master plan can dictate what types of development can go where, such as setting aside a certain number of acres for housing and a certain number of acres for business. It can’t dictate housing costs or price points, said Jim Duncan, the city’s director of planning.

The city’s last expansion of 5,300 acres in 1997 resulted in two affordable apartment complexes.

“It was largely single-family homes,” Gorton said. All of those homes were market rate, she said.

The other issue that has not been addressed is how and who will pay for new services and infrastructure in the soon-to-be-identified expansion area.

“A lot of it will fall to the developer to build the new infrastructure,” Gorton said.

Still, some of the big-ticket infrastructure projects, such as bridges or a new sewer treatment plant, will likely be paid by all taxpayers, she said.

That’s just the capital costs. There’s also no plan to pay for expansion of police, fire and other city services.

The city has added more police and fire over the past two decades to accommodate population growth. It’s also had to shift and build new fire stations and police roll call centers, where each of the city’s police sectors are based, as the population has expanded.

“All those new roads have to be paved and repaved,” Gorton said. “That’s all coming from the general fund.”