Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Time To Set Some Goals

The Planning staff has proposed and the Planning Commission, along with the Mayor and a large part of the Urban County Council, has agreed that maybe we have many more items to think about than just continuing to expand the urban growth boundary. So, that largest part of the process is out of the way...right? I don't think so and neither should you.

To a majority of the general public, the Comprehensive Plan is merely some pretty colors on a map and some generalized statements about the intentions to get, what might be called, progress down the road. The Plan is more than this but so often it involves decisions on what can be done in the newer “greenfield” areas and “stabilizing” the existing (possibly declining) neighborhoods while leaving all else in a holding pattern of “status quo”. This time around I hope that the concentrations will be on things other than spreading growth and keeping what we have. Lets try to actually determine what is the best use of our urban landscape.

The phrase “highest and best use” is often thrown about as what is desired for any particular piece of property, yet that usually means something different to different people, commonly influenced by the level of involvement or ownership in said property. Sometimes the highest use and the best use are diametrically opposed to each other and can be viewed in reverse depending on your desires for the overall community.

CentrePointe and the old Lexington Mall property, two of my favorite subjects, are prime examples of how we can see thing differently.

The CentrePointe block, as has often been said, occupies the very center of Lexington and many would have you believe that a smattering of buildings, none more than four stories, and housing uses which waxed and waned on an a variably, oscillating schedule so as to usually be out of sync with each other. Rarely would one use feed off another to the benefit of all for both the daytime and nighttime or after hours schedules. What some called the best uses were far from the highest uses and even the proposal, as a highest use, was criticized for not being the best use.

The former Lexington Mall, built on a filled in portion of the original water company reservoir, started off as a somewhat regional shopping destination and then fell upon harder times as the retail world (and the fickle consumers) marched off to bigger and better things. Thirty years and minimal updating will do a number on buildings, just ask the Lexington Center folks. What may have been the highest use for the property soon became not and maybe an auto-centric religious use will end up not being the best use in a post carbon transit world.

These are but two examples of what situations currently exist throughout Fayette County, from the underutilized parcels of abandoned apartment complexes and former roadside motels to the maze like subdivisions full of cul-de-sacs which limit walkability and provision of efficient public service. How would one propose to bring the highest and best uses to these areas? Should we alter the uses or the way that these uses are exhibited? These are the questions that I think should be answered and planned for. Leaving the status quo should not be an option.

Proposing wholesale changes for large underutilized properties or existing residential neighborhoods is NOT the way the Planning Commission has worked from its inception. For nearly 85 years the commission and staff have fielded proposals from property owners and developers to approve or deny as they see fit. Still, the general impression of the public is that the staff has directed (and placed) the wrong uses in some very wrong locations, while others are angry and confused when they are denied uses that they feel are very legitimate. As I said before it is perspective.

Will this be another NEW way of doing planning? Will we see walkability brought to our outer suburbs or will we see the suburban style redevelopment of our currently walkable neighborhoods? Will we see more single child (or less) households or will we see more multi-generational housing units? We are now seeing home ownership rates declining and that will probably not go back up any time soon, if ever. Newer home buyers are looking for smaller units in walkable areas, so what will become of the larger houses on ½ acre or ¼ acre lots? Where will these folks walk to in the sprawling cul-de-sac neighborhoods that we have now? This is the year that we need to ask these and other harder questions. This is also the year that we should get some answers to these questions.

Today the Council's Planning and Zoning Committee heard a presentation about the upcoming goals and objectives which should be coming from the Planning Commission by the end of the summer. Both the Council and the Commission need to hear from the public and not just the typical “movers and shakers” of the past. The LFUCG Planning page has recently added an email link just for this purpose. Do not hesitate to let them know how you feel on any of these topics and let me know how you feel too.

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