Letter to Council RE: FAR ZOTA

(The following  letter was sent to LCUCG Council on behalf of FCNC regarding the proposed FAR ZOTA. It is recommended that NAs and individuals review this proposed ZOTA and contact your Council representatives with any concerns or recommendations.)

Dear Council Members:

The Fayette County Neighborhood Council appreciates the opportunity to ask questions, comment, and make recommendations regarding the proposed Floor Area Ratio (FAR) Zoning Ordinance Text Amendment.  Our thoughts are as follows:

  1. The proposed ZOTA is, in fact, a significant stealth mass zone change. Note the tables below:


Proposed R-3 Zone Current R-4 Zone
FAR 0.75 0.70
Coverage 0.25 0.30


Proposed R-4 Zone Current R-5 Zone
FAR 1.6 1.3
Coverage 40% 35%


New R-5
FAR 2.25
Coverage 45%

Note in Table 1 above that the proposed R-3 Zone has a larger FAR and slightly reduced lot coverage from the current R-4 zone.  Note that the proposed R-4 Zone is larger in FAR and lot coverage than the current R-5.  The proposed R-5  increases FAR by 73.1% and lot coverage by 28.6% from current standards.

These are significant changes done with very little public knowledge, notice, or engagement.  Map amendments would have drawn public attention because of the large direct impact on individual neighborhoods.  A ZOTA is more abstract especially with almost no notice or public education.  In broad terms, R-3 would become R-4 and R-4 would become R-5.  R-5 would allow significantly more intense development and could be termed R-6 or R-7.

Should the ZOTA pass, a developer with the current R-3 zoning could build approximately to the old R-4 standards without needing a zone change or required public notice, and likely would completely shut out public engagement and participation.  The proposed R-4 would actually allow more intense development than the current R-5, and a builder also could build to the new standards by right, again without public participation or notice.  The new R-5 simply allows apartment buildings of intense mass and height, without introducing standards for location, building and site design, dimensions, or multi-modal transportation accommodations that could facilitate an apartment zone to serve new and emerging needs in urban density and design.

The FCNC recommends that these significant changes in zoning be done by map amendment rather than a ZOTA in order to achieve transparency, public engagement, and equity.  At bare minimum a public hearing is necessary before passage, and the Council needs to pull the ZOTA from the docket.  Time will be necessary to address a large number of concerns.  Under the constraints of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s puzzling that this ZOTA is moving at all, much less ready for Council approval.

  1. During a work session of the Planning Commission in January 2020, staff reportedly indicated that they had talked with stakeholders about the ZOTA.  Who were the “stakeholders” and is there a recording or public record of the work session?  Did the “stakeholders” include people who actually live in R-3, R-4, and R-5 areas, especially neighborhoods in transition?
  1. Neighborhoods generally do not know the location of R-3, R-4, and R-5 zones within or adjacent to boundaries nor do they understand zoning designations, including the meaning of “FAR.” The FCNC recommends that LFUCG notify neighborhoods of the locations of these zones in their vicinity with a full explanation of the intent and impact of the ZOTA before passage.
  1. In line with the urban renewal movement of fifty to sixty years ago, urban neighborhoods of single family detached houses, large and small, had a zone change imposed on them to allow multi-family apartment uses R-3 and R-4, called “low-and high-density apartment.”  This previous mass change in zoning in Lexington occurred at the time of merger and was most prevalent, but not exclusive, between Georgetown Street, Loudon Avenue, Midland Avenue, and the Downtown Business District.   The zoning changed but the houses—most of them affordable and many quite small—are still there.  The area around Maxwell Street and Stone Avenue, recently the subject of a zone change request with significant public opposition, also changed to R-4 at time of merger, and remains vulnerable today.

The FCNC recommends a change in the ZOTA that offers more protection to single family detached residences that share property lines with apartment buildings.  This should include significant buffering and setback requirements. Instead, the proposed ZOTA keeps the current five-foot side and ten-foot rear yard requirement even in the  R-4 “high density apartment” zone if building height is below 40 feet.  Some of the smaller, more affordable houses in R-3, resemble row houses and the great Anthony Davis likely could touch both the small house and a large-mass, tall apartment building constructed under the proposed R-4 standards at the same time.

  1. The Mayor’s Racial Justice and Equity Committee, especially the Gentrification and Housing Subcommittee have submitted recommendations that are not yet public. The FCNC recommends that the Council invite the Subcommittee and residents of impacted areas to discuss the ZOTA and make recommendations prior to a final Council vote.

Where in Lexington does staff project an impact from the ZOTA?  Will it be chiefly in low-income areas with predominantly minority residents?  What is the relationship between the ZOTA and gentrification and equity issues?   Does staff project that new or renovated apartment buildings constructed under the ZOTA would be affordable to the current residents in these areas?  Where should Lexington locate these proposed apartment buildings and why?

The FCNC supports the addition of a reasonable affordable housing provision for apartment buildings as part of the ZOTA.

  1. With higher density development come infrastructure issues, particularly involving tree cover, stormwater, and parking. The severity of infrastructure issues will vary by location.  How would the LFUCG deal with them, particularly given a certain decline in zone change requests, public notice, and public engagement?  Who in the LFUCG will know if an area floods before approving a proposed development?

Our stormwater manual sets a different and much lower standard for stormwater management for commercial (including multi-family) redevelopment sites than on new development, especially sites under one acre.  Is it sustainable to offer incentive to major increases in intensity of use without first improving the standards for stormwater infrastructure and management?  No.  A number of neighborhoods have flooding issues without being on the FEMA Flood Plain Map, and  the ZOTA as proposed will increase the number and severity of flooding issues in neighborhoods.

  1. During the development of the 2018 Comprehensive Plan, the FCNC asked for development sensitive to context, and we received assurances that new development would be “compatible” within neighborhoods. How will the new standards for apartment buildings be “compatible?”  Does the LFUCG have a definition for context sensitivity and compatibility for development and redevelopment?
  1. Staff is correct in asserting that the Apartment Zoning Ordinances would benefit from an update. However, the job is incomplete.  It must begin with updating the location of the zones, with map amendments.  What exactly should be R-3, R-4, and R-5?  We have already indicated that much of the R-3 in the downtown area became R-3 or R-4 at the time of merger over 50 years ago.  It’s unacceptable to update zoning requirements without also updating what areas should be in each zone.  What might be appropriate and inappropriate has changed in fifty years.

The proposed setbacks for R-3 and R-4 are the same.  The R-3 and R-4 zones are, in fact, currently identical in all uses and virtually all dimensional standards, save the three standards proposed to be amended (FAR, lot coverage, and height).   The ZOTA would radically increase the allowable mass, density, and scale of buildings in each without needed adjustments in building standards.

The FCNC recommends an assessment of all R-3, R-4, and R-5 locations and standards to determine if the application of the ZOTA would be appropriate in each location.

Thank you to the Council for the opportunity to assess the FAR ZOTA, ask questions, and suggest changes.

Walt Gaffield, President
Fayette County Neighborhood Council, Inc.