February 21, 2024

Dear Neighbors,

Neighborhoods have experienced extensive planning activity over the past year, some coming from the Urban County Council and some from the Planning Commission and Planning Staff.  They include but are not limited to a more liberal Accessory Dwelling Unit Amendment than was originally put into ordinance, the expansion of the Urban Services Boundary (USB), the very permissive Short-Term Rental Ordinance, and now, the Growth Management Zoning Ordinance Text Amendment (ZOTA), which promotes increased intense development inside the USB.  The formulation of at least two of these planning changes involved private work groups that did not include recognized neighborhood leaders.  In response, it seems clear that neighborhoods need to work much more closely with both Planning Staff and Council Members.  In addition, neighborhoods need to work together.  The Planning Commission approved the Growth Management ZOTA unanimously after adding a major amendment that had no public discussion.  To its credit, Planning Staff has offered to meet with neighborhoods to discuss the ZOTA, and I’m certain staff will answer questions about any planning activity or ordinance.  FCNC will also send out material on the Short-Term Rental Ordinance in the near future.

Find below a selected summary of the Urban Growth Management ZOTA with FCNC comments:


1.  The Growth Management ZOTA, now being considered for passage by the Urban County Council, would allow an increase in zoning density for development meeting certain criteria through the use of zoning “bonuses.”  The three types of zoning “bonuses” are for Affordable Housing, the Downtown Business Frame (B-2A) Zone, and “Workforce” housing.  R-1 zoned properties with a bonus would become R-1T (Townhouse zoning).  R-2 would become R-3, R-3 would become R-4, and R-4 would become R-5.  The overall intent is to increase multifamily, affordable housing for renters and homeowners without a developer having to go through the zoning process or having to address neighborhood concerns.  Housing “bonuses” set a precedent to remove public engagement from the zoning process.

2.  To receive the “Workforce” bonus would require that a developer rent or sell to new residents, all of whom have an income of 120% or less of Lexington’s Area Median Income (AMI); moreover, the ZOTA sets no cap on the proportion of that income that may be devoted to mortgage and utility payments.  An example:  For a family of four (4), 120% of AMI is $107,000+ annually, based on 2023 data.  A family of four (4) with that income, $60,000 down, average debt, and an average credit rating, could receive a 30-year mortgage from a bank of $400,000+.  Developers could choose the type of bonus desired and would automatically receive a zone change to the next higher tier, enabling them to develop land more intensively and therefore make more money, all without the bother of requesting or justifying a zone change to existing neighbors.  The “workforce” bonus presents several problems: the required income level is too high, a “Workforce” bonus apparently can be awarded anywhere, and citizens will have no voice in a zone change that could occur next to or in their neighborhood. And there is no requirement that a “Workforce” bonus development contain any affordable housing whatsoever.  Affordable housing, defined conventionally, must have all residents with incomes of 80% of AMI or less based on the proposed new standards of the ZOTA.

3.  The bonus in the Downtown Business Frame (2A) Zone requires that 50% of the dwellings be “affordable” at 80% of Lexington’s median income; the rest has no income limit.

4.  Proposed changes in the R-2 duplex zone would impact many downtown neighborhoods by allowing 8-plexes or up to 12 townhouses together, decreased setbacks, increased allowable height, decreased lot size, cottage housing projects, and multiple residential buildings grouped on a single lot.  Lot coverage — building footprint relative to the lot — would have “no limitation.”  Many R-2 neighborhoods are currently zoned contrary to their prevailing use. These subdivisions have single family detached houses, but the ZOTA deals with them as if they were genuine duplex neighborhoods.  Mass comprehensive zone changes in the past created duplex R-2 zones with detached single-family housing.  Current R-3 neighborhoods also include a large number of single- family detached houses but have multifamily zoning.

5.  Changes In the R-4 and R-5 zones would allow heights up to 60 to 70 feet through reducing and relaxing the required setbacks currently associated with height increase. The principal uses in the B-1 Neighborhood Business (B-1) Zone would all be added to R-4 and R-5 as conditional uses, allowed with a Board of Adjustment permit.  That includes even the B-1 “form-based project” (proposed 8-16 (b) (27)) that allows mixed-use buildings on as little as half an acre with no set height and setback restrictions.  Examples of a “form-based project” are the HUB luxury student apartments at Limestone and Virginia or Upper and Pine.  Buildings with no setback, like the new University of Kentucky Credit Union on South Broadway at Boliver have been struck by cars, more than once.  The proposed R-4 zone also would require that “No more than five (5) single family detached dwellings” can be “contiguous along a single street frontage.”  Moreover, “Other varying housing types or neighborhood commercial facilities shall be incorporated.”  In R-5 areas, the uses would be more intense, with multifamily housing and commercial buildings that could be the lesser of 5 stories or 70-foot maximum height.  Both zones appear to be more open to gentrification and homeowner displacement due to increased land value through commercialization.  Housing is the principal source of wealth across all income and status groups in the United States, and the ZOTA ultimately proposes to replace homeowners in small homes with commercial properties.  Commercial development is desirable when needed, planned, and in context rather than being allowed randomly as seems to be proposed in the ZOTA.

6.  The B-3 and new Corridor Node (CN) zones can both be declared as “transit oriented development” (TOD) either in the Comprehensive Plan or as part of an “adopted Corridor Plan.”  Once declared TOD, the zones would allow residential development with no minimum limits on lot frontage, front yards, side yards, rear yards, or open space.  Similarly, there would be no maximum lot coverage or maximum height.  Planning Staff has suggested that Nicholasville Road and Northeast New Circle Road have “Adopted Corridor Plans” with locations already recommended.  Neighborhoods and residences are unprotected if near to or adjacent to these proposed buildings of unlimited mass and height with no setbacks.  FCNC believes larger, higher-density residential buildings can locate successfully in the B-3 and CN zones if the ordinance would provide guidance on the location of the buildings relative to surrounding residential areas and an assessment of traffic impact.  Setbacks, roads, trees, distance, parks, and any number of things can keep a high-mass, no-maximum height building from overwhelming nearby residential areas.  Traffic studies can assess traffic impact.  However, these requirements are missing from the ZOTA.

The purpose of TOD zoning is to add and diversify housing and increase the use of public transit.  However, much of its success is predicated on the people living in higher-density housing in high-traffic TOD areas riding public transit to and from work.  If that does not happen, then traffic in high-traffic areas will become worse with the degree of the problem related to the size of new buildings and the number of occupants.  Commerce Lexington offers the following statistics on its website on how people in Central Kentucky get to work in Central Kentucky:

Means of Transportation

Number of people

Percent using

Drive Alone















Work from Home






The data from Central Kentucky suggest that major transit improvements need to be in place at least at the same time as the construction of higher-density multifamily dwellings.  The ordinance does not require such improvements or plan for them.  Lextran and the Urban County Government need to coordinate efforts to make sure that public transportation infrastructure is in place at the time of occupancy of high-mass, exceptionally tall residential buildings.

The assumption that TOD will meet its objectives given the extremely low number of people who use public transit to get to work and back may take decades to become reality.  The Urban County Government will need to greatly increase funding for Lextran over a long period of time if we are to expect needed public transit improvements.  Lextran has only one central transfer station for multiple routes in Fayette County, on Vine Street downtown, so Lextran’s usefulness during the morning and evening rush hours for this purpose is questionable. There are points of transfer from one bus line to another where they cross.  Buses generally only travel up and down corridors with the possible exception of routes near the University of Kentucky. There are several cross-town routes called “connectors.”  In most locations, buses arrive only once every hour.  Corridor neighborhoods should pay attention to the B-3 and proposed CN zones because of the proposed higher population density and the possible addition of exceptionally high and large residential and mixed-use buildings.  Corridor Plans and the Comprehensive Plan (over 500 pages) will also become more important.  The LFUCG should identify the sites already included as potential TOD sites.

Increased density in all zones could lead again to problems with flooding and Lexington’s sanitary sewer system if not carefully monitored and regulated.  Funding for regulation and continuing Lexington’s capacity assurance program will be essential.

My point is that many aspects of these new ordinances and rules for developers are yet to be resolved to produce successful implementation.  Planning Staff has offered to meet with neighborhoods regarding this ZOTA and also can answer questions about Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and the new Short-Term Rental Ordinance.  You can reach Planning Staff through your Council Member, or by calling 859-258-3160, or via email at  Involving Council Members would also be wise, because they will decide what becomes city ordinance and what does not.  Remember that our three Council Members-at-Large also are everyone’s elected representatives, so they too have an interest in your discussions with Planning and Council.

Thanks for all that you do for your neighborhoods.


Walt Gaffield, President
Fayette County Neighborhood Council, Inc.