Support for Shrinking the Nation's Oldest Growth Boundary

Lexington, Kentucky's growth boundary survived a comprehensive plan update in 2019, after years of controversy. A housing crisis, a growing city, and a broken land use system are rearranging the political arithmetic behind the greenbelt.

May 18, 2019, 7:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Horse Farm

James Kirkikis / Shutterstock

Nolan Gray reports on the controversy surrounding the future of the oldest growth boundary in the United States, established by Lexington, Kentucky in 1958.

The Lexington greenbelt has stirred controversy throughout the public process of updating the city's comprehensive plan, according to Gray:

Businesspeople and developers argued that a lack of developable land in Lexington is driving businesses away and housing costs up, while defenders of the greenbelt countered that there is still ample land to develop without extending the boundary further. 

Gray provides the history of the greenbelt (enacted to protect the horse breading industry from expanding suburban development) and catches up to contemporary times, when Lexington is a city of 350,000 with a diverse economy. "Many of Lexington’s new residents are economic migrants from the Rust Belt and the coal fields of Eastern Kentucky—my parents among them. These new Lexingtonians have little connection to the horse industry," explains Gray.

Meanwhile, the city's planners are still talking about infill and transit oriented development, and generating new mechanisms for delivering on those goals, such as the Placebuilder program, which "aims to ease up on the permitting hurdles facing mixed-use urban infill," according to Gray.

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