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Fayette Alliance, citizens mount court challenge to Lexington's boundary expansion process

Josh James

Concerned Lexington residents, joined by the Fayette Alliance, say their lawsuit against the city’s urban county government over its new comprehensive plan and boundary expansion isn’t “anti-growth," but rather a statement about adhering to process and data-driven decision-making.

Debate over the boundary expansion – the first in decades – was contentious. And a new lawsuit filed by the Fayette Alliance and a group of citizens shows that the tug-of-war isn’t over, despite a final 13-2 decision by council giving the greenlight to up to 5,000 new acres of developable land.

Opponents of the detour from a more gradual comprehensive plan process argue the boundary decision oversteps state law, breaks with precedent, and runs counter to the opinion of city planners.

And the legal challenge isn’t coming out of nowhere. The possibility of a suit was brought up during council debates — with at least one council member, Denise Gray, taking strong exception to the suggestion.

"This is not a game to us and the threats of litigation I do not take lightly whatsoever," she said.

But Brittany Roethemeier, head of the Fayette Alliance, has maintained throughout the process that her group is not “anti-growth” or out to threaten the council. Instead she said the alliance is about making sure city leaders adhere to the law.

"The lawsuit itself is about more than the expansion of the urban service boundary that was mandated by the goals and objectives," she tells WUKY. "It is really being filed in objection to the manner in which the decision was made."

What the alliance hopes to see is a court decision that throws the city back into the planning process, one Rothemeier says wasn’t complete. And the studies that had been done, she says, didn’t support the council’s ultimate conclusion.

"The research that we know already exists... none of that research tells us that expansion of the urban service boundary is going to meet the needs that we have," she adds.

But whether the legal challenge gains a foothold – in the courts and in the public arena – remains to be seen. The decision to expand came on the heels of a vocal push for change as the city deals with a housing shortage and neighborhoods that are resistant to new development.

For now, there isn’t a timeline for when the courts might take up the challenge. The boundary expansion itself is currently in the hands of the planning commission, which has until the end of next year to plot out recommendations for the council.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.