Refugees and Immigrants

My father was a refugee. As a child of five in 1921 he fled with his parents and little sister from oppression and persecution in Russia.  The family spent two years moving around Europe waiting for sponsorship, and finally arrived at Ellis Island in 1923. My father and his family were lucky in their timing, arriving just before more restrictive immigration laws were enacted. Here is what Wikipedia tells us about those laws at that time:

The Immigration Act of 1924, or Johnson–Reed Act, including the National Origins Act, and Asian Exclusion Act (Pub.L. 68–139, 43 Stat. 153, enacted May 26, 1924), was a United States federal law that limited the annual number of immigrants who could be admitted from any country to 2% of the number of people from that country who were already living in the United States as of the 1890 census, down from the 3% cap set by the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, which used the Census of 1910. The law was primarily aimed at further restricting immigration of Southern Europeans and Eastern Europeans, especially Italians and Eastern European Jews.[1][2][3] In addition, it severely restricted the immigration of Africans and outright banned the immigration of Arabs and Asians. According to the U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian the purpose of the act was “to preserve the ideal of American homogeneity”.[4] But though the Act aimed at preserving American racial homogeneity, it set no limits on immigration from other countries of the Americas.[5] Congressional opposition was minimal.

Unless we are Native Americans we all have some story of immigration in our backgrounds. Many of those are also the stories of refugees. It is important to remember those stories.

Recently at a Council meeting I made this statement about immigrants and law enforcement in our community.

As the issue of immigration has become more heated, I believe it is important to provide more information to our community about both the values we uphold and the practical actions we take to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone in our community. So I want to share my views publicly, views I have already shared with Council Members

First, I believe it is important for us to affirm that we are a nation of immigrants. Consistent with that history and the values that underlie it, the actions we take intend to welcome immigrants regardless of nation of origin or religious affiliation.

Second, it is important for us to affirm that we are a nation of laws. Those laws separate local, state, and federal responsibilities.

For local policing to be effective, all in the community must feel that they can report or provide information about offenses without risk to themselves and their families. Our police ensure that all people have equal protection and services. They do not divert attention from more important policing effort in order to check for immigrant status. The federal Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is charged by federal statute with that responsibility.

Our community has benefited greatly from immigration, just as individual immigrants have benefited greatly by becoming part of our community. I believe we need to and will do our best to continue that mutually beneficial relationship.

As the child of a refugee and immigrant this issue is highly personal and touches me deeply.  Even were that not so, as an elected official I have a responsibility to speak out in support of fair and compassionate treatment for immigrants in our community.  And even were that also not so, as one member of the community, along with thousands of others, I welcome and support all people who choose to make this their home.


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Boone Creek Outdoors Zone Change Update: A Winding Path

There are times when what looks like a simple action by Council has taken so many twists and turns that it becomes hard to figure out what actually happened and why. Council’s approval of a zone change for Boone Creek Outdoors is one of those times. What follows is a condensed but still rather lengthy explanation of the path to the final outcome. I share it, and I encourage you to take the time to read it through,  because I believe it is important to understand the context as well as the outcome. This is likely the first of numerous applications to increase appropriate activities in our rural area.

In the first step in this process, Council passed the Rural Recreational Zoning Ordinance Text Amendment (ZOTA) in July of 2016.  The ZOTA provided updates to the code of ordinances to better accommodate recreational tourism and other uses.  For additional information about the long path to approval of this ZOTA, see my related blog posts here.

Following the adoption of the ZOTA, Boone Creek Outdoors submitted to the Planning Commission an application for a zone change from Agricultural Rural (AR) to Agricultural Natural (AN). They also submitted a request for a conditional use permit for a canopy tour with zip lines, one of the conditional uses included in the AN zone. Ordinarily, requests for conditional use are made to the Board of Adjustment, but a special provision allows for developers to combine a zone change request with an associated conditional use request. The Planning Commission then acts in lieu of the Board of Adjustment in considering the conditional use request. Council must approve, disapprove, or modify Planning Commission zone change decisions, but Planning Commission actions on conditional use at the time of a zone change are treated the same as Board of Adjustment decisions, with any appeal going to Circuit Court.

The Planning Commission approved both the zone change and the conditional use permit, as well as a preliminary development plan.  You can view associated documents here.

The zone change received first reading before Council on December 1, 2016 (legislation requires a first and second reading to become law).  Councilmember Plomin moved at the November 29, 2016 Work Session to schedule a zone change hearing to further review the ordinance.  You can view that hearing, held on January 19, 2017, by clicking here.  Much of Council’s discussion at the lengthy hearing focused on changing some conditional uses to prohibited uses for this parcel of land.  At the conclusion of the hearing, Council voted to prohibit the following uses as part of the approval of the zone change:

  1. Cemeteries, crematories, columbariums, and mausoleums.
  2. Churches, Sunday Schools, and parish houses.
  3. Non-service facilities of public utilities and common carriers by rail, including office, garage and warehouse space.
  4. Outdoor rifle and other firearm ranges and outdoor rodeos.
  5. Mining and/or quarrying of non-metallic minerals.
  6. Radio, telephone, and/or television transmitting or relay facilities.
  7. Youth Camps.

Here is where questions of procedure arose.  Adding these restrictions resulted in a “material change” to the ordinance, which in turn required a new first and second reading of the ordinance.  Due to some related procedural issues, Council had to schedule the final reading of the ordinance at a Special Meeting on January 24, 2017.  You can view the Special Meeting by clicking here.  At that meeting, Council voted to remove two prohibited uses from the original list so that the final prohibited uses include only the following:

  1. Cemeteries, crematories, columbariums, and mausoleums.
  2. Non-service facilities of public utilities and common carriers by rail, including office, garage and warehouse space.
  3. Outdoor rifle and other firearm ranges and outdoor rodeos.
  4. Mining and/or quarrying of non-metallic minerals.
  5. Radio, telephone, and/or television transmitting or relay facilities.

Council then approved the zone change as modified. The complete ordinance can be read here.

Now, for future reference and for clarity, here are the factors related to the complexity of this particular process.

The hearing had a couple of conditions that made Council’s deliberation and process unusual. First, as stated above, the Planning Commission reviewed the conditional use permit application simultaneously with the zone change request, a relatively new practice for the Planning Commission.  Given this dual action, it was not clear if Council had the legal authority to prohibited uses in the ordinance that conflicted with the Planning Commission’s permitted uses.

Second, by regulation, if  Council fails to take action within ninety days the Planning Commission’s decision stands. In this case, the ninety day period overlapped with the nearly six weeks of Council winter recess.  Council’s deadline for review was January 25, 2017.  Therefore Council had an unusually short window in which to act.  This short window was compounded by a procedural issue—the need for ten votes to suspend the rules and give second reading of an ordinance at the same meeting as the first reading.  In this instance what this meant in practice is that while there were nine votes to approve the ordinance, there were not ten votes to suspend the rules and give the ordinance a second reading.  Council’s best option in these circumstances was to schedule a Special Meeting on January 24, 2017, at which the ordinance received second reading.  You can view that meeting here.

The circumstances surrounding this zone change represented unique challenges, but the precedents set by this zone change made Council’s diligence on this issue crucial.  I appreciate all stakeholders, staff, and my colleagues on Council for working carefully through a complex process to reach a thoughtful and consequential decision.

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Update on Minimum Wage

On October 20, 2016, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that our commonwealth’s cities do not have the power to increase the minimum wage, given the state’s existing regulations.  The decision reverses an earlier ruling by the Jefferson County Circuit Court, which upheld a challenge to Louisville’s minimum wage ordinance.  You can read the Kentucky Supreme Court’s majority opinion, concurring opinion, and the dissenting opinion here.

I am disappointed by this ruling.  I believe some of our community’s most vulnerable working members need relief.   I supported Lexington’s minimum wage ordinance and am hopeful for action at the state level by the Kentucky General Assembly.  At the October 25, 2016 Work Session, Council considered a motion that would repeal the minimum wage ordinance (Ordinance 130-2015) and a complementary ordinance (Ordinance 113-2016) that authorized the Human Rights Commission to enforce it.  Given this issue’s importance, I opposed that motion because keeping the ordinances creates no legal issue, emphasizes Lexington’s intention for a more livable wage, and continues to highlight the needs for state action.  The motion to repeal the ordinances failed by a vote of 8-6.

For additional analysis of the issue as it currently stands, please click here to read this op-ed by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy’s Jason Bailey.  For additional context on the local history of minimum wage, please see my earlier blog posts below:

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Change for the Better: How to Help People Who are Panhandling

Recently we have experienced an increase in people panhandling in our community. Most of us want to be compassionate and helpful to those less fortunate, but most of us are also unsure of what is really helpful. To gain a better insight on this issue for myself and for the community I interviewed  Charlie Lanter, the Director of Lexington’s Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention (OHPI),   for a Council Comment video (below) about constructive responses to people panhandling.

Below are the front and back sides of the “Change for the Better” cards Charlie displays and refers to in the video.  You can request cards for your organization by emailing Charlie at clanter(at)







Here are some of the helpful insights I learned from Charlie:

  • Giving cash directly to people panhandling can do more harm than good. Providing direct cash can enable destructive behaviors, such as substance abuse.  Cash on-hand can also undermine a person’s willingness to accept long-term, professional, and productive assistance.
  • Lexington, through the excellent work of OHPI and our network of nonprofits, now has adequate resources and the capacity to assist those who are homeless and others in need. No one has to be stuck on the streets or without food.
  • Many of those who are homeless do not like panhandling, and many people who panhandle are not homeless.
  • You can connect homeless people and others in need to professional services by calling or texting 211, a centralized intake and referral service.

Also, as those following the news might know, panhandling in the street and at intersections is currently illegal in Lexington according to Section 14.5 of the Code of Ordinances.   That ordinance has been challenged and is currently under review by the Kentucky Supreme Court.  You can read more on that story in the Herald-Leader here.  A Jefferson County District Court struck down Louisville’s panhandling law on October 13, 2016. More on that story in the Courier-Journal here.

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Update on Town Branch Commons and its Significance to Lexington

As followers of the local news likely are aware, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded Lexington’s Town Branch Corridor project a $14.1 million TIGER grant.  For context, the Town Branch Commons is the name of two complementary public spaces: 1) the Town Branch Corridor, the network of trails that will now interconnect through downtown, and 2) the Town Branch Park.  You can see a beautiful conceptual images of the Town Branch Park by clicking here.  It is the park that will be placed behind Rupp Arena in place of the Cox Street parking lot.

The TIGER grant, in combination with CMAQ, TAP, KIA, and local funding, will support the construction of a 3.8 mile connector for the Legacy and Town Branch Trails.  The additional funding will support the $35.5 million construction.  This investment will give our community a contiguous 20 mile trail network that connects our urban core to some of our most beautiful green spaces.  For example, one could ride a bicycle from Masterson Station to the heart of downtown and then to the Kentucky Horse Park.  This TIGER grant helps complete the Town Branch Corridor, the backbone of the Town Branch Commons project.  It demonstrates substantive progress and investment, an important signal to private donors for the Town Branch Park.  Much needed storm water and sanitary infrastructure improvements will also be part of the construction.  For a more detailed discussion, please see the presentation at the August 30, 2016 Work Session here.

I am enthusiastic and supportive of the Town Branch Commons project.  I believe it will be transformational.  As I’ve had the opportunity to travel to other communities I’ve observed how world-class parks contribute to the vitality and quality of life of those communities.  I look forward to seeing a world-class commons where Lexingtonians can convene for public events and leisure.  I am also hopeful that the Town Branch Commons can serve as a flagship example of the importance and value of public parks and as a stimulus to needed park improvement throughout our community.

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LFUCG Hiring Officer of Diversity and Inclusion

In the Fiscal Year 2017 budget negotiations Councilmember James Brown proposed that Council allocate funding for an Officer of Diversity and Inclusion.  You can view the discussions of individual Councilmember budget recommendations here and here.  Now that Fiscal Year 2017 has begun, LFUCG is moving swiftly to fill that position.

As Administrative Officer Jenifer Wuorenmaa explained during the August 30, 2016 Council Work Session, a work group began researching and designing the position over the summer and then assisted in the development of a job description for the position.  Human Resources expects to post the position in September 2016 and complete the hiring process this fall.

I am pleased with the rapid progress being made to fill this position.  The Officer will assist LFUCG in addressing our internal challenges, and will also work with community organizations and businesses that serve our community.  Adding this Officer of Diversity and Inclusion is a significant next step, along with Global Lex, in making Lexington a more welcoming place to live and work for all members of our diverse community.

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First Annual Field to Table Dinner September 9

field_to_table_dinner_flyerThe First Annual Fayette County Farm Bureau Field to Table Dinner  will feature a four course, family style meal courtesy of The Sage Rabbit and Sullivan University.  This event is co-hosted by Bluegrass Farm to Table, an initiative of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development to grow our local food economy.  In addition to celebrating delicious food, the event will benefit Bluegrass Double Dollars, a program of Bluegrass Farm to Table that doubles the purchasing power of low-income SNAP recipients who wish to purchase local fruits and vegetables for their families.

This wonderful event will be held on September 9, 2016 from 6:30 – 8:30 pm at Walnut Lawn Farm in Lexington, KY.  Enjoy the hard work and unique products of Clark Family Farm, Teal Tractor CSA, Rolling Fork Farm, Rosemont Bakehouse, Bellaire Blooms, and more. Beverages will be provided by local favorites West Sixth Brewing and Talon Winery.

For more details about this event, please click here for the Facebook event page.

To purchase tickets, please click here.

The ticket cost is $75 per person which includes a $35 tax-deductible donation to Bluegrass Double DollarsIf you are interested in attending but financially constrained, please send an email to by Friday, August 26, 2016.  Please include the following information in the email: a brief bio and how you have/have not had the opportunity to access local food or connect with local farmers. Ten randomly selected entrees will each receive two free tickets to the event.

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Rural Recreation ZOTA Passes Council

Council has worked for approximately four years to determine appropriate recreational uses for Lexington’s rural area.  The challenge for Council has been balancing the need for action with the need to protect Lexington’s agricultural zones.  I believe we have achieved a responsible outcome with the Recreation and Tourism Zoning Ordinance Text Amendment (Rec ZOTA).

The issue reappeared before Council when Councilmember Susan Lamb brought it before the June 14, 2016 Planning & Public Safety Committee meeting.  The discussion focused on whether the following six uses should be classified as conditional or principal:

  • Educational classes related to agricultural products or skills
  • Commercial hiking & bicycling trails
  • Tree canopy tours
  • Equine trails
  • Canoeing & kayaking launch sites
  • Nature preserves

A work group convened by then-Vice Mayor Linda Gorton had recommended these uses be conditional.  The city’s planning staff concurred with this recommendation.  The Planning Commission voted 6-5, however, to change those recommended uses from conditional to principal.

At the Planning & Public Safety Committee meeting, I moved to amend the Planning Commission’s recommendation so that the activities are classified as conditional uses, to reflect the work groups initial recommendation.  The amendment passed 7-2 and the ZOTA went to the full Council as amended.  At the June 28, 2016 work session, following some debate, Council voted unanimously to place the legislation on the docket.  The Rec ZOTA as amended received a first reading on July 5, 2016, a second reading on July 7, 2016, and passed without objection.  I am pleased that Council passed legislation that allows expanded recreational uses and protects our hallmark rural area.   For additional background on this complex issue, you can view my earlier blog posts on this topic here and here.

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Courthouse Renovations Update

For those of you who missed the June 1, 2016 public meeting on the Historic Fayette County Courthouse and want to learn more about the renovations, here are  the final renderings of the project and information about the logistical changes coming during construction..

These final renderings are courtesy of K. Norman Berry Associate Architects and Deborah Berke & Partners.

The Historic Fayette County Courthouse’s exterior renovations are scheduled to begin in the 3rd week of July 2016.  The initial fencing is already built around the site.  Below are the upcoming landscaping, street, and parking changes you need to know about:

  • The White Ash tree at the corner of Upper and Short has been removed.  Unfortunately, the tree cannot be saved as it is infected with Emerald Ash Borer.  The White Spruce at Upper and Main will be relocated to a nearby park to make room for construction.  The project team plans to leave the Japanese Pagoda at Short and Upper and the Ginkgo tree at Main and the 5/3 Pavilion in place at this time.
  • The footprint of the current fencing will grow to the bollards of the 5/3 Pavilion and to the sidewalk on Main Street after July 4, 2016.
  • The Main Street sidewalk will remain open; the Short Street sidewalk immediate adjacent to the courthouse will not.  The closed portion will be from the Market Street crosswalk to the Upper Street intersection.
  • The current parking spots on the courthouse side of Upper Street between Short and Main will be unavailable.  Those spots will be replaced by new spots 1 block northeast on Upper.  Those spots will be in the right-hand lane of Upper between Church and Short, which will be for parking.  The next block northeast on Upper (between Church and Second) will have its right-hand lane converted to a right-turn only lane.  Traffic signals will be calibrated for the changing traffic pattern.
  • The 4 parking spaces on courthouse side of Short between Mill and Upper will be unavailable during construction.

If you would like more detail on the Courthouse renovations you can view the May 24, 2016 presentation to Council by Jenifer Wuorenmaa by clicking here.  It is item VI (c) on the work session agenda.  Prior to that, she gave an update to Council at the August 18th, 2015 Work Session. You can view that presentation [item VI (d)] here.


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Revised Downtown Design Excellence Proposal

If you have been following the Downtown Design Excellence saga, and you have a taste for detail and complexity, and you would like to understand where we are and where we are going on this issue, and you have the patience for a long post, read on.

Recent Events

On May 10, 2016, the Planning & Public Safety Committee reviewed the revised version of the standards and guidelines prepared by the Design Excellence subcommittee and voted 6-4 to recommend that the revised version be placed on the council docket for referral to the Planning Commission. Planning & Public Safety Chair Jennifer Mossotti had created the subcommittee and tasked it with reviewing and revising as needed the Design Excellence Task Force’s original proposal. You can view that meeting here, its committee packet here, and the design excellence addendum here.  The addendum includes the zoning ordinance text amendment (PDF pages 1-57) and the Downtown Design Excellence Reference Guide (PDF pages 58-130).  For additional context on Design Excellence, including its history, see my blog posts here.  All documents from the original proposal are available here for reference. If council approves the committee recommendation, the Planning Commission will be asked to initiate the zone text amendments needed to implement the revised standards and guidelines. The council will then need to approve or modify the version approved by the Planning Commission.

What follows is a summary overview of how the subcommittee revised the original proposal:

Design Standards & Guidelines

The standards and guidelines in both the original and revised recommendations apply to the B-2, B-2A and B-2B zones that encompass the downtown area.

The guidelines remain substantively the same.  However, they now apply only when a developer requests public support/incentives for a project.

The subcommittee revised the standards in the following ways:

  • Certain building materials are no longer expressly prohibited. Instead, a percentage of those materials is permitted.
  • In the original proposal a project could not build parking lots in certain locations.  In the revisions an applicant would have the option to seek a conditional use permit, which means he or she must receive design approval from the Board of Adjustment (BOA).
  • The height limit for the urban core portion of the B-2 zones was proposed to be 360 feet.  The revisions contain no height limit.
  • Streetscape requirements are incorporated and include such things as sidewalk pedestrian zone width specifications and amenity zone standards.  The Downtown Streetscape Master Plan influenced these changes.

As with any zoning regulations, a developer may seek a variance from the BOA for any of the standards.  It is also the case that both Urban County Council and the Planning Commission can initiate further amendments to the zone text deemed desirable.  For additional detail, please see the new Downtown Design Excellence Reference Guide available here.

Review Process

In the original proposal all projects in the B-2 zones would have had to follow a design excellence review process by staff or by a newly-created Design Excellence Review Board, with the level of review determined by project type and size.  In the revised version only projects that are in B-2 zones and request public support/incentives would have to follow an additional review process.  That process would be conducted by the Design Excellence Review Office. Creation of the Design Excellence Review Board is not included in the revised recommendation.  All other projects follow existing permitting review processes.  You can see charts of the processes in the Downtown Design Excellence Reference Guide here.

Projects seeking public support/incentives would work through a negotiated master development agreement similar to that required presently for any project requesting Tax Increment Financing (TIF).  In this process, the applicant would work iteratively with the Design Excellence Review Officer through the design guidelines review and approval process. The master development agreement would then require approval by Urban County Council.

Appeals Process

In the original proposal, any appeal from decisions by the board would go to Circuit Court. In the revised proposal, projects that follow existing permitting processes can seek variances/conditional uses through the BOA.  Appeals from a BOA ruling would go to Circuit Court. As noted earlier, projects seeking public support/incentive would create a negotiated master development agreement with LFUCG.  Decisions about a master settlement agreement are not subject to appeal since such an agreement is classified as a negotiated contractual process and not a regulatory process.


In the original proposal the Design Excellence Board would have reviewed and approved any demolition, and a project would not have been able to receive a demolition permit until having first received a building permit.  The revised process will now send demolition requests to the Board of Architectural Review (BOAR) for review and approval. BOAR would then follow existing regulations and procedures applicable to demolition within an H-1 overlay.  Appeals of a BOAR ruling would go to the Council.

Next Steps

While not perfect from my perspective, the revised standards and guidelines are nonetheless worth supporting. They improve the zoning regulations for downtown, encourage thoughtful and responsible development, preserve opportunities for public review when the public provides support, and offer some protection from the least desirable forms of development.  I hope the Planning Commission initiates a zone text amendment consistent with the revised recommendations and that council then approves that zone text amendment.  Taking this long-overdue action will make for a better downtown.

If you have read this far you are either a policy wonk, or you have a dog in this fight, or you are an exceptionally concerned citizen.  In any case, I thank you for your attention.

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