Message of Affirmation for Lexington’s Immigrants

I am the child of a refugee and immigrant. As a child, my father fled with his parents and little sister from oppression and persecution in Russia, arriving at Ellis Island in 1923.  So I have a personal reason to deeply value the openness and inclusion experienced by so many immigrants as they were welcomed to our country.  I have worked in my public life to ensure we continue to be that place of welcome.

In response to community fears, some colleagues and I put together a public service announcement emphasizing how much Lexington values its immigrant community. Please feel free to share this message of affirmation and inclusion.

 To learn more about how GlobalLex is making Lexington more welcoming for all, please see my earlier blog post here.

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Council to Update Economic Development Zoning Ordinance

On Thursday, May 11, 2017 Council approved the first reading of legislation to amend the zoning ordinance for Economic Development zones in the Expansion Area.  The ordinance that will be updated is Article 23A-10, which you can read here.  As a reminder, legislation must receive two readings at Council Meetings before becoming law.  The second reading of the amending ordinance is scheduled for the upcoming Council Meeting, which will be on Thursday, May 25, 2017 at 6 pm.  For those who have followed this issue, an earlier version of the ordinance received a first reading on September 29, 2016.  The ordinance has received substantive changes since then, which is why a new first reading was necessary.

The overarching intent of the zoning ordinance text amendment (ZOTA) is to help the Economic Development zones better fulfill their purpose, which is to foster contextually appropriate development that creates high paying jobs.  The revisions make an increasingly popular form of development—mixed used—easier to do.  Mixed used developments, for example, often combine residential units, cultural amenities, and businesses in a manner that lets individuals live where they work with nearby restaurants.  To get additional background on the reasons for advancing the ZOTA, please see this video of the December 1, 2016 Council Workshop.

Much of the deliberation before the Planning Commission and then the Council has focused on a new category of zoning uses known as supportive uses.  Planning policy wonks might be familiar with principal and conditional uses in zoning parlance.  A principal use in a zone is a use that is allowed “by right.”   Conditional uses, in contrast, are more case-specific uses that require approval from the Board of Adjustment.  Supportive uses are principal uses, but they have restrictions on their proportions in the development.  For reference, the supportive uses in the ZOTA are below:

  1. Supportive uses shall not exceed a maximum of eighteen percent (18%) of the otherwise permitted floor area within a development, as identified on the associated final development plan. Mixed Use buildings shall count toward the maximum permitted floor area of supportive uses herein, but not count toward the residential use maximum identified below in Article 23A-10(j)12b. Structures dedicated solely to residential use shall not count toward the supportive use maximum because they will be limited by Article 23A-10(j)12b and d.
  2. Residential land uses shall not exceed eight and one-half percent (8.5%) of the gross land area within a development, as identified on the associated final development plan.
  3. A maximum of twenty percent (20%) of all supportive uses may be constructed prior to construction of other principal permitted uses listed in Article 23A-10(b). The allowable floor area for supportive uses shall be calculated based upon the total number of gross acres within the boundary of the final development plan and the permitted maximum Floor Area Ratio established in Article 23A-10(g).
  4. The maximum density for townhouses (3 or more units attached) shall be 12 dwelling units per gross acre, not to exceed 360 total townhouses. The maximum density of multi-family dwellings shall be 24 dwelling units per gross acre, not to exceed 360 total multi-family dwellings.

I would like to thank the various stakeholders in the community, the private sector, and LFUCG who have helped craft an ordinance that helps amend our zoning regulations to support development for high paying jobs in the existing Expansion Area land.  I appreciate the careful concern to safeguarding against unintended consequences and look forward to voting in favor of the ordinance next week.

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LFUCG Set to Award $150,000 in Workforce Development Grants

LFUCG allocated $150,000 in its fiscal year 2017 budget for grants that develop our workforce.   This new budget item originated from the General Services & Planning link, a subcommittee tasked with reviewing a portion of the FY 17 Mayor’s Proposed Budget.  The first round of awards supports skills training for Lexingtonians and assists with employment entry/reentry.  Grantees must be public, nonprofit, or private agencies and must deliver services within Fayette County. These grants and the programs they support will help individuals earn a more livable wage, which will have a multiplier effect of good outcomes for their families and our community.

Below is the Office of Workforce Development‘s recommended list of the award winners, the amounts they are to receive following Council approval, and brief descriptions of the programs.

Urban League / Bluegrass Comm. & Tech. College ($37,500) – Provide Certified Fiber Optic Technician training courses to teach participants to install, terminate, and test multi-mode fiber optic networks. Provide soft skill training to participants.

Jubilee Jobs ($20,000) – Provide 2-week, 7-step employment assistance program: one-on-one professional resume preparation, mock interviews, job preparation and conflict resolution workshops.

Building Institute of Central Kentucky ($20,000) – Provide classroom, lab training, and licensure for HVAC, plumbing, electric, carpentry, and property maintenance. Will also provide training for: OSHAL 10, First Aid, CPR, and EPA608.

Opportunity for Work & Learning ($20,000) – Provide Forklift or Customer Service Representative Skills Certifications, job readiness, and soft skills

Hospice of the Bluegrass / Bluegrass Care Navigators ($20,000) – Provide tuition scholarships for participants to earn Certified Nurse Aid (CNA) certification, and to pay for their State Competency Evaluation test.

Food Chain ($20,000) – Provide on-the-job training to participants in Food Chain’s processing kitchen (culinary methods, employability soft skills, health department requirements, etc.)

Build Inclusion Inc. / Easter Seals Cardinal Hill / Down Syndrome Association of Kentucky ($12,500) – Provide high school students and young adults with disabilities with supported employment services (career-readiness, job exploration, job shadowing, internship opportunities, etc.)

The grantees will submit quarterly performance reports in coordination with the Office of the Chief Development Officer and the Workforce Development Manager.  If you would like additional context on this program, please see the associated presentation by Workforce Development Manager Elodie Dickinson at the March 21, 2017 Budget, Finance & Economic Development Committee meeting.  Should you or your organization be interested in future funding opportunites, please email Elodie Dickinson at edickinson(at)

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Council Meeting on Our Immigrant Community

Committee of the Whole Urban County Council Meeting on the immigrant community was held on March 16, 2017 to provide information to Council and the public on the status of the issue in Lexington.  The meeting specifically covered background information, present policies, and impact.  If you would like to learn about these topics, please view a video the Committee of the Whole meeting below:


I would like to thank all speakers for sharing their expertise and perspectives.  They are as follows: Isabel Taylor, Marilyn Daniels, Darryl Thompson, Elizabeth Leibach, Chief Mark Barnard, Betty Abdmishani, Edith Villalobos, Michelle Estrada, Bishop John Stowe, and Freddy Peralta.  For my views on this issue, please see an earlier blog post here.  For information on Global Lex, an outstanding program to make Lexington more welcoming to immigrants, please read my blog post here.

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In Time for Spring, Council Makes Way for Market Gardens

London Ferrell Community Garden

London Ferrell Community Garden

Lexington is fortunate to have a grassroots community that supports sustainable and affordable food access. Local food helps Lexington’s economy and promotes public health while also providing a link between the infill and redevelopment core and our signature agrarian green spaces. With spring approaching, I am pleased to report that Council has taken the final step to incorporate community and market gardens into our regulations.

The need for community gardens is formally recognized in the Themes, Goals, and Objectives of the 2013 Comprehensive Plan.  At the request of numerous constituents, I brought the issue of community and market gardens to Council at the August 18, 2015 Council Work Session. Council then voted to move the issue to the Planning and Public Safety Committee to draft a recommendation for updated legislation.

After review at the December 8, 2015 and February 9, 2016 Planning and Public Safety Committee meetings, Council and staff determined that the best way forward was to advance two parallel tracks of legislation. The community gardens legislation was designed to allow groups of individuals to share a plot of land for a collective yield.  Shared gardening can develop affordable produce for a neighborhood, a sense of community through work, and add vibrancy to the built environment.  Enacting the legislation required a modification to the Code of Ordinances, which had to be advanced through Council.   Market gardens, which allow on-site sales, required a zoning ordinance text amendment (ZOTA) in the zoning ordinances and therefore review by the Planning Commission.  With consensus-driven tweaks to the community gardens legislation,  the Committee advanced an ordinance recommendation to Council.  Council then gave the ordinance first reading at the March 17, 2016 Council Meeting and second reading at the April 7, 2016 Council Meeting, making the proposed legislation law.

The complementary market gardens ZOTA needed review from the Planning Commission. The Commission initiated the text amendment at the October 27, 2016 and recommended 9-0 the staff text at the January 26, 2017 meeting. The approved recommendation went to Council, which gave the first reading at the February 23, 2017 Council Meeting and the second reading at the March 2, 2017 Council Meeting. Both the community gardens legislation and the market ZOTA updates are now law.

Many thanks to my colleagues on Council, staff, and all of the community leaders who have helped support civic green spaces, our local food economy, and public health.  If you are interested in starting a community garden, Seedleaf offers a Masters Community Gardener Training here.

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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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