Retaining Walkability Through Growth - Georgetwon, KY
Author: Joe Kane
Georgetown Kentucky has long protested the characterization of itself as a bedroom community for Lexington. Georgetown is located twelve miles north of the major city in the region, Lexington. Georgetown is often competing for respect from Lexington whose population of about 300,000 people is ten times that of Georgetown. Georgetown adopted a growth boundary in the 1980’s in order to keep its urban edge from creeping southward to join that of Lexington’s. That goal of maintaining its identity is often at odds with the desire to bring the modern amenities that a growing small sized city like Georgetown needs to mature.
Georgetown in Scott County, Kentucky, has been the fastest growing city on a percentage basis in Kentucky for much of the last decade. Scott County had a population of roughly 12,500 with an agricultural based economy in 1810. One hundred and seventy years later, in 1980, Scott County had grown to only 21,813 with roughly half that population, or 10,912, living in the City of Georgetown.
Then came Toyota. In 1984, Toyota chose Georgetown in Scott County as the location for its first major vehicle assembly plant in North America. In 2019, the Toyota Plant has grown in size to be the largest automotive plant in North America and one of the largest buildings under roof in the world, with 7.5 million square feet of floor space. Employing 8000 workers commuting from 33 counties, the Toyota plant’s campus is a city onto its own.
The population in the City of Georgetown has increased from 10,912 in 1980, to roughly 35,000 in 2019 and the city is projected to continue to grow into the future. Georgetown is lucky in that locally the wage levels remain high and jobs are plentiful. However, the local jobs bring an influx of workers to the county and the shift change periods strain the local transportation network and challenge us local planners trying to maintain a livable, cohesive town while accommodating growth.
One strategy we focus on is promoting walkability in new development and integrating open space and trail planning into new subdivision development to maintain and expand viable non-automotive transportation alternatives. In addition, we have been trying to take advantage of a very successful trail project in the adjoining community of Lexington and extend that project to downtown Georgetown.
The Legacy Trail is a multi-use paved trail that is for most of its length off-street. It runs from downtown Lexington north through the city, through University of Kentucky owned farmland to the Kentucky Horse Park. The Legacy Trail project was initially conceived, funded and constructed to coincide with the World Equestrian Games, which were held at the Horse Park in 2010.
Some Scott County citizens saw the potential of the project as a regional amenity and enjoyed using the trail which was very close to Scott County. (The Kentucky HorsePark is a state park which is located partially in Fayette County and partially in Scott County) The first phase of the trail ran from a trailhead south of the HorsePark entrance south into Lexington and terminated just north of downtown Lexington. Scott County residents can realistically only park and ride the trail, trying to navigate county roads on bike or foot to get to the current trailhead from Scott County is dangerous at best.
Thru a series of initiatives and fund raising efforts private funds were raised to pay for a feasibility study to look at extending the trail north into Georgetown and beyond. The feasibility study was completed by CDP Engineering in 2014 and a potential route was prioritized that ran along the western boundary of the HorsePark, through a tunnel under Interstate-75 and into Georgetown. An additional 6.6 miles in length are proposed to be added to get the trail from the HorsePark to Cardome Park north of downtown Georgetown.
An urban loop was also designed to connect the Legacy Trail to downtown and Georgetown College, along with a Toyota loop to connect the trail to the Toyota Plant campus. In total, if the Legacy Trail were extended its proposed full length to Cardome Park it would create a multi-use off road trail, 12-foot average width, 18.6 miles in length, linking Lexington and Georgetown urban centers.
The Georgetown-Scott County Planning Commission partnered with the City of Lexington in 2015 on a TAP (Transportation Alternatives) Grant to extend the trail to the northern end of the Kentucky Horsepark. This grant was only partially funded but allowed the trail to be extended in 2016 across a major road, Ironworks Pike, and half-way thru the Horse Park to the Scott County line.
The Planning Commission has been successful in recent years in getting commitments from land owners and developers to build sections of the trail or reserve easements on their land when it develops or is platted, in order to accommodate the future trail. We are fortunately that local elected officials, citizens and the development community see the benefit of the future trail extension. We have a route identified and are working together to find sources of funding to build the Scott County trail section.
The staff at the Planning Commission sees this as one of their most important tasks, ensuring that this trail gets built. It will allow for the two communities of Lexington and Georgetown to be linked, while still maintaining their separate identities. It will allow Scott County residents direct access to a large recreational amenity that can link neighborhoods with workplaces and downtown and help stitch the community together in a way that new street improvements or road connections cannot. In that way we hope to build on the Legacy that Lexington started.
Joe Kane is Director of the Georgetown-Scott County Planning Commission. He is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Design with a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning. He worked for five years in the St. Louis and Atlanta regions before moving to Lexington, KY in 2000 to start a historic property restoration company. He has twenty years experience in the planning field, primarily in the public sector. He holds the AICP certification and is LEED and CNU accredited.