Preserving Fayette County Farmland

Barbara Meyer


One of the things that makes Central Kentucky special is the modern and exciting urban vibe that exists side by side with its iconic horse farms and historic farmlands. It’s a place that visitors from around the world come to experience, and a setting that generations of Kentuckians love to call home. The Purchase of Development Rights Program (PDR) is dedicated to helping the area maintain that unique balance of urban and rural ambiance.  

“Lexington has always stood out as a community engaged with its plan of growth,” says Zach Davis, President and Principal Broker of Kirkpatrick & Company, and Vice Chair of the Fayette Country Rural Land Management Board, Inc. “In 1958, we passed the first Urban Service Boundary in the nation. And, in 2000, the Rural Land Management Plan was finalized – the result of nearly twenty stakeholders from wildly different backgrounds, but all committed to smart, healthy, sustainable growth."

The PDR is Kentucky’s first Agricultural Conservation Easement program administrated by a local government. The PDR is a part of the Rural Land Management Plan (RLMP). Through the PDR program, any landowner in Fayette County whose farm meets the basic requirements can sell their development rights – that is, the right to develop or divide their farm in the future – to the local government for a one-time payment. In turn, the taxpayers hold a deed of conservation easement, which states that the property can only ever be used agriculturally or as green space. There are currently 272 farms and 30,000 acres preserved through the PDR; their goal is 50,000 acres.

In Central Kentucky, it’s important to place permanent easements on at least 50,000 acres in order to sustain an efficient critical mass of land needed to carry on the missions of working farms and agricultural industries. The property owner still owns the land in title but the property has a permanent easement specifically addressing the special aspects of the property for preservation or conservation, such as farmland, natural area, stream protection, historic resources, scenic views or tree stands. If Fayette County hadn’t developed the RLMP and PDR thirty years ago, there might not be the strong agricultural economy or vibrant tourism industry that exists today, and the cultural landscape that gives the Bluegrass its unique identity could have been lost.

Lexington’s program has been viewed as a model for other communities seeking to maintain historic farmlands and green space. There is a detailed ordinance that accompanies the RLMP outlining the process by which a landowner may apply to the program if they want to volunteer to participate in the program either through purchase or donation of the development rights on their property. The PDR receives federal, state and local dollars to protect those areas as defined in the plan as being unique and worthy of saving for future generations. In the beginning, money came from the tobacco settlement money awarded to the state and in recent years from the federally funded Farm Bill. Lexington-Fayette County has matched part of the state and federal funds.

Under the leadership of new Board Chair (and former Urban-County Councilmember) Gloria Martin, the Board has formed four new committees, all charged with helping the program achieve its next level of success. The Education and Public Outreach Committee is focusing on education, outreach and connections. They are working to strengthen their relationships with existing land owners, and reestablish relationships within the farming community in Fayette County – and the taxpayers. The goal of this Committee in particular is to continually share with the citizens of Fayette County the value and innumerable benefits we all enjoy thanks to this program.

“We are indebted to the citizen-servants who crafted the Rural Land Management Plan some 20 years ago,” said Davis. “Because of their foresight, my children, and their children, will enjoy the same quality of life – and perhaps better – that we do. It is the greatest legacy a community can bequeath.” •