Lexington's First Zoning Ordinance
In 1928 the Kentucky General Assembly authorized Lexington to appoint a planning commission and adopt a zoning ordinance. After putting a temporary zoning ordinance in place for about two years, the Lexington City Planning and Zoning Commission adopted the city's first zoning ordinance, the Building Zone Ordinance, in 1930. To carry out its stated goals (shown to the right) it established separate districts for different types of residential, business, and industrial use. This ordinance included elements of exclusivity.
To the left is a small image of the large map that accompanied the Building Zone Ordinance. At the bottom of the map is a "Synopsis" that summarizes the requirements of the three residential, three business, and two industrial districts (the equivalent of zones).
The five business and industrial districts differed from each other in the heights of buildings, required size of lots (if any), and in the types of activities that could take place, generally from the most to least benign in terms of noise, odor or safety. Residences were allowed in all business districts, as well as In Industrial District A.
The three residential districts differed in the height of buildings, required yard size, number of families allowed per residence, and the types of non-residential uses allowed. The synopsis of the residential district requirements, taken from the map, is shown enlarged below.
Because the map was printed in black ink only, we found it difficult to distinguish the various patterns shown in the "Symbols" key at the top of the map: the dots, stripes, and cross hatches that represent the various districts and show their planned locations. We therefore added color to the symbols, resulting in the map to the left.
The large green section, and a few little islands of green, represent the Residence A district, which would allow only single family homes with relatively large yards. The largest part of this district had not been developed yet, as shown by the lack of streets.
The Residence B district, shown in blue, would perhaps be considered medium-density. Homes for any number of families were allowed (single-family, duplex, multi-family), but the building height was limited to three stories. Required yards were smaller than for Residence A. It is not entirely clear what parts of town were meant to be Residence B, because in the original map its symbol rectangle was not filled in with any pattern. It is thus possible that every part of the map not covered with a pattern was meant to be Residence B. We think it unlikely, however, so we added blue highlighting only to those areas that seemed to be developed.
Residence C, shown in yellow, allowed homes for any number of families, and buildings up to 8 stories. The high density areas were for the most part adjacent to the central business district (marked in black).
This ordinance seems to provide for some degree of inclusivity in that the medium density area—which allowed homes for families of any size—is large. It is also exclusionary in that almost all of Residence A, the lower-density (presumably higher-income) zone, is set far away from higher-density (presumably lower-income) uses. Exclusionary zoning (which might include, for example, large, expensive minimum lot sizes as well as high minimum housing sizes and costs) was and is not unique to Lexington. In fact, similar zoning ordinances are found in almost all communities in the United States, and most of us have lived in communities zoned this way all of our lives.
It could be argued that the restrictions in the Building Zone Ordinance were carryovers from the deed restrictions typical of Lexington's early subdivisions. A second look at the sample deeds in the section on Restrictive Covenants shows that many of those covenants set out required yard sizes and/or minimum costs of the homes to be built on the lots. The advertisement for Mentelle Park, produced around 1906, states that its restrictions assured there would be "nothing but high-class residences" which in turn would assure "desirable residents."
It is also worth noting that no part of the Residence A area is adjacent to a business or industrial area (colored purple, orange, or red), except for the very small "Business A" areas that dotted major roads and probably represented neighborhood convenience shopping. Many sections of the Residence B and C areas, on the other hand, are adjacent to or even surrounded by business or industrial uses.