The population of Winchester and Clark County has remained stable over the last few decades, particularly since 2010. The latest estimates put the population of the city at around 18,500 and the county at around 36,000.
The number for the city of Winchester is a bit misleading, though. Much of the total for the county lies in subdivisions that are contiguous with the city limit, but outside it. The true number of people living within the area most would call Winchester is probably closer to 25,000.
Whatever the number is, clearly our city and county are not experiencing the kind of growth that many neighboring Bluegrass communities are.
I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.
A recent article in the Sun quoted state Sen. Ralph Alvarado and state Rep. Ryan Dotson concerning prospects for future growth in Winchester. Both are pushing for road projects such as the extension of the Veteran’s Memorial Parkway and the widening of U.S. 60 (Lexington Road).
In discussing the idea that improving these roads would lead to more housing construction in the area, Alvarado said, “If you have more rooftops, more industry will follow.”
Dotson noted that Clark County needs to get to around 50,000 residents in order to attract big-box retailers and restaurant franchisees. He said Winchester could then see development similar to the Hamburg area of Lexington.
But is that really what we want?
Don’t get me wrong — I am certainly not against growth. But I have some serious concerns about the future being painted by these rosy predictions.
I see no reason to hope for more big-box retailers, and certainly not the kind of cookie-cutter development and traffic snarls characteristic of Hamburg. My family and I chose to live in Winchester because it was not like Hamburg, not in hopes of it ever becoming so.
During the five years we have lived here, we’ve witnessed steady growth in the “mom and pop” sector of Winchester’s economy, particularly downtown. These local shops and eateries are what give our community its own distinctive style. They also tend to return more of their revenues to the local economy.
We should be working to encourage more of this kind of retail growth.
My other issue concerns the type of housing we should be pursuing. If developers are left to their own devices, I fear a long sprawl of scattered subdivisions running along Lexington Road all the way to the Fayette County line. These homes would be aimed at folks who want to live in Lexington but can’t find anything there. They would likely be too expensive for most of us living here and populated by people who will spend most of their time and money in Lexington. Meanwhile, local services will be strained by the additional homes.
What we desperately need in Winchester is more affordable housing. More nice new homes in the $100-to-200,000 range and more apartments that are up to modern standards. I also believe we should stop building housing developments outside the city limit. Winchester should be pursuing more compact development closer to the downtown area.
These days, people are looking for walkable neighborhoods close to shopping and work. The Fairholme neighborhood on South Main is an example of this.
By building compact new neighborhoods adjacent to existing ones near the city core, maintenance costs for public infrastructure are reduced, compared to far-flung subdivisions.
It comes down to this question: what kind of town do we want to be? Do we want to be a clone of suburban Lexington, with look-alike neighborhoods and shopping centers? Or do we want a slightly slower pace, less traffic, and a small-town vibe that is uniquely Winchester?
I know my answer to that question. What about you?
This article appeared in The Winchester Sun on Friday, January 29, 2021.