The battle over Fritz Farm

New Lexington plan allows development of 52-acre family farm

bfortune@herald-leader.comNovember 13, 2009 

After a 20-year battle waged by the Fritz family to get the city to rezone their farm at the corner of Nicholasville Road and Man o' War Boulevard, the Lexington Planning Commission cleared the way on Thursday for the land to be developed.

The commission adopted the South Nicholasville Road Small Area Plan, which will guide future development along the corridor, including the 52 acre-Fritz Farm and the nearby 103-acre University of Kentucky Horticultural Research Farm.

John Fritz Jr. expressed relief after the Planning Commission's vote. "It's the end of a very long road," he said. "I'm a happy guy."

Now the farm can be developed one-third commerical, one-third mixed-used and one-third residential.

Fritz said he only wished his father had lived to see this day. John R. Fritz Sr., a farmer who died 11 years ago Thursday at age 79, started in the mid-1980's trying to get his land rezoned.

Fritz, 62, has lived there since he was 5. His mother's family owned the farm for more than 100 years.

Development made farming there increasingly difficult. Man o' War cut the farm in two, and John Fritz Sr. said getting a tractor across the busy road was a major undertaking.

The Fritzes wanted to sell their land for the best price possible and buy land elsewhere that was more suitable for farming. Neighboring landowners sold their farms to developers for large sums. But the Fritz property was zoned for residential use, which the family thought meant it would not bring as high a price as property designated for commercial use.

And Fritz contended that noise from traffic on Nicholasville Road and Man o' War Boulevard, one of the city's busiest intersections, made the property unsuitable for housing.

When Lexington's Urban County Council denied a zone change request in 1994 to allow development of a large shopping center, Fritz Sr. appealed the decision all the way to the Kentucky Supreme Court. But the high court refused to hear arguments.

Thursday's reversal reflects city planners' revised vision for the area, based on how it has changed over the years. Residential zoning is not appropriate for the farm any more, said Jim Duncan, the city director of long-range planning.

A Fayette County comprehensive land-use plan released in 2007 called for creating a Small Area Plan to be a road map for future development along the south Nicholasville Road corridor.

A steering committee of business and property owners, elected officials and neighborhood representatives was set up last year to work with the city's planning staff on creating the plan.

The 400-acre area they focused on includes three large agricultural tracts and two smaller ones that are a combination residential and farmland.

The Small Area Plan calls for mixed-use development in the area, with a minimum of 15 percent residential.

"We want this to be a corridor that is enjoyable," Duncan said after Thursday's meeting. "That will be a challenging task because of the busy nature of the Nicholasville Road."

A system of greenways and trails has already been laid out in that end of the county. Duncan said that "good pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods" would help set the area apart.

He described the Small Area Plan as "a big step toward that realization."

The only objection was from attorney Rena Wiseman, representing Logan Germann and Leroy Dale, owners of two separate parcels of land near Waveland. Their farms are zoned for wholesale and warehouse business, and they want to retain those designations.

A few of the specific recommendations include bike paths, bike racks in front of each new building, and more Lextran service. A YMCA is recommended, along with building tennis and basketball courts.

The Waveland State Historic Shrine and existing residential areas would be protected and enhanced. A dedicated bus lane is recommended between Nicholasville and Lexington.

With the Planning Commission's approval, the plan now is part of Lexington's Comprehensive Plan that guides development throughout Fayette County.

There are no immediate plans to develop the farms covered under the Small Area Plan, Duncan said.

Frank Butler, UK vice president for finance and administration told the planning commission that the university will continue using the Horticultural Research Farm for classes.

"Twenty or 30 years from now, it may be entirely different, but we want to go on the record supporting this plan," Butler said.

Fritz Jr. sounded doubtful that bulldozers would show up on his property anytime soon, even though his sister, Carol Johnson, said the family is approached by developers "all the time."

"Don't look for anything to happen too fast, at least till the economy comes back," Fritz Jr. said. "If we try to market the property right now, we wouldn't be happy with the price we'd get."

Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3251.

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