The Lexington Urban County Council voted Tuesday night to approve a zone change allowing a four-story hotel to be built near Southland Drive and Nicholasville Road.
After a six-hour hearing, the council voted 11-3 in favor. Council members Steve Kay, Linda Gorton and Tom Blues voted no. Councilwoman K.C. Crosbie was not present.
About 75 people, many of them either neighborhood residents or business owners, packed the council chambers to speak for or against the development.
The hearing proceeded much like a court case. Speakers were sworn in as witnesses, and opening and closing arguments were given. Evidence, such as neighborhood petitions and development plans, was submitted formally to the council.
Rezoning hearings are "the only time the legislative branch of government acts as the judiciary," Councilman Jay McChord said.
The developers — Lee and Phil Greer — were represented by Lexington attorney Bruce Simpson. Residents of the neighborhood near the development who opposed the zone change were represented by resident Joseph Miller.
Those in favor of the development said it would bring jobs and more potential customers for Southland Drive businesses, and that it would improve stormwater management in an area plagued by flooding.
Opponents said it would lead to declining property values; cause noise, lighting and traffic problems; and bring transients to the area.
The zone change clears the way for the construction of a proposed Hampton Inn primarily intended to house visitors to three nearby medical centers: University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital, Central Baptist Hospital and the Veterans Administration Medical Center off Cooper Drive.
Originally, the hotel was proposed to be five stories, with 105 rooms. The Greers said Tuesday they would reduce the project to a four-story hotel, losing about 25 rooms, to reach a consensus, Simpson said.
The development site is behind the Denny's restaurant at 1949 Nicholasville Road, between Goodrich Avenue and Southland Drive. The property is now home to a parking lot and unused offices. The Greers have owned the property for about eight years.
The northern wall of the hotel will be about 23 feet from the back yards of the nearest homes on Goodrich Drive.
The property had been zoned B1 retail. Council's vote changed the zoning to B3, which normally includes highway business as well as retail. However, the council made it "restricted B3" to allow for the hotel and exclude other uses.
The project is expected to cost $12 million to $15 million, including $750,000 to fix a broken storm sewer system, owned by the city, which contributes to poor water runoff in the area, Simpson said.
"These opportunities don't come along very often. You don't find — particularly in this economy — a private entrepreneur willing to put up $12 million to $15 million," Simpson told council members.
Those in favor of the project included the three property owners on Goodrich Drive closest to the northern face of the hotel.
Simpson also submitted a petition signed by 48 business owners on Southland Drive who were in favor of the hotel.
However, Miller presented a petition with 218 signatures from residents on Goodrich Drive and other nearby streets who were opposed.
"A five-story hotel just 23 feet away from a property line is unacceptable — it would visually deteriorate the ... day and night skyline and irrevocably change the character of this quaint neighborhood," Miller told council members.
The rezoning is the first time in recent memory that the Urban County Council voted against a recommendation by the city's planning commission.
The planning commission voted 7-3 against the zone change at a Sept. 27 hearing for two reasons, said Division of Planning manager Bill Sallee: The planning commission ruled that the hotel would be too close to neighboring residential properties on Goodrich Drive, and the current zoning of B1 was appropriate for the area.
However, council members in favor of the rezoning said the proposed hotel would be appropriate infill development that would welcome visitors to the city.