Take a drive west on New Circle Road, starting at Winchester Road. Your goal? To count the number of car lots, pawn shops and abandoned lots.
There’s Infiniti where the Continental Inn used to be; it’s new and spiffy, and it has premium cars both new and used. Green’s Toyota new and used cars also offers autos in a shiny location. But across the street are the vacated remains of the Eastland Bowling Center, owned by a West Virginia auto lot company. There’s Featherston Motor Co. used cars, Tri City Auto used cars, Auto Select used cars, Big Blue Autos used cars, Circle 4 Discount Sales used cars, Lexington Auto Store used cars and Quality Discount Jewelry/Pawn/Quality Auto Sales.
And that’s all before you’re even to Bryan Station Road. There are plenty more used car lots to count before you hit Russell Cave.
Now, let’s turn our attention to the business vacancies: the empty pad in front of Kroger Bryan Station where Long John Silver’s has long been closed, the space at 316 East New Circle Road, where Arby’s closed, the building next to Rod Hatfield Chevrolet where City Buffet long ago departed, the spot at 255 West New Circle Road, where Ho Ho Chinese Express operated for years and Wagon Bones BBQ for months, and the now-vacant site of the demolished Jalapeno’s at 295 West New Circle Road.
Nearby on North Broadway, the Fazoli’s closed recently, as did Amici’s on the Boardwalk and the Subway on New Circle near Russell Cave. Neighborhood residents still speak fondly of the long-departed Ramsey’s restaurant in the Bryan Station Kroger plaza; part of that area is now a T-Mobile store.
How did the neighborhood change from the place you could see a doctor to a place where you could pawn your wedding ring?
Here’s an example: Lexington Clinic once ran a handsome branch office at the corner of New Circle Road and Meadow Lane. That office closed and later became a Spanish-language medical office. Now it’s a pawn shop.
Some cities, faced with clusters of one type of business overwhelming neighborhoods where other basic services — local shopping, dental and medical offices and restaurants — are struggling, have instituted business overlays to discourage particular types of businesses, notably used car lots and pawn shops.
Lexington has not done that with the open-access part of New Circle Road, said Jim Duncan, director of planning for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government.
Nonetheless, the city has noticed that the northern area of New Circle Road is not functioning “as a sort of Main Street for the neighborhoods that are surrounding it. ... the kinds of things that neighborhoods would use and draw from.”
“There’s really no reason that corridor can’t be of use to all of the people who live there,” Duncan said. “We’ve already called out these corridors as an area we want to look at for total enhancement — not so much the land uses themselves, but how it has been developed, how it interacts with the land around it, all as a way of helping to provide development and redevelopment opportunities for growth.”
The city’s 2018 Comprehensive Plan is likely to include attention to the corridor, but the planning process isn’t a snap. The Urban County Council will debate comprehensive plan recommendations in the fall, return its work to the city planning commissions for adoption, and then turn it over to city planners for action. That’s going to take more than a year.
First District council member James Brown is hopeful: “That feedback is going to be captured and shared with what the city is doing,” Brown said. “I hear at neighborhood meetings, ‘What are some of the opportunities to create an environment where we can get some diversity in businesses that do serve the community on that side of New Circle Road?’”
The smaller car lots can even be an annoyance to the bigger, more established dealers. Before North Broadway Auto Sales opened a new lot at 131 New Circle Road, Don Jacobs Used Cars had done business at the sizable lot for 34 years before closing in 2012 and consolidating its car sales at its Nicholasville Road store.
North Broadway Auto Sales manager Travis Morgan said he would rather not have some of the smaller lots around, but “they take some of the business, but not a lot.”
Other cities have designated economically discouraged areas for redevelopment. In Memphis, a $30 million federal grant was used to provide access to quality housing, transit and education — and a used car lot was considered a violation of neighborhood redevelopment, which called for more people-friendly uses, including local restaurants and local-owned services.
In Macomb County in southeast Michigan, the Warren city council put a freeze on pawn shops and set distances for the shops to be separated from churches, schools, day cares, parks and even other pawn shops.
The Philadelphia suburb of Mayfair enacted a commercial zoning overlay that prohibited a wide range of businesses from opening in its commercial corridors — among them taco shops, car dealerships, thrift stores, cellphone stores, laundromats and private clubs. It also prohibited new pawn shops and check-cashing stores from opening.
In Berkley County, S.C., a business overlay district was created in March to modify the underlying zoning of some areas to prohibit consumer-lending companies, new and used car rentals, and gas stations, and instead make way for one-of-a-kind restaurants, retail and service businesses primarily in Moncks Corner, the county seat.
Said Planning Commission co-chair Tobie Mixon: “They’re not coming to downtown Moncks Corner to see our self-storage and pawn shops.”
At the same time, residents of neighborhoods nearby New Circle Road in fret that the North Broadway corridor near Joyland is going to follow suit and become congested with inexpensive chain stores, gas stations and drive-through fast food.
Josie Giurgevich Jones, who has long been active in the Joyland Neighborhood Association, has worked to make area residents aware of a Dollar General store to be built in front of the Ramada Lexington North Hotel at 2143 North Broadway, and of plans for a gas station and convenience store, and two possible drive-through restaurants.
“Why do we need two drive-through restaurants when we can’t even keep a Fazoli’s open?” Jones asked. “It’s like, ‘OK, let’s hit Paris Pike with everything we’ve got.’ All of a sudden we have (neighbor) interest, but it’s almost too late. Once it’s blacktop, it’s not going back green.”
Catherine Perkins, who lives on Swigert Avenue off North Broadway/Paris Pike, said developers “are seeing an opportunity to make it into a much more commercial interstate exit.”
“Nobody is opening any businesses that are relevant to the neighbors,” Perkins said.
Since Fazoli’s on North Broadway closed, the only restaurants in the area of the I-75 exit are the Waffle House and Horseshoes at the Ramada Inn.
Joy Watson, a longtime member of the North Pointe subdivision board, said she thinks her neighborhood — out Bryan Station Road just past the I-75 overpass, but minutes from Joyland — is better situated for shopping at the many stores that are at Hamburg instead.
“We’re trained our brains to just go to Hamburg,” she said.
Remember the little house at the corner of Paris Pike and New Circle Road, where Ty Miller tried for years to sell the property where his grandparents used to wave to passers-by in the early days of New Circle Road? Miller and his grandfather drove down New Circle Road in a horse-drawn wagon as the road was being completed. It was a unique house, one that had stood at New Circle Road from the beginning.
The property is one-third of an acre. Last December, the property was sold to Amir Najarzadeh, a UK graduate student, for $170,000.
The new owner is making it a used car lot.