Despite opposition from neighbors, the Fayette County planning commission on Thursday approved a development including 162 homes, 308 apartments, 31 townhomes and possibly a school on land near a Kentucky American Water reservoir.
The Urban County Planning Commission by an 8-1 vote approved a zone change for 90 acres at 478 and 480 Squires Road from agricultural urban to high-density residential. The Ball Homes development, called the Peninsula, is bordered on three sides by Kentucky American Reservoir No. 4, sometimes called Lake Ellerslie.
The zone change goes to the Urban County Council for approval. Nathan Billings, a lawyer who represents neighbors opposing the project, said after the more than five-hour meeting Thursday that his clients will ask the council to hold a public hearing before approving the change.
More than 200 neighbors in the Squires Road area attended Thursday’s meeting. Two overflow areas were set up to accommodate them. More than 750 people wrote letters to the commission opposing the zone change.
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City planning staff recommended approval of the change but recommended a total of 75 feet of setback for land that borders the reservoir. Ball Homes agreed to the restriction. About 50 homes’ backyards would back up to the water.
Nick Nicholson, a lawyer for Ball Homes, told the planning commission that the 90-acre site is one of the largest undeveloped tracts inside the urban service boundary.
“We are a major infill project that is expanding housing choices,” Nicholson said.
A traffic study presented by Ball Homes showed that there would be an increase in traffic at peak times but that Squires Road could handle it.
Bill Lear, another lawyer for Ball Homes, said the proposed development will have multiple entrances and exits that will alleviate traffic congestion.
“This development has more ways in and out than any other development around the lakes in Lexington,” Lear said. “The level of traffic will be greater, but it will be manageable.”
Bob Kennedy, a retired transportation planner for the city of Lexington who lives off of Squires Road, said Lear’s definition of manageable is different than most standards. The study showed the average daily traffic count is now 5,700 on Squires Road. Anything close to 6,000 is problematic, Kennedy said.
“You know there is already a problem here,” Kennedy said. “There are people even on the side streets that can’t even get out of their homes because traffic backs up.”
Billings asked the commission to decrease the number of housing units from nearly 500 to 328. Billings also asked that the buffer zone around the lake be increased to a total of 100 feet — the setback of most developments on Kentucky American’s other reservoirs, Billings said. In addition, he asked that a 25-foot multiuse trail — which has long been planned for that area — be added to the buffer zone. Ball Homes’ plan included a sidewalk, not a multiuse trail, Billings said.
Dan Potter, an environmental expert hired by the opponents, said many homeowners use lawn fertilizer that contains nitrogen and phosphorous, chemicals that can kill fish and hurt water quality. Potter said the majority of research recommends a 100-foot setback.
In addition, officials with several environmental groups, such as the Audubon Society, said the 90 acres supported many birds, including bald eagles, and other animals, such as deer, live in the area.
More than 20 people spoke in opposition to the proposed development and asked the commission to adopt Billings’ recommended changes.
Nevertheless, commission member Will Berkley made the motion to adopt the staff’s recommendations that included setback of 75 feet for land next to the reservoir.
Commission member Carolyn Plumlee’s attempt to amend the motion, to require a 100-foot buffer requirement, failed. Plumlee voted “no” on the zone change.
Ball Homes and Fayette County schools have options to buy the land from Kentucky American Water.
The school district has been looking for several years for a location for a new middle school in the area of Squires Road. The Squires Road location was first proposed as a possible site in the 1980s. The school district has not said if or when the middle school would be built.