Ball Homes has not decided whether it will move forward with a controversial development after the Lexington council voted early Wednesday to approve a zone change but decreased the number of houses, apartments and townhomes on the 90-acre site.
After an arduous seven-hour public hearing, the Urban County Council voted 9-4 shortly after midnight to approve the zone change from agricultural urban to high-density residential for two parcels on Squires Road in southeast Lexington. The council put several conditions on the zone change, including decreasing the density on the site from 501 houses, apartments or townhomes to 450.
The 90-acre site — one of the few undeveloped tracts of land inside Fayette County’s growth boundary — is bordered on three sides by Kentucky American Water Reservoir No. 4, sometimes referred to as Lake Ellerslie. The council increased the buffer area around the lake to 50 feet.
Bill Lear, a lawyer for Ball Homes, said after the vote that the additional buffer area for homes around the lake could significantly reduce the number of homes Ball could build in the Peninsula development. Ball Homes’ original building plan called for the construction of a middle school, 162 houses, 308 apartments and 31 townhomes. Approximately 50 of those homes would back up to the lake.
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Nick Nicholson, another lawyer for Ball Homes, said later Wednesday that Ball has not decided whether it will move forward with the proposed development given the restrictions the council approved.
“No decisions have been made at this time,” Nicholson said.
A lawyer representing neighbors who pushed for changes to the development applauded the council’s decision to increase the buffer area and decrease the density on the currently undeveloped site.
“We are thrilled,” said Nathan Billings, who represents the East Lake Neighborhood Association. “This is a huge win for all the citizens of Fayette County.”
More than 150 people attended Tuesday night’s public hearing. More than 1,000 people wrote letters either opposing the zone change or asking that Ball’s proposed development be scaled back and include more environmental protections.
The Urban County Planning Commission had voted 8-1 in late January to approve the zone change.
Lear told the council the development provided a variety of housing options and price points. A proposed Fayette County middle school — long planned for the Squires Road area — would be a focal point of the development. An executive summary of a recent housing study showed the need for additional homes and apartments in Fayette County, lawyers for Ball told the council.
Billings asked the council to decrease the number of housing units from about 500 to 328. He also asked for a total 100-foot buffer around the lake — the setback of most developments on Kentucky American’s other reservoirs including Lake Ellerslie, he said. In addition, Billings wanted the council to set aside an easement for a multi-use trail that has long been proposed for the area.
More than 25 people — neighbors, environmentalists and others — testified in opposition to the Ball Homes proposal Tuesday night.
Suzanne Bhatt, who lives nearby, said the changes that the neighborhood wanted would protect a unique ecosystem.
“It will be a terrible and permanent loss for the city,” if the Ball plan were to be adopted with no changes, Bhatt said.
Bob Kennedy, a former transportation planner for the city who lives near Squires Road, said Ball Homes’ traffic study shows 5,700 trips a day.
“There are many collector streets that have this volume, but they are an example of poor planning,” Kennedy said. “Traffic is already a problem.” Squires is a two-lane road connecting Richmond Road with Alumni Drive, outside Man o’ War Boulevard.
Lear countered that there would be enough entrances and exits from the development onto Squires Road, which would alleviate traffic back ups.
Others said they were concerned about the loss of wildlife habitat and about run-off from lawn fertilizer entering the lake. Officials with Kentucky American Water Company and the Fayette County school system did not attend the meeting. Neither group has attended any of the public meetings about the proposed development. Ball Homes and Fayette County schools have an option to purchase the land from the water company. Some residents questioned if Fayette County was going to build the middle school on the site.
Lear said the school system has received preliminary approval from state education authorities.
Kentucky American Water would continue to own the reservoir. Lawyers for Ball said the water company still uses the reservoir for drinking water but sparingly.
Councilwoman Jennifer Scutchfield, whose district includes the Squires Road area, said the development was going to dump too much traffic onto an already-overtaxed Squires Road. Scutchfield had originally proposed cutting the housing units back to 400, but that motion failed. After several failed motions the council eventually settled on restricting the number of housing units to 450 and a setback or buffer of 50 feet around the water.
Those who voted against the change were Richard Moloney, Bill Farmer Jr., Fred Brown and Kevin Stinnett. Those who voted to approve the zone change were Jake Gibbs, Sasha Love Higgins, Susan Lamb, Amanda Bledsoe, Kathy Plomin, Jennifer Mossotti, Angela Evans, Scutchfield and Vice Mayor Steve Kay.