A controversial development that would bring a middle school and hundreds of homes, apartments and townhouses to an environmentally sensitive area off Squires Road won final approval Thursday from a Fayette County planning body.
The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Planning Commission voted 6-1 to approve the final development plan for the project, called the Peninsula because it is surrounded on three sides by a Kentucky American Water reservoir, that includes 308 apartments, 31 townhouses and 163 houses. The Fayette County School System also has an option to buy approximately 20 acres of the land for a proposed new middle school in the center of the peninsula. School officials have not said when the middle school will be built.
Nick Nicholson, a lawyer for Ball Homes, said after the more than two-hour hearing that key city divisions must sign off before construction can begin on the more than 90-acre site, which the company has an option to purchase from Kentucky American Water. Nicholson said he couldn’t give an exact date for when construction would begin.
Plans for the Peninsula drew widespread opposition from neighbors when it was initially proposed nearly a year ago. More than 200 people attended when the Urban County Planning Commission voted in January to approve a zone change for 90 acres at 478 and 480 Squires Road from agricultural urban to high-density residential. Two overflow viewing areas had to be set up at the government center to accommodate the crowd.
The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council, which has final say on zone changes, voted in April to approve the zone change after a seven- hour hearing. The council decreased the number of residential units allowed on the property to 450 and increased a buffer area between the development and Kentucky American Reservoir No. 4, sometimes referred to as Lake Ellerslie, to 50 feet wide.
Neighbors were concerned Thursday that Ball Homes’ final plans did not go far enough to protect trees and vegetation in the 50-foot buffer zone. City storm water engineers also questioned Ball Homes’ initial plan to use the reservoir for stormwater runoff.
Nicholson told the commission the developer now plans to use wetlands on the site to clean water and contain runoff instead of relying on the reservoir for stormwater runoff.
Ball Homes must get approval from various city agencies, such as environmental quality, before removing trees in the buffer zone, Nicholson said.
Ball Homes will also donate $60,000 to the city’s traffic engineering department to fund traffic calming improvements along the Squires Road corridor between Richmond Road and Alumni Drive.
Nathan Billings, a lawyer who represents neighbors of the development, asked the commission to require Ball Homes to replant any larger trees that are removed from the buffer zone. The wooded buffer area not only helps clean water but stops soil erosion, he said. Billings has also asked the commission to increase the width of a proposed trail through the Squires Road area from 8 feet to 12 feet, among other considerations.
Billings said a note on the development plan that requires Ball Homes to follow all city guidelines will not stop the clear-cutting of trees.
“If it’s vague and ambiguous, it can not be enforced,” Billings said.
Ultimately, the commission opted not to put any additional requirements on the final development plan.