Lexington and the University of Kentucky are in negotiations for a swap that would give the city more than 200 acres of land near Interstates 64 and 75 for an industrial or business park. In exchange, UK would get control of portions of approximately 13 acres of roads on and around campus.
The announcement comes the day before the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council is expected to take its first vote on the 2018 Comprehensive Plan, which includes a recommendation to keep Lexington’s current urban service boundary or growth boundary. But some on the council have expressed concern in previous discussions about the 2018 Comprehensive Plan that a lack of publicly-controlled industrial park land will lead to a drop in job growth and business recruitment.
Kevin Atkins, chief development officer for Lexington, said Monday the city started looking for potential land for an an industrial or business park in partnership with Commerce Lexington, several months ago. The city has no publicly-controlled industrial or business park land.
The Bluegrass Business Park, also off of Georgetown Road, is now full.
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“This gives us twice the amount of acres as the Bluegrass Business Park and it’s on highly visible land near the interstate, which is what businesses are looking for,” Atkins said. “We believe this will take care of our economic development needs for the near future.”
Plus, the city will be getting prime land without spending any upfront money, Atkins said.
UK has tentatively agreed to give the land to the city at no cost in exchange for control of the roads. A timeline for the deal to go through has not been set. The university needs approval from the state for the transaction, which also involves 50 acres of land in UK’s Coldstream Research Park. That 50 acres could be sold to potential companies. Currently, Coldstream can only lease land to companies. If it gets state approval to sell land to companies, approximately 50 percent of the money from that sale would go to infrastructure improvements on the 200 acres off of Georgetown Road that the city will eventually control.
UK is also planning to apply for tax increment financing for a portion of Coldstream that has not yet been developed, a possible way to add housing, hotels and restaurants that could serve new businesses.
That land is currently used for UK’s dairy operations, which will be moved if the deal goes through as planned. It has one road on it but does not have sewers.
The Bluegrass Business Park, which is about 100 acres, took about 15 years to fill, said Darby Turner of Commerce Lexington. Turner said Commerce Lexington may also be a partner in the project and contribute money.
Derek Paulsen, the city’s planning commissioner, said how the business park will be zoned —which determines what types of businesses are allowed in the park — has still not been decided.
UK will assume control of 13 acres of streets and alleys in and around the university. They include portions or all of Hilltop, Linden Walk, Rose Lane, Rose Street, Elizabeth and Dixie Court.
UK’s desire to take control of portions of Rose Street to close it to vehicular traffic has long been an area of contention between the city, some council members, residents and the city’s traffic engineers.
Portions of Rose from Columbia Avenue to Huguelet Drive have been temporarily closed since July 2014 because of construction projects on the campus. The university’s city-issued permit to close the street expired Jan. 5. The city and the university agreed to keep that section of Rose closed for other utility work in the area. In addition, the two sides were going to study how closing the street to vehicles would affect traffic around campus.
The university has not officially asked the city to close Hilltop Avenue, a popular cut-through for local residents. But UK’s master plan shows the state’s largest university eventually wants to close that road.
Melody Flowers, executive director of strategic analysis and policy for UK, said there are no plans to close any of the streets UK will get in the proposed transfer for several years, although Rose will remain closed.
Flowers said the university and the city will work together to develop a comprehensive transportation plan. Nothing would happen with any of the streets or portions of those streets without input from the city and the neighborhoods, she said.
As part of the deal, Lexington will commit $1 million to traffic safety improvements for those roads over 10 years. UK will also commit at least $3 million including up to $1 million within the first year.
Still, any transfer of control of roads around campus is touchy.
Councilman Jake Gibbs said the council has been briefed about the land-for-streets swap but he is still waiting to hear more details. Gibbs represents much of the areas around UK’s campus.
“I know my constituents will have questions,” Gibbs said. “Rose has been effectively closed for years. I don’t have as much of an issue with Rose. But the other streets need to be examined closely. I’m open to hearing more as more of these details are worked out.”
Robin Michler heads the Aylesford Neighborhood Association, which borders UK. He said he did not know anything about the proposal, but the association has been concerned in the past with how UK’s plans might affect neighborhoods close to campus, specifically parking, traffic and pedestrian safety.
“We feel each time it’s lacking the thought process of the impacts on the neighborhood or the city,” he said. “Any proposal of this scale we would want to see the process developed more fully – what impact does this have and how will they address it?”
The University of Kentucky will get portions of the following streets in a deal currently being negotiated between the city and the university.
Columbia Avenue between Rose and Woodland
Dixie Court off Columbia
Hilltop Avenue (entire)
Linden Walk between Rose Lane and Euclid
Pennnsylvania Avenue off Columbia
Pennsylvania Court off Columbia
Rose Lane (entire)
Rose Street between Euclid and Columbia (UK has already closed Rose Street from Columbia to South Lime
Woodland Avenue between Rose Lane and Hilltop Avenue
Callahan Alley off Maxwelton Court
Coliseum Alley off Rose Street
Conn Terrace between Elizabeth and South Lime
Elizabeth Street between Transcript and Waller Avenue
Gazette Avenue between Press Avenue and South Lime
Leader Avenue off Press Avenue
Lexington Avenue between Maxwell and Avenue of Champions
Press Avenue between Virginia Avenue and Transcript Avenue
South MLK Boulevard between Maxwell and Avenue of Champions
State Street between Elizabeth Street and South Limestone
Transcript Avenue between Press Avenue and South Lime
University Avenue between Elizabeth Street and South Lime
Warren Court off South Limestone