A proposal to build one or two hotels, a restaurant and other buildings on a parcel of land next to Lexington's Blue Grass Airport is back on the table, complete with renderings showing how the structures might look.
The airport board Wednesday voted to join with the owners of the property to ask the local planning commission to conduct a land-use planning study for 18 acres of the 33-acre property. Their hope is the study will lead to a change in Lexington's comprehensive plan — its blueprint for growth — so the project can be built.
The 18 acres are owned by two Missouri families and would need a zoning change to allow the development.
The families plan to give the remaining 15 acres to the airport, which would use them mostly for parking. Those 15 acres would not need a zoning change because the airport is an appendage of the local government and is exempt from having to seek such a change, said Bruce Simpson, the attorney for the families, whose partnership is called Bluegrass Farm Co. Ltd.
Simpson did not address how the project might be financed, saying it's difficult to explore that when a study has not been conducted.
The property owners withdrew a similar proposal in early 2007 because the crash of Comair Flight 5191 in August 2006 had taken the airport board's attention away from the proposal.
"Right now, to do what they want to do is not recommended by the community's comprehensive plan," said Chris King, director of the local government's division of planning. "The current zoning would not allow it."
King said the request for a study would not be considered by the planning commission before January.
Simpson and representatives of Sherman/Carter/Barnhart Architects gave the airport board members a virtual tour of the property that brings their proposed design to life. It showed buildings made of stone masonry veneer and stucco, with steep pitched roofs, which might remind visitors of other places in the area, such as Keeneland Race Course and the Kentucky Horse Park. The area includes public art, man-made creeks with flowing water and many plants that are native to Kentucky.
"We're mindful that Blue Grass Airport is a major gateway to Lexington, obviously," Simpson said, adding that his clients wanted to make sure they were making a contribution that would enhance the area.
One hotel with about 100 rooms would be built under the proposal. Another hotel with perhaps 60 rooms might be added. The project would include office space for airport-related businesses and conference space, as well as a gas station constructed to blend in.
Under the proposal, the airport would get not only free acreage but part of the proceeds from hotel occupancy charges and gas sales.
Simpson stressed that the property would not look like a strip mall if the latest proposal is carried out.
"It's a unique piece of property," he said. "We don't want to turn it into a strip center."
The property, which runs along Man o' War Boulevard, is not suitable for farming or residential use, Simpson said.
He and his clients are seeking legal restrictions for the 18 acres that would prevent them from ever being used for anything other than airport-related uses.
If the proposal gets over each of several required legal hurdles successfully, which would take eight to 10 months, it would take about an additional 18 months to build the complex, project planners said.
It would not be completed by the time the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games come to Central Kentucky in 2010, they said.
The project drew comments from attorney David Royse on behalf of Save Our Irreplaceable Land, which represents several area horse farms and businesses including Keeneland.
He asked the board to be very "deliberative" when it came to the proposal, adding that the 15 acres are not being given to the airport for nothing.
Airport board chairman Bernard Lovely said that the board had deliberated over the idea multiple times over the past two years. He said the project would help the airport serve its constituency and increase its income.
The board then voted unanimously for the proposal, except member David Stevens, who recused himself because he will soon be leaving the board.
In other news, officials said the airport was successful last week in selling $77 million in bonds, with half helping to refinance existing debt and the remainder going toward new projects.