Over strong neighborhood opposition, Lexington's planning commission on Thursday approved a Ball Homes development of 365 residential units, most of which will be apartments, on 37 acres off Athens-Boonesboro Road.
Residents of the Chilesburg neighborhood spoke against the development and brought a petition signed by more than 400 opponents. The development will be on the former Gess Farm.
Beverly Turner, a Chilesburg resident, said her neighbors were not opposed to a limited number of apartments. "But 12 three-story apartment buildings with 28 units each in that space, we are opposed to," she said. The complex will have 336 apartment units.
Some homeowners said the development plan took them by surprise because real estate agents with Milestone Realty, a subsidiary of Ball Homes, had told them when they bought their houses that most of the tract would be single-family dwellings. Lori Pasquariello said she was told a few apartments would be built at the back of the property, near Athens-Chilesburg Elementary School.
Her neighbor Brian King said, "We were not told this was the plan at all. We feel we were misled."
But Rena Wiseman, attorney for Ball Homes, said multi-use housing had been shown for the land since the 500-acre Gess farm was rezoned in 1999. Development started the next year.
The farm was part of 5,400 acres added to Lexington's Urban Service Area in 1996 and tagged for development. The acres were called "the expansion area," Wiseman said.
An Expansion Area Master Plan, written to guide development, created zoning regulations for the expansion area, calling for a variety of housing units and increased density.
The master plan has been "re-validated" by every one of Lexington's comprehensive land-use plan updates for the past 14 years, Wiseman said. She told Planning Commission members that if they denied the Ball development, "You're going to violate what was trying to be done by this community" in 1996.
Chilesburg residents expressed anxiety about the planned apartment complex, saying they thought it would be unsafe, particularly for children, and detrimental to property values. They said they thought apartment dwellers would be transients.
Turner expressed concern that the apartment complex, if not well-managed, might deteriorate like the one at Richmond and New Circle roads, which is now an abandoned eyesore, fenced and padlocked.
Wiseman said Ball Homes' rental division would own and manage the Chilesburg apartment complex of one-, two- and three-bedroom units. Rent will cost between $700 and $1,000 a month.
"Our hands are somewhat tied" because the Ball development plan complies with city regulations, Planning Commission member Patrick Brewer told neighborhood opponents.
"According to our staff and the developer, this has been the plan all along. If that is the case, I don't understand how people could say this is new news," Brewer said.
However, Brewer said that if a real estate agent had told neighbors otherwise, "They were being disingenuous, and I'm very disturbed by that."
The vote was 10-1 in favor of the development; member Marie Copeland cast the one dissenting vote. The plan must now be certified by the Planning Commission secretary, after which Ball can seek permits to start construction.
After the meeting, Ray Ball, president of Ball Homes, said he and his staff would continue to meet with the Chilesburg neighbors to try to work out differences.
However, the number of apartments will not be reduced.
Decisions of the Planning Commission can be appealed to Fayette Circuit Court. Pasquariello said opponents did not have $15,000 to hire an attorney to pursue the case.