The Urban County Council began discussions Tuesday on new design standards for downtown Lexington but took no vote.
Instead, the council will return in April to further explore incentives for downtown development as part of the downtown design standards.
Vice Mayor Steve Kay, who is the second chairman of the Design Excellence Task Force that began meeting in May 2010, told the council's Planning and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday that he would return during the committee's April meeting with a list of incentives the task force had considered during nearly five years of discussions regarding design standards for downtown.
Kay, who has pushed the council to approve the new standards, said he was not surprised that the council wanted to take more time.
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"I think it's a legitimate concern and a question," Kay said of the incentives.
Much of Tuesday's discussion focused on incentives, not the content of the design standards.
The design standards and guidelines are for an area that goes from Midland Avenue to Oliver Lewis Way and as far north as Third Street in some areas and as far south as High Street. The standards and guidelines include oversight of elements including building heights, building design, awnings and signs.
"It's an attempt to make downtown more appealing and a more vibrant place," Kay said of the standards. The standards are different depending on the location of the new structure or redevelopment and the type of street. "There is not one set of standards to be applied throughout the zone," Kay said.
Not all new development and renovations would have to go before a new design board for approval. Many projects would have to be reviewed only by staff — called a desk review, Kay said. The new design review board would consist of three design professionals and four citizens.
The incentives proposed include adding two new staff members, one to help facilitate downtown and other development through the planning and building process and a second design officer to staff the board and help with other design projects in town.
Kay said that Mayor Jim Gray has also been asked to include money to help pay for application costs for tax increment financing districts, a state-run program that uses new taxes generated from a development to pay for infrastructure costs.
But many council members questioned if those incentives were enough to spur more development downtown. Construction costs are more expensive downtown, particularly for parking, developers have repeatedly said.
Kay said the Lexington Parking Authority has already agreed to pay for a parking garage for a new development on Main and Vine streets. It also is developing a 10-year plan that would include future parking garages. Developers have said those parking garages are key to help offset costs and spur new development, Kay said.
Kay said the Design Excellence Task Force considered other incentives but deemed them too costly.
Council member Bill Farmer suggested the council continue discussions rather than moving the design standards forward given the concerns about the incentives.
"I think it's incumbent upon the council to do its due diligence," Farmer said.
Council member Jennifer Mossotti, the chairwoman of the Planning and Public Safety Committee, asked Kay to return with some incentives that the task force had considered but tabled in April.