A proposed 16-story mixed-use building that will include 200 apartments, retail and restaurant space on Newtown Pike in Lexington is one step closer to breaking ground.
The Urban County Planning Commission voted unanimously Thursday to approve a zone change for the proposed development, called Thistle Station, that will sit on 4 acres between Third and Fourth streets.
In addition to the 16-story building, plans call for a two-story 8,000-square-foot building at the back of the property that would front Fourth Street. That building will be for commercial space — either retail or restaurants.
The zoning change from light industrial to neighborhood business now heads to the Urban County Council for final approval.
Some members of the planning commission praised the project before voting.
"Quite frankly, it's currently an eyesore," said William Wilson of the current site. "I think property values will increase."
The complex is designed to have 24 studio apartments, 142 one-bedroom apartments and 36 two-bedroom apartments. There will be 264 parking spaces behind the building away from public view.
If the Urban County Council approves the $30 million project, it could be completed by late 2016 or early 2017, said John Cirigliano, managing member of the development group that includes former U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler.
Other members of the Thistle Station development team include Tim Terry, one of the developers of Griffin Gate on Newtown Pike near Interstates 75 and 64; Todd Ball of the Bristol Group, a design-build firm; and Zach Davis, president of Kirkpatrick and Co., a real-estate firm.
Only one neighbor spoke against the zone change during Thursday's meeting.
"I'm concerned that parking is going to become a serious issue," said Margaret Baumann, who is renovating a home on Third Street. "The height also is not in character with the neighborhood."
City planners, however, said the 264 parking spaces meet the parking requirements for the 202 apartments and retail space.
Thistle Station developers had held several meetings with area neighborhood associations to discuss concerns before filing their application with the city in January, said Bruce Simpson, a lawyer who represents the developers.
"It's all been very favorable," Simpson said of the community's response. If the city wants to preserve its agricultural lands, "We have to grow up and not out."
Cirigliano said the development should appeal to the growing number of young professionals and older people who want to live downtown.
"We know that jobs are going to be added in coming years," he said. Yet, downtown has too few apartments for those new jobs. "Roughly half those new jobs will be at the University of Kentucky."
The development will not ask for local or state incentives, Cirigliano said.
The designs include a bike or running path in front of the development on the Newtown Pike side to accommodate pedestrians and users of the Legacy Trail.
Other amenities include a saltwater pool and possibly a rooftop garden, according to Thistle Station brochures.
Thistle Station is the latest development on Lexington's growing west side. Bluegrass Community and Technical College has made substantial investment in the area, as has Transylvania University.
Not far from the development is the Jefferson Street corridor, a popular restaurant and bar district. UK, the city's largest employer, is within easy commuting distance.
Cirigliano said the location on Newtown Pike — a major artery into downtown from I-75/64 — would help the project attract and keep retailers. Some had questioned whether it could attract retail to its bottom floor given that mixed-use developments around UK have struggled.
"There are 27,000 cars that travel Newtown Pike every day," Cirigliano said.
Cirigliano said rental rates have not been set, but developers hope they will start about $700 a month for the studio apartments.