After more than five years on the back burner, design standards for renovations and new development in Lexington's downtown cleared their first major hurdle on Tuesday.
The Urban County Council's Planning and Public Safety Committee voted 6-2 to send the new design standards to the full council for a vote, which could be held within the next several weeks.
But some council members expressed reservations about the standards and about adding another regulatory body to oversee downtown.
Councilwoman Jennifer Scutchfield said the city has spent a lot of money and a lot of its focus on downtown. Scutchfield, who represents an area around Richmond Road, said many residents are frustrated that more money isn't spent where people live. The new design standards call for the creation of a design standards board to review some projects.
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"It bothers me that we are ignoring our outlying districts," Scutchfield said
Scutchfield and Councilman Kevin Stinnett were the two council members to vote against the new downtown standards.
The design standards are for an area 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. The standards are different depending on the location of the new structure or redevelopment, and the type of street. The design standards would be overseen by a board which would replace the current Courthouse Review Design Board, which oversees design standards for a small area in downtown. Only larger projects would have to go before the board for review, said Chris King, the city's planning director. Smaller projects would be reviewed by staff.
The new design proposal has been delayed in large part because developers wanted to see more incentives included in the design standards. As part of budget discussions Tuesday, the council agreed to add $40,000 to the budget to help developers pay for tax increment financing, or TIF, applications. Tax increment financing uses taxes generated from a project to pay for infrastructure costs, such as new roads or moving utility lines.
Mayor Jim Gray's proposed $323 million budget also included funding for a staff person who could perform design-standards reviews.
Former Councilman Tom Blues, who originally chaired the task force that came up with the design standards, told the council during Tuesday's meeting that the reason why the group began looking at new design guidelines in 2010 was because of several controversial downtown project, including CentrePointe, a proposed downtown development that includes an entire city block.
"It is a powerful reminder that downtown is a community space," Blues said. "It's the center of the city."
Several council members said during Tuesday's meeting that they would like to delay voting on the standards until more is known about the incentives.
But Vice Mayor Steve Kay, who became chairman of the design standards task force after Blues retired from the council in 2012, urged council members to vote the proposal out of committee Tuesday. The full council can continue to debate it and ask questions.
"This is an item that has been before the previous council for a year and a half," Kay said.