Only projects that receive taxpayer money will have to comply with downtown design standards under a revamped plan before the Lexington Urban County Council.
For nearly seven years, Lexington has been debating how to implement design standards for downtown development. A previous broader plan would have implemented design standards for much of downtown and would have required some approval from a city official or a design board.
But developers and some council members who were concerned that additional regulations would deter downtown development opposed the previous proposal.
Under a revamped plan unveiled Tuesday before the council’s Planning and Public Works Committee, the city would use existing zoning and boards to approve downtown projects. The proposal would include making changes to what is allowed in the B2 zone, which currently has few restrictions. The committee voted 6-4 to send proposed changes to the B2 zone to the full council for a vote. Almost all of downtown is zoned B2.
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Some of the changes to the B2 zone would including setting minimum and maximum heights for buildings and prohibitions on putting large surface parking lots in front of buildings.
“These are just baseline guidelines,” said Jeff Fugate, president and COO of the Downtown Development Authority. Fugate chaired a subcommittee of council members, developers and others to overhaul the original proposal. The group has been meeting for more than a year.
“Developers can still get a variance from the Board of Adjustment,” Fugate said.
In addition, the new proposal would require a developer who receives city money to work with the city’s design officer and a set of design guidelines. Agreeing to the design standards would be part of a development agreement between the city and a developer, Fugate said.
Discussion about design standards for downtown began after developers of the CentrePointe project tore down an entire block of buildings. Proposed CentrePointe designs also had many critics. CentrePointe, announced in 2007, is supposed to include an underground parking garage, an office tower, a hotel and apartments.
The revamped plan would require any developer in a B2 zone to determine whether the building was historic before getting a demolition permit. That’s the same requirement in an H1 or historic overlay zone.
The new proposal would do away with the Courthouse Area Design Review board, which approves building designs in the area surrounding the old courthouse on Main Street.
Fugate said the new proposal would make the city’s expectations clear and would “also give a sense of security for those developing downtown.”
The revamped design standards will not come before the council for a final vote for several months. If the changes to the B2 zone are approved by the full council in the next month, the changes must go to the Urban County Planning Commission for approval, which could take several months.