MIDWAY — A new Woodford County group will promote "the highest and best use" of urban land and the agricultural use of productive farmland.
Woodford Forward, a privately financed organization, will be an advocate for "building in a dense, compact, contiguous fashion" within the urban service boundaries of Versailles and Midway. It also will promote the conservation of farmland, said Billy Van Pelt II, chief executive officer for the group.
"If a project came to Woodford County, then we would work with that project and the local officials to make sure that that project is the best that it can be," Van Pelt said.
Van Pelt cited the new restaurants along Lexington's Jefferson Street, the mixed-use commercial zone along Lexington's National Avenue, and the new businesses in Lexington's Distillery District as the kind of innovative projects Woodford Forward could support in Woodford County.
"We consider those aspirational projects," Van Pelt said. "Those are just examples of adaptive reuse and redevelopment projects."
The organization also wants to promote parks, bike and horse-riding trails, or anything else that would promote quality of life in Woodford County.
Van Pelt said the organization's formation was not in reaction "to any specific project," such as the Wal-Mart Supercenter that was proposed to go on land near Troy Pike and Blue Grass Parkway in south Versailles. Last week, Wal-Mart withdrew its plans for the store from the Woodford County planning and zoning office, but a spokesman indicated the Arkansas-based retailer remained interested in bringing a store to Versailles.
For seven years, Van Pelt was program director for the Purchase of Development Rights, or PDR, Program in Fayette County. It enables property owners to sell their development rights while continuing to farm the land. The aim is to have farmers maintain their livelihood and keep the area's agricultural heritage alive.
In Fayette County, 244 farms totaling 28,169 acres are now permanently protected by conservation easements, according to the PDR website.
Woodford Forward is not interested in buying development rights or holding conservation easements, but it would support efforts by the Bluegrass Conservancy and the Woodford County Land Management Board to preserve farmland, Van Pelt said.
Woodford Forward will contact local governments, business groups and neighborhood associations to educate them about the organization's mission, Van Pelt said. Memberships will be available to businesses, neighborhoods, residents, young professionals and students, Van Pelt said. An individual membership will be $100 a year, a young professional membership will be $50, and a student membership will be $25.
Those who join will be in the loop "on a continual basis on the issues that the organization is taking up and the positions that they're taking."
Benny Williams, founder and president of an advertising and public-relations company called The Bell Group LLC, said she was participating in Woodford Forward because she wanted to be part of a "thoughtful," proactive organization.
Williams said she was interested in "addressing things in a long-range, purposeful way rather than just reacting or waiting for something to happen.
"It's not an attack thing. It's 'let's work together and plan together' from the beginning."