In his most detailed remarks on a downtown development controversy, Mayor Jim Newberry says it would be wrong for him to try to influence the design of a proposed CVS drugstore on East Main Street.
"Whenever any individual elected official starts sticking their own personal opinion into the discussion, you're just asking for major problems," Newberry said Tuesday.
He rejected the idea, suggested by a local non-profit group called ProgressLex, that he should use his office as a bully pulpit to make the design fit better in an urban setting.
To illustrate a potential pitfall of that viewpoint, Newberry joked that he liked stucco, suggesting that if he got involved in the process, the building's exterior would be covered with stucco, as are most suburban CVS stores.
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Organizers of ProgressLex are pushing for a two-story brick building.
Two weeks ago, ProgressLex turned over 1,300 signatures from people who said they would boycott the store unless the design is changed.
Dan Rowland, one of the organizers, called on Newberry to work with the developer to change the design.
On Tuesday, Rowland said that Newberry's latest remarks conform with what he has been saying since Joseph Riley, the activist mayor of Charleston, S.C., spoke in Lexington in March.
Newberry "takes a legalistic or lawyerly view," Rowland said. "I've been hoping and urging he would take a more activist position."
The city's planning staff has worked with developer Gary Joy to make some changes in the proposed CVS. Instead of a windowless stucco box, the latest design is about two-thirds brick with some windows. Rowland has said it still is not suitable for one of downtown Lexington's most high-profile entrances.
But without design guidelines, the city can't do more, Newberry said.
"Until such time as the community decides through the council that these are the design guidelines or form guidelines that we ought to impose, I'm going to enforce the law as it is written, not as I think it ought to be written," Newberry said.
Such guidelines are "a couple of years or so" away, he said.
Newberry's comments came at a noon talk on historic preservation at the Hunt-Morgan House near Gratz Park. It was sponsored by the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation.
Vice Mayor Jim Gray, who is challenging Newberry in the November general election, will speak on the same subject at noon July 20.