There are a lot of things wrong with the proposal to build a Wal-mart Supercenter on the south side of Versailles, but two stand out.
First, although the property is bounded on one side by the Blue Grass Parkway, access to the megastore would be from Ky. 33 (Troy Pike), a two-lane road that carries slow-moving farm vehicles.
Second, residents are legitimately concerned about how this development will affect traffic, neighborhoods, a school. But thanks to a convoluted planning process, they really have had little say in the matter.
But they should. This project, if approved, will forever change the rural character of this part of Versailles and Woodford County while ignoring the space available for such a project in an established business district.
Some history is in order.
The commission that granted a zone change allowing this was, essentially, sold a pig in a poke.
The 2012 zone change fell under the Versailles-Midway-Woodford Planning Commission, guided by the 2011 Woodford County comprehensive plan. The applicant asked for a change from an agriculture category to one called Highway Interchange Business Center. The comprehensive plan notes that there are only two locations appropriate for that zoning making each a "precious commodity."
While the zone permits a big-box retailer, recommended uses include corporate headquarters, high-quality entertainment venues, large regional retailers and other uses that "enhance the community's overall appearance and character."
The preliminary proposal conformed to that vision. It showed five principle buildings with possible uses as offices, a school, medical clinic, motel, athletic club and retail. It preserved many of the site's large trees, screening much of the activity from Ky. 33. The zone change passed.
For two years not much happened, at least in public.
Then, in April the current proposal was submitted. Gone are the desired dining and entertainment options, the motel, the offices, an athletic club or clinic. Replacing them was a 158,583-square-foot Wal-mart Supercenter with 636 parking spaces, few of the existing trees and not much screening from the road.
Six days after this radically different project was submitted, it breezed through a technical review by a planning commission committee. The full commission is scheduled to consider it July 10.
If Versailles and Woodford County citizens want to change their vision for this area's future that is their right. But it should only happen after a full, public discussion.
One aspect of that discussion should be whether Versailles, with a population of about 8,500, needs another major retail center beyond U.S. 60. There's a Kmart there and Kroger is preparing to build a 125,000 square foot store to replace its 20-year-old facility across the street.
A Wal-mart in that established commercial corridor — already served by a divided, four-lane highway — would be only a few minutes' drive from the proposed location.
Versailles Mayor Bryan Traugott dismissed that possibility, saying, "You've got to defer a little bit to the market experts," about where to put their stores.
In Versailles and Woodford County, where land, history and quality of life are so valued, deference is due, as the comprehensive plan says, to "the community's overall appearance and character."