A planning document generated by Kentucky American Water in 2013 used phrases like “inferior quality” and “difficult to treat” to explicitly state that water quality is poor in Reservoir No. 4, a source of our city’s water supply.
KAW also says the lake has suffered capacity loss due to development in the watershed. One would think that this would spur the utility to double down on efforts to protect the lake and water quality.
Instead, it has decided to sell to Ball Homes a 90-acre property surrounded on three sides by Reservoir No. 4, currently covered with trees and fields.
Ball Homes plans to build a massive new development. Unfortunately, its proposal does not include a proper plan for a tree buffer that will protect our water supply and the wide diversity of wildlife routinely seen here, including bald eagles, deer, fox and turkeys.
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The county’s Comprehensive Plan envisions a buffer in the form of a broad conservation greenway along the lake’s edge and a hiking/biking trail paralleling the edge and connecting the existing Squires Road trail to Jacobson Park. The development plan proposed by Ball Homes meets none of these goals.
The developer is proposing to remove much of the current buffer “mechanically.” The use of heavy equipment will result in compaction and soil erosion and make it difficult for anything to grow in the area. Although the Planning Commission required a buffer, they allowed for trees less than 3 inches in diameter to be removed and did not address the use of mechanical equipment or replanting with native vegetation.
Most significantly, even if some buffer is retained or created, it will not be sustained in the future because Ball Homes is proposing to subdivide the area among individual homes. This means that we will be dependent upon dozens of individual homeowners to maintain any buffer that may remain.
The Lexington Stormwater Manual requires a 50-foot buffer along lake edges. It even prohibits mowing in the vegetative buffer zone. How will this work in practice if dozens of individuals control the buffer? Is Ball Homes going to sell a home with the stipulation that the owner cannot mow the last 25 feet of the property? What will prevent individual landowners from cutting down trees and putting in lawns that result in pesticide runoff into our water supply?
The problems caused by individual ownership are why all current greenways in major developments are owned by either the city or homeowners associations. In fact, in the case of the Monticello development, Planning Commission staff objected to individual ownership, but inexplicably they have now signed off on the Ball Homes’ plan.
A hiking/biking trail, as envisioned in the Greenway Master Plan, would protect the buffer if it ran between the homes and the greenway. Unfortunately, Ball Homes has refused to provide such a trail, instead locating it in another area between an apartment complex and a road, without connection to existing trails.
For decades, KAW has insisted that all developments around the lake have a fence between individual properties and the lake, such that basically the whole lake and buffer areas are currently protected. Unfortunately, KAW has not required Ball Homes to put in a fence. A fence that separates back yards from the buffer would deter property owners from cutting down trees and prevent lawns from extending all the way to the water’s edge.
The Planning Commission has approved Ball Homes’ proposal without a fence, trail or public ownership of the greenway. The Urban County Council will be making the final decision on this plan at an April 18 public hearing. We hope that it will mandate these safeguards to protect our water supply, wildlife and the character of the lake and surrounding neighborhoods.
Ramesh and Suzanne Bhatt are members of the East Lake Neighborhood Association.
Related: Herald-Leader article, “Planners OK Squires Road development including hundreds of apartments and homes”