I am writing in response to a recent article by Tom Eblen on the importance of expanding the power of the University of Kentucky and growing industrial park land in Fayette County.
I agree that both are important concepts as our town grows, but we should all stress the need to carefully discuss and debate the proposed vast land swap exchanges.
Part of the swap deal is a complex and interesting element of state road transfer of Euclid Avenue (state highway 1974) to the city. This transfer would likely come with a deal to make Cooper or Alumni Drive the newly designated highway 1974. Alumni Drive seems to be the obvious choice, as it already “owned” by the commonwealth. As Eblen noted, state ownership is not a good fit for urban areas, as departments of transportation are primarily about moving volumes of traffic at speeds greater than what is expected in urban areas.
As neighbors in and around Cooper Drive. Montclair and Hollywood/Mt. Vernon neighborhoods recently learned, the transfer could be made by making Cooper Drive the new highway 1974. There was confusion and the need to understand the details behind any changes.
Recently a group of concerned constituents and taxpayers finally heard from Councilman Jake Gibbs regarding this potential arrangement, only days before the council may vote, and eleventh-hour reveal concerning deal-making among the city, UK and state started to become apparent. This is not an acceptable way to govern and we have asked that the councilman make a motion to delay the vote for six months so all stakeholders can weigh in.
There should be no haste in such an important decision. These proposed changes will have an impact on all Lexington residents and specifically in the districts where these road swaps and ownership changes are being suggested.
These neighbors are businesses and property owners who pay taxes to LFUCG for services like schools, roads, police and fire and other valuable municipal functions. As Eblen noted, UK is intricately woven into our community. It is vital that UK understands that its neighbors should be treated like constituents, as a publicly funded university that is supported by tax dollars generated by all Kentuckians, and directly by LFUCG residents who provide the roads and infrastructure surrounding the campus.
To me, it appears that UK, Lexington civic leaders and the Kentucky Department of Transportation have colluded in a historical land grab done with complete indifference to the impact these exchanges may have upon a great number of tax-paying citizens, neighborhood landowners, and businesses operating in and around the areas proposed.
Perhaps, the biggest issue is how all the details have been practically hidden from any public discussion and arrangements and agreements have been orchestrated arrogantly without all stakeholders having a voice.
The impact simply has not been fully evaluated and vetted. Consensus and compromise are essential for good government. Again, the idea that an entity that is publicly funded and doesn't pay property taxes to LFUCG can dictate outcomes to those that do is something that should be noted and weighed into the debate, alongside the TIF components.
Some core historic neighborhoods found in Lexington will be directly impacted by the changes. A vote should be delayed until primary season of 2018 is important as it would give greater voice to the community as our leaders would have to define where they stand on this issue.
Good solutions require input and dialogue plus time for proper assessment and the vetting necessary so that the best interests of as many as possible can be achieved. I hope that the members of the Urban County Council will support any motion to delay the vote and fulfill their duty to represent all constituents.
Lee Helmers lives in the Cooper Drive neighborhood.