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Group takes preservation case to court

As demolition began on the site of a planned high-rise downtown hotel, a judge set a date for a hearing that could decide the future of other buildings on the block.

Preserve Lexington's request for an injunction to keep CentrePointe developers from immediately razing historic buildings in the Courthouse Area Design Overlay Zone will be heard on July 22.

CentrePointe's attorney said that developers will not tear the buildings down in the meantime.

Because of a crowded schedule Wednesday, Circuit Court Judge Pamela Goodwine said she did not have time to give the issue a full hearing.

Preserve Lexington sought a temporary injunction to spare the buildings while they appeal a decision made last week by the Courthouse Area Design Review Board that gave developers a permit to raze buildings in the protected courthouse area.

The preservation group appealed the decision this week to the Planning Commission, which has 90 days to make its decision. The losing side, at that point, can file a lawsuit in Circuit Court.

The buildings are slated to come down as developers prepare to build a 35-story hotel-condominium complex that would take up an entire block of downtown Lexington.

Demolition began Wednesday on buildings outside the courthouse zone.

Preservationists have been fighting to change the design of the project to incorporate existing buildings on the block.

CentrePointe attorney Phil Scott said the developers, led by the The Webb Companies, could not tear the buildings down in the courthouse zone immediately, anyway, because they did not have a demolition permit.

Wednesday afternoon, representatives of the developers applied for demolition permits for all the remaining buildings on the block, including those in the courthouse zone, said John Bryant, in the city's building inspector's office.

The demolition permits include buildings on South Upper Street owned by businessman Joe Rosenberg's family that lie outside the Design Zone. These can be torn down immediately, like the buildings on South Limestone where demolition started Wednesday.

The building housing Rosenberg's pawn shop and jewelry store was built in 1826 and has been in continuous commercial use longer than any other building downtown.

Goodwine set aside all day July 22 for the case and July 23 if it ran over.

The judge said she is familiar with issues in the case and does not want attorneys to plow through reams of background at the hearing.

The project has been controversial since it was announced by developers Dudley and Woodford Webb in March.

The question for CentrePointe developers will be this, Goodwine said: What is the good of an appeal if a demolition permit is obtained and the buildings come down before the Planning Commission hearing? Once the buildings are destroyed, they can't be put back together, she said.

To Preserve Lexington, Goodwine said appeals can be dragged out for years. She wants Preserve Lexington to show why appealing the case indefinitely, as a way to stall the CentrePointe project, would not amount to ”taking“ the property.

”I do think this is really important,“ Goodwine said of the case, ”and I want to give hearing to whoever wants to be heard.“

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