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Central sector residents take up their own cause

Marty Clifford, president of the North Limestone Neighborhood Association, is optimistic that positive changes lie ahead for the central portion of Lexington.

"Never before did they ask for community involvement. The city just made the decisions of what they thought we needed," Clifford said.

Too often, neighborhood concerns in a large geographic area of Lexington — roughly between Second Street and New Circle Road, bounded on the west by Georgetown Street and on the east by Winchester Road — were overlooked, he said.

Two years ago, a coalition of eight neighborhood associations persuaded the city to hire a consultant to do a small-area development plan for the central part of the city.

The 2,400-acre area is primarily residential. Because of its large size, the area was divided into five sub-areas for the study.

The goal was to address grass-roots concerns such as the lack of affordable housing, poor sidewalks, no sidewalks in some areas, crime, and streets lacking curbs, gutters and storm sewers. Residents said they were worried about the future of the Johnson Elementary School building and the lack of recreational programs, security and general maintenance at Castlewood Park.

"Doing a small-area plan is a way the coalition decided its concerns could be heard, in an orderly fashion, instead of piecemeal," said Jackie Turner, urban planner with RATIO Architects, an architectural and urban design firm in Indianapolis, consultants for the plan.

Clifford, owner of a consignment furniture store on North Limestone, was coordinator of the coalition.

After 10 months of listening to residents, business owners and city officials, consultants unveiled the Central Sector Small Area Plan on Tuesday night at a public hearing at the Central Library.

'We came in to listen to people's desires, their complaints about their neighborhoods and where they felt neglected," Turner said.

But the consultants heard, over and over again, how residents celebrate the racial, ethnic, economic and multi-generational diversity in the area. "From very young families to young professionals to people who have lived there for generations," she said. "People really appreciated that about their community."

Turner said some plan recommendations were targeted to specific neighborhoods; others applied to the entire central sector. Some can be implemented quickly; others will take three or four years to achieve. One of these longer-range goals is setting up a community development corporation to assemble land and make it available to developers in public-private partnerships.

First District Councilwoman Andrea James called a community development corporation "vital" to making changes happen. She urged central sector residents to lend their support.

Capital improvements will also take time to be initiated but are important to the area, Turner said. "Storm drains, curbs and sidewalks — those are things everyone should have, especially in neighborhoods where most kids walk to school and people walk to bus stops," she said.

A public relations campaign needs to be launched immediately to rename and re-brand the city's central sector. "Get rid of the name 'central sector' as quick as possible," Turner urged. Central sector is a name used by the police to identify the area. "Come up with a new name. Get new wayfaring signs with catchy colors and catchy designs. Create a culture of success and pride."

Clifford suggested before the meeting that the area be called "Lexington Central."

Other recommendations, called "quick wins," are remedies that take relatively little time or money. Turner said these need to be done right away while the area still enjoys the "excitement and momentum" of having the completed plan.

Quick wins include getting abandoned or poor-quality houses brought up to minimum standards — requiring property owners to pick up trash in their yards, prune trees that pose safety hazards and sweep alleys behind their houses.

"If people had dedicated enforcement of ordinances already on the books, that would go a long way toward fixing many problems," Turner said.

Outdated billboards need to be taken down and "ratty-looking signs" painted over. The city should paint new stripes on crosswalks "so everyone who lives outside New Circle Road and commutes downtown can see that everything is clean," she said. "You can't overestimate the power of everything just being fresh and clean."

Naming a full-time "central sector czar," she said, is critical to overseeing implementation of the central sector plan and the East End plan due out in the next few months.

"It has to be more than a person in the planning department spending 10 hours of a 40-hour work week working on the central sector. It has to be a full-time person dedicated to implementing small-area plans inside New Circle Road."

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