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Lexington to begin demolishing flood-prone houses

The city will soon start demolishing four flood-prone houses on North Limestone, the first of more than 20 such troubled homes officials hope to take down in the future.

Houses at 905, 907, 909 and 1001 North Limestone were bought from willing property owners for a total cost of $331,800, Mayor Jim Newberry announced Wednesday at a news conference.

Plans are underway to buy and raze 18 other houses as part of a flood mitigation program directed by the city's Division of Water Quality.

The properties will be purchased using a combination of federal and local funds,

Newberry said the city didn't have ordinances against building houses in flood-plain areas until recently, leaving flood-prone houses scattered throughout the city.

In many cases, it's too expensive to salvage the homes by resolving the flooding issues, Newberry said. "Tearing down houses becomes the most cost-effective solution," he said.

Tearing down the houses on North Limestone is expected to reduce consistent flooding and run-off issues that have existed for many years, Newberry said.

The city signed a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency a little more than a year ago after the EPA sued Lexington for violations of the Clean Water Act.

"Candidly, the city was one of the biggest polluters in town, and cleaning up our sanitary and storm-water sewers is not only the legal thing to do, it is the right thing to do," the mayor said.

One of the highest priority issues in the EPA agreement is to resolve flooding issues such as the one on North Limestone, Newberry said.

The North Limestone Neighborhood Association and The Rock-La Roca United Methodist Church are interested in creating a community garden on the cleared land.

Other suggestions include a rain garden or passive park using varieties of trees that have exceptional ability to absorb water, said Cheryl Taylor, commissioner of Environmental Quality.

Following demolition and soil tests, she said the city would work with the neighbors and the church to come up with a community use for the land.

If tests determine that there are no significant pollutants in the soil, Taylor said the ground could possibly be prepared and ready for planting a vegetable garden by early summer.