The clock is ticking for the former grocery store on Romany Road. City officials have posted a notice on the site ordering its owners to either demolish or repair the building.
The deadline for compliance is Nov. 4, according to a notice posted on a chain link fence at the site.
The vacant building at 344 Romany was supposed to have been renovated into a new independent grocery but all work stopped at the site a year ago, after the store was gutted and the front ripped off.
The front of the store was left open, and neighbors had been complaining on local message boards and to the city that not only was it ugly, animals and teenagers were getting inside.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
On Sept. 26, the division of code enforcement inspected the site and cited several violations:
▪ No normal construction for a year;
▪ The structure was “so old, dilapidated or so out of repair that it is dangerous, unsafe, unsanitary or unfit for human occupancy or use.’”
All work was ordered to be discontinued until permits are obtained from the city after “past repairs or renovations have been left incomplete, deteriorating and/or are unacceptable,” according to the notice. Utilities have been ordered discontinued and may not be restored without the approval of the city.
In an email, Alex C. Olszowy III, director of Code Enforcement, said: “Our follow up will be shortly after November 4th. At that time we will have to assess if the building Is still in such disrepair that we have it torn down, barring of course any building permits they may have obtained in the meantime.”
The city also ordered that the structure be made secure against “unauthorized entry.”
The front of the building has recently been enclosed with boards and weatherproofing, behind a fence with a notice to keep out of the construction area.
But it is not clear what construction will be going on.
No new building permits or development plans have been filed with the city since spring 2017, according to the city’s web site. Those permits were for a now-dead plan for Cox Foods to open an upscale IGA store on the site in the spring of 2018.
The Chevy Chase neighborhood was ecstatic; many had sorely missed the small Kroger store that closed in September 2015.
But no more work was ever done on the Market at Romany Road and Cox Foods abandoned the project.
In April, London-based Laurel Grocery, which supplies independent grocery stories throughout Eastern Kentucky, announced plans to move forward with a store; nothing more has happened at the site although Laurel continues to say the company is committed to the store.
“We understand the neighborhood’s frustrations and we are still working toward a solution for the project,” said Jake Jennings, Laurel Grocery spokesman, on Oct. 3 in an email. “This week alone, we are working on sealing up the property, including a temporary facing to be more aesthetically pleasing and to create a safer environment around the property. We will continue to strive to bring this project to fruition and will keep the community posted as updates are available.”
Jennings said Thursday that contractors “began making repairs to the building to address all of the findings on the ‘Demolition or Repair’ notice. Those repairs were completed this past Monday, October 8. We are confident that we have successfully met the needs mentioned on the notice, and are currently in the process of approaching the city for a re-evaluation of the property.”
Bill Farmer, city councilman for the fifth district, hopes there will still be a store. He wrote in his newsletter to constituents recently that he’d asked for the code enforcement inspection.
“At church one recent Sunday, a sweet lady who has known me since I was young stopped me in the hall and simply asked, ‘When are they going to tear it down?’ That’s when you know you’ve lost the confidence of the most anxious — and at one time most welcoming — folks gunning for the change,” Farmer wrote.
Farmer said Thursday that he is encouraged by the signs of movement that he thinks will lead to a new plan soon.
“There are new partners involved, and everybody’s still trying to get something done,” Farmer said. “It’s a harder deal than even I understood., But there is a trend back towards what I would call ‘walkable markets’ that share convenience more than breadth of stock. ... So there’s still optimism there; they are paying the rent and are in contact with property owners. I’m pleased there’s visible work going on and conversations going on.”
The store would have to be competitive in Lexington’s market, which includes Kroger, Walmart, Whole Foods, Good Foods Co-op, The Fresh Market, Meijer, and Save-A-Lot. But recently at least two new Crossroads IGA stores have been started in different parts of the city; they are smaller in scale but offer a convenient place to grab bread, milk, coffee and a sandwich.