Residents near one of Kentucky’s oldest golf courses are pushing back against a secretive effort by the city of Paris to turn the course into an industrial site for an unknown business.
The Bourbon County Joint Planning Commission last week denied a request by the city to turn more than 48 acres of what is now Stoner Creek Golf Course off of Main Street into industrial land, but the Paris City Commission can still vote to overturn the commission’s denial.
The city has agreed to purchase the golf course for $650,000, but officials won’t say who wants to build on the site or what they would build. In an Aug. 15 news release, the city said it had not signed an agreement with any company to develop the property, but Paris City Manager Daron Jordan acknowledges the city has signed a non-disclosure agreement regarding the property.
Neighbors of the property and others in Bourbon County are worried the city will forge ahead and overturn the planning commission despite their opposition.
“I’ve been representing neighborhoods and developers for 30 years all over the state of Kentucky,” said Bruce Simpson, a lawyer who represents the Wyndamer Neighborhood Association, which is adjacent to the property. “This is the first time I have encountered a situation like this where the elected city officials who initiated the rezoning request and who will ultimately decide its fate also signed nondisclosure agreements which prevent them from disclosing to the citizens they represent the name of the ultimate developer or the developer’s intended use.”
Jordan said a date for the city commission to vote on the zone change has not been set.
The city needs three of the five voting members — including Paris Mayor Mike Thornton — to overturn the planning commission’s decision.
The city denied an open record request for a copy of any nondisclosure agreements between the city and a private entity interested in the property, according to documents obtained by the Lexington Herald-Leader. Mary Clay, a Bourbon County resident, requested the non-disclosure agreement on Aug. 10. In a response dated Aug. 15, the city said the state open records act “exempts such documents from production.”
Jordan said the city is working with state economic development officials to market the property if a zone change is eventually approved.
“Similar to other cities, counties and state economic development cabinets, the city often signs non-disclosure agreements when discussing potential economic development projects,” Jordan said. “The city has completed several of these in recent months in order to support economic development efforts.”
The planning commission voted 6-3 Thursday with one member abstaining to deny the zone change for 48.4 acres from a conservation zone to light industrial. Close to 200 people attended the meeting, which lasted more than four hours.
Those who attended the meeting said only two people spoke in favor of the zone change.
Bourbon County planners had recommended the commission deny the zone change and the city’s request to waive a height limit of 60 feet for buildings on the property. In addition, the Bourbon County Health Department sent a letter saying potential flooding in the area that is bordered by Stoner Creek should be studied before the zone change request is approved.
The staff planning report said the city’s proposal was not in keeping with the 2017 Comprehensive Plan, which guides development in Paris and Bourbon County.
“The request is not in alignment with the Comprehensive Plan as it is proposing a more intensive district on land that is adjacent to existing residential properties,” the staff report said.
The golf course, which was built in 1924, is surrounded on two sides by residential neighborhoods, a horse farm, Stoner Creek and some commercial property.
In addition, the planning staff also recommended the commission not approve the 60 foot height variance without knowing what the proposed property was going to be used for.
“Without disclosing a more specific use for the property and a full development plan, it is recommended that a waiver not be allowed,” the staff report said.
Jordan said the city was requesting the zone change to provide additional economic development and growth.
Simpson and others said that rational doesn’t make sense. There are hundreds of acres of available land in Bourbon County already zoned industrial.
“At the time of this hearing there were 153 acres of vacant, industrially zoned land within the city limits of Paris, including 89 acres in the Paris-Bourbon County Industrial Park,” Simpson said. “Moreover, in February of 2017, the Paris-Bourbon County Planning Commission updated its Comprehensive Land Use Plan by adding 476 acres for future industrial development. All totaled, at the time of the hearing, there were 884 acres designated for industrial development in Paris/Bourbon County.”
Jordan countered that the city feels more industrial land is needed.
“While there is currently approximately 80 acres available in the industrial park, there are existing industries that have discussed expansion efforts and will need that acreage to grow next to their existing locations,” Jordan said.
For those that live close to the development, flooding is a big concern. The area south of the proposed development already floods, residents said. If much of the golf course is paved it could dump more stormwater into the creek.
If the land is zoned industrial, up to 85 percent of the proposed development could be paved, Simpson said. He hired Vision Engineering to do an analysis of how much additional water could flow into Stoner Creek if 85 percent of the acres were covered.
“For example, in a rainfall event where three inches of rain falls within 24 hours, an additional 1.2 million gallons of stormwater runoff will flow into Stoner Creek as compared to what would flow into Stoner Creek from the golf course,” said Simpson.
Stoner Creek is the source of the city’s drinking water, Simpson said.
Holli Gibson, who lives adjacent to Stoner Creek Golf Course and has a business on Main Street, said there are stormwater problems throughout downtown Paris.
“If the city has $650,000 to buy land, why have they not spent that money fixing stormwater issues?” Gibson said.
Main Street frequently floods because the city’s stormwater system is inadequate, she said.
Gibson said she wants more jobs in Paris. But trying to put an unknown industrial business onto what is now a golf course could cause a lot of costly environmental problems, she said.
“No studies have been done,” Gibson said. “And no one knows what’s going in there.”