If Nancy Kennedy doesn’t leave her house on the corner of Alumni Drive and Squires Road before 7:30 a.m., she says she can’t easily get out until after 9 a.m.
Traffic on Squires Road in southeast Lexington during morning and evening rush hour is brutal, Kennedy said. The connector road between Richmond Road and Alumni Drive has become a popular short cut for morning and evening commuters.
“People coming from Richmond to get to the University of Kentucky use it as a cut through so they don’t have to go through the lights on Richmond Road and several lights on Man O’ War,” Kennedy said.
A proposed development off Squires Road that would include a new middle school, 156 homes, 308 apartments and 31 townhomes could add as much as 2,000 additional cars a day to Squires.
Kennedy and her neighbors say that’s too much.
Ball Homes has asked to change the zoning of the 90-acre tract at 478 and 480 Squires Road near a Kentucky American Water reservoir from agricultural urban to high-density residential. A hearing on that request is scheduled for Thursday before the Urban County Planning Commission. Twenty acres of the development would be reserved for a new Fayette County middle school. The land is currently owned by the water company.
The school system and Ball Homes are negotiating contracts with the water company. Ball’s contract is contingent on the planning commission’s approval of the zoning changes.
Traffic is a top concern for Kennedy and the Eastlake Neighborhood Association as well as other neighborhoods in the Squires Road area.
But it’s not the only concern. The 90-acre parcel has never been developed. It is one of the few intact large parcels of undeveloped land inside the urban service area. Residents say bald eagles, osprey, deer, coyotes and wild turkeys have been spotted on the property, which is adjacent to the water company’s Lexington Reservoir No. 4, also known as Lake Ellerslie, off Richmond Road.
Ball Home’s preliminary development plan does little to protect any of that green space, neighbors say. The current plans also do not include a trail that has long been planned for the area, opponents of the project say.
Nick Nicholson, a lawyer for Ball Homes, told residents at a neighborhood meeting on Wednesday that Ball was in the process of doing a very thorough tree inventory and was also working on altering its preliminary development plan to include a trail system.
More than 75 people attended the meeting between the developers and those that oppose the development.
Nicholson said Ball is also paying for an updated traffic study. An earlier study submitted by Ball included old traffic count numbers. The new study will have accurate numbers and those traffic counts will be done at more intersections, he said. Nicholson said they hoped the tree inventory and the new traffic study would be completed by Tuesday, 48 hours before the Thursday planning commission meeting.
If those studies aren’t completed in time, the application for a zone change will likely be delayed, Nicholson said.
Others at Wednesday night’s meeting said they didn’t understand why Ball Homes wanted to cram so much development onto the 90-acre peninsula, which is surrounded on three sides by water. Many said they don’t want the apartments or town homes.
Nicholson said Ball’s proposed development is similar to other neighborhoods such as Firebrook subdivision.
“Most new developments are now R-3,” Nicholson said. The R-3 zone is a higher density zone, allowing more living units per acre. Ball Homes has done similar developments incorporating different types of housing into one development.
“They have a very good model,” Nicholson said. “We think this plan is going to be very successful and it is in keeping with the 2013 Comprehensive Plan that calls for higher density where it is appropriate, and we believe this is where it is appropriate.”
Nathan Billings, a lawyer representing East Lake Neighborhood and several individuals, said planners had always proposed much less density for the 90-acres parcel — four living units per acre. “The current proposal is 7.3 units per acre, almost double,” Billings said.
Billings said the greenway master plan, which guides the management and protection of Fayette County green spaces, shows a conservation greenway has been planned for that parcel dating back to 2002. That’s not included in Ball Home’s preliminary development plan.
Riparian areas — land near waterways — must also be protected under the county’s planning ordinances. Those who oppose the plan are concerned Ball’s plans do not include protection of those riparian areas.
Nicholson said Ball does want to protect the riparian areas but a detailed plan cannot be completed until they determine where the boundary of those riparian areas are located. Kentucky American Water owns the reservoir. That means it will still retain ownership of land along the water.
“We know there is a riparian area but we are trying to figure out where it is on our property,” Nicholson said. “There is a little bit of area that Kentucky American Water will still own.”
Once that is worked out with the water company, Ball Homes will add an exhibit showing those boundary lines.
Billings said additional traffic on Squires is an issue, but streets around the proposed middle school are also narrow. According to data provided by the school district, the school will likely have 900 students. Roughly 50 percent of middle school students are driven to school by an adult. That could mean as many as 400 or 450 cars dropping off kids each morning and afternoon. People exiting the school will have to come to an intersection and make a turn to get back onto Squires Road.
“The traffic is going to stack up,” Billings said.
Nicholson said the design of the streets around the middle school may be tweaked. They understand the neighborhood’s concerns.
“We are still in conversation with the school system and the city on how these roads will be constructed,” Nicholson said.
Suzanne Bhatt’s home backs up to the 90-acre development. Bhatt said with key changes — including decreasing the number of housing units, protecting more trees, adding a greenway and a trail system — Ball’s development would be more palatable to her and to many neighbors.
It could also be a model development, she said.
“This is development as usual in an environmentally sensitive area,” Bhatt said.
Many people in the neighborhood don’t want that land to ever be developed. But it’s one of the few large tracts of undeveloped land left inside the urban service area.
“We hope Ball Homes understands they have an opportunity to do a great development and respect these really important public issues and not just maximize the number of lots,” Billings said.
Nicholson said Ball believes its proposed development can work.
“We have heard the neighbors’ concerns and we will take those back to our team. We will continue to work with the city and Mr. Billings and the neighborhood to hopefully come up with a plan that everybody can agree to,” Nicholson said.