After a seven-hour public hearing and a lot of debate, Lexington’s Urban County Council approved a zone change for a controversial development off of Squires Road but decreased the number of apartments, townhomes or houses allowed on the 90-acre site.
The council also increased the amount of land for a buffer between the new development, called the Peninsula, and Kentucky American Reservoir No. 4, which surrounds the project on three sides.
The council voted 9-4 shortly after midnight Wednesday.
Ball Homes’ original building plan called for the construction of a middle school, 162 houses, 308 apartments and 31 townhomes, about 500 units total. On Tuesday night, the council limited the total number to 450. It also increased the required buffer area around the lake to 50 feet.
The council settled on 450 — single-family houses, apartments or townhomes — as a compromise. Several motions to decrease the density to as low as 400 and increasing the buffer zone to as much as 75 feet failed before the council had enough votes to pass the 450 limit and the 50-foot buffer.
Bill Lear, an attorney who represents Ball Homes, said after the long, and at times confusing, hearing that it’s not clear whether the council’s decision to scale back the development will mean the project will be killed.
“The bigger issue is the (increased buffer),” Lear said. “We will have to... take a look at it.”
An attorney who represented neighbors along Squires Road called the council’s limitations a victory and not much different than what his clients had originally proposed.
“We are thrilled,” said Nathan Billings, who represents the East Lake Neighborhood Association. “This is a huge win for all the citizens of Fayette County.”
More than 150 people attended Tuesday night’s hearing before the Urban County Council, which received more than 1,000 letters either opposing the project or asking that it be changed.
Two overflow viewing areas were set up to accommodate the crowd, which couldn’t fit into the council chambers.
After a nearly five-hour hearing in January, the Urban County Planning Commission voted 8-1 to approve a zone change for the land at 478 and 480 Squires Road from agricultural urban to high-density residential.
Ball Homes applied for the zone change in October. The hearing was delayed several times as Ball Homes tweaked its proposal. The council must sign off on zone changes.
Ball Homes’ attorneys emphasized Tuesday night that the Peninsula is an infill development that offers a variety of housing. The development calls for a much-needed middle school, long planned for the Squires Road area.
“It will save the school system money in developing this site,” Lear said.
Nick Nicholson, another attorney for Ball, said the development provides a variety of housing choices in keeping with the city’s comprehensive plan. Lexington needs more housing, he said.
“Less than 50 percent of Fayette County workers live in Fayette County,” Nicholson said. “We need a lot more apartments and a lot more single-family homes.”
Lear said fears that the development will add too much traffic are unfounded.
“Many of the developments around the lakes have one way in and one way out,” Lear said. The Peninsula development has multiple ways in and out. A middle school would add traffic, but only twice a day, and people will adapt, he said.
“History shows they will take an alternate route twice a day,” Lear said.
Many neighbors said they didn’t oppose the development, but they wanted a less-dense project that protected the water, trees and wildlife. They also wanted a multi-use trail that has long been planned for the area. The council ultimately decided not to set aside any land for the trail, as questions were raised over who would own and maintain the trail — if it were ever built. Ball Homes’ plan includes sidewalks.
More than 25 people spoke in opposition or asked Ball to change its plans.
“We are not here to oppose the development,” Billings, the neighborhood association’s attorney, told the council. “We don’t think it’s good enough. “
Billings asked the council to decrease the number of housing units from aboutg 500 to 328. He also wanted a 100-foot buffer around the lake — the setback of most developments on Kentucky American’s other reservoirs, he said.
Lear said a 100-foot buffer would eliminate 40 residential lots.
About 50 homes’ backyards would back up to the water, Ball officials have said previously.
Suzanne Bhatt, who lives nearby, said the changes that the neighborhood wanted would protect a unique ecosystem.
“It will be a terrible and permanent loss for the city,” if the Ball plan was adopted with no changes, Bhatt said.
Bob Kennedy, a former transportation planner for the city who lives near Squires Road, said Ball Homes’ traffic study shows 5,700 trips a day.
“There are many collector streets that have this volume, but they are an example of poor planning,” Kennedy said. “Traffic is already a problem.”
Some council members said they were disappointed that representatives from Kentucky American Water and Fayette County Schools didn’t attend Tuesday’s meeting or any public meeting on the proposed development. The school district and Ball Homes have options to buy the land from the water company.
Lear said the school district has received preliminary approval from state education authorities to build the middle school, a key step to getting the middle school built. Several opponents of the plan said the school system has not spoken publicly about its plans and questioned if the middle school would ever materialize.
Lear said the reservoir is still used for drinking water but sparingly. “Most of our water now comes from the Kentucky River,” Lear said. Lear said in 2016 about 12 percent of the water came from that reservoir. But many council members were surprised to learn that Lake Ellerslie or reservoir 4 is the only Lexington reservoir that Kentucky American still uses for drinking water.
“They support the development and don’t believe it will compromise the water,” Lear said.
Councilwoman Jennifer Scutchfield, whose district includes the Squires Road area, said she shared residents’ concerns about the traffic and congestion and the area. This development would put too much traffic on an already-taxed Squires Road, a major cut-through between Richmond Road and Alumni Drive, she said.
Those who voted against the change were Richard Moloney, Bill Farmer Jr., Fred Brown and Kevin Stinnett. Those who voted to approve the zone change were Jake Gibbs, Sasha Love Higgins, Susan Lamb, Amanda Bledsoe, Kathy Plomin, Jennifer Mossotti, Angela Evans, Jennifer Scutchfield and Vice Mayor Steve Kay.