Fayette County

Criticized over traffic, ‘strong-arm tactic,’ Palomar retail zone inches toward reality

“We are concerned about the design, we are concerned about spacing,” of the Fountains at Palomar proposal, said Jimmy Emmons, of the Lexington planning staff.
“We are concerned about the design, we are concerned about spacing,” of the Fountains at Palomar proposal, said Jimmy Emmons, of the Lexington planning staff. LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

The Urban County Planning Commission approved a zone change Thursday for a new shopping center at the corner of Man O’ War Boulevard and Harrodsburg Road. The city planning staff had not recommended approval because of traffic and other concerns.

The commission voted 5 to 4 Thursday to approve the zone change after a public hearing that lasted more than four hours. The zone change and a development plan will now go before the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council for consideration. It’s not clear when that vote will occur.

Plans for the Fountains at Palomar include a grocery store, several restaurants and a hotel at the intersection of Man O’ War and Harrodsburg roads. The Hyatt Place is interested in the five-story hotel property, developers said. Other potential restaurant tenants include Starbucks and Chick-fil-A. The plans also include a water feature that will act as a gathering place. Developers want an organic grocery to anchor the property but a company was not named during Thursday’s hearing.

The Webb and Greer companies are the developers of the project.

The zone change was for 16 acres at 3801, 3901 and 3994 Harrodsburg Road from agricultural urban to a highway business zone and from a neighborhood business to a highway business zone or B(3) zone.

Bruce Simpson, a lawyer for the developers, said the site includes an existing shopping center, a church and the former Murray’s restaurant, which will be torn down. The existing shopping center will be incorporated into the project.

City planning staff told the commission they did not recommended approval of the zone change because it was not compatible with the neighborhood. That highway business zone is for major roads such as Nicholasville but not Harrodsburg Road. Moreover, the city had concerns about adding another traffic signal on Harrodsburg Road so close to the Man O’ War traffic light.

Planning Manager Traci Wade said the city’s comprehensive plan encourages more pedestrian-friendly shopping centers with more density such as The Summit at Fritz Farm on Nicholasville Road.

“The two tallest buildings are closest to the neighborhood,” Wade said. “It lacks walk-ability, proximity of buildings together and accessibility.”

Simpson said the Webbs hired multiple design consultants to try to find a better design. But the site is too small for a Summit at Fritz Farm, he said.

“We had some very good designs,” Simpson said. “But they were not commercially viable.”

Simpson said development representatives met repeatedly with neighbors and said the majority of neighbors adjacent to the project support the development.

Some neighbors whose property adjoined the proposed development got either additional accommodations or money. One of those agreements promised the landowner $1,000 for backyard landscaping, according to a copy of a memorandum of understanding between the homeowners and the developers obtained by the Herald-Leader. If the homeowner signed that memorandum of understanding, the agreement said the homeowner would attend the Thursday hearing in support of the zone change or send a letter supporting the zone change.

“We didn’t buy anybody off,” Simpson said when asked about the agreements during the meeting. “Everybody had a different agreement. It’s not untoward.”

Simpson said it’s common practice.

But that was news to long-time Planning Commissioner Frank Penn.

“It’s a strong-arm tactic,” Penn said, of the memorandum of understandings.

“No one is paying anyone to come down here,” Simpson said.

The additional traffic signal on Harrodsburg Road has to be approved by state transportation officials because it’s a state road. The new traffic signal is too close to the one at Harrodsburg and Man O’War and could jeopardize the placement of a needed light signal at Palomar Drive, city staff said Thursday.

“We are concerned about the design, we are concerned about spacing,” said Jimmy Emmons, of the city’s planning staff.

Emmons said the state transportation cabinet engineers support the city’s recommendations on how traffic should move in and out of the development. That plan does not include a traffic light.

Joe Clabes, president of the Palomar Hills Neighborhood Association, said with exception of some minor concerns as “an association we support the development plan as proposed.”

Not everyone supported it.

Vicki Stevens lives on Glade Lane and her property backs up to the proposed property. The proposed grocery store will be less than 45 feet from her property and the loading dock will back up to her property.

“It will dramatically increase the light pollution,” Stevens said. Stevens said the developers tried to work with her but they could not come to an agreement. She was asked to sign a memorandum of understanding but declined.

Don Todd, a lawyer who represents several residents who oppose the project, said many of the landowners who support the project have “received either monetary considerations” or other accommodations and “that should play into your considerations.”

Todd said that area of Harrodsburg Road was always supposed to be a residential area.

“They are putting a square peg in a round hole,” Todd said.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall