Ball Homes wants city approval to build up to 77 single-family houses on a 20-acre parcel that Fayette County Schools opted not to buy because of asbestos contamination.
Ball Homes is developing the remaining 90-acres in its Peninsula development off of Squires Road with apartments, townhouses and single-family houses. The company filed May 7 to remove a conditional zoning restriction set by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council that limited the total number of residential units on the entire property to 450. The council approved that plan in April 2017.
If the zoning restriction is removed, there could be as many as 240 lots for single-family houses on the property, said Nick Nicholson, a lawyer for Ball Homes. That's in addition to about 238 apartments and 31 townhouses. Ball Homes already owned a parcel of land adjacent to the Peninsula site that had apartments and town homes. With the addition of that land, there would be 308 apartments in the development.
The Urban County Planning Commission is scheduled to hear the company's request at its June 28 hearing. Nicholson said much of the neighbor's concerns with the 2017 zone change had to do with an expected increase in traffic.
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"At the end of the day, we are reducing the traffic drastically by going from a school to 77 (homes)," Nicholson said.
Bob Kennedy, of the East Lake Neighborhood Association, said the neighborhood is concerned about lifting the zoning restriction and will likely oppose the change. Kennedy said the neighborhood is also worried about the possible asbestos contamination on the property.
The Fayette County school board voted March 26 to terminate its letter of intent to purchase the land from Kentucky American Water after an environmental analysis showed there was asbestos and other environmental concerns on the 20-acre site the school system had wanted for a new middle school. That same analysis showed there are environmental concerns in other areas of the more than 90-acres purchased by Ball Homes from Kentucky American Water.
School system officials said they backed out because that study showed it could cost up to $1 million to remediate the property.
"We are very concerned about the confirmed presence of asbestos in disposed water pipes, and as noted in the due diligence environmental study by Amec Foster and Wheeler dated March 9, 2018, it is "difficult to be certain that all of the disposal areas have been found,'" Kennedy said.
Nicholson said Ball Homes is committed to removing any environmental hazard found on the Peninsula development.
"There are set rules for remediation in dealing with asbestos," Nicholson said. "We have hired environmental consultants and we are going to remediate the property as required."
Kentucky American Water officials have said the asbestos was from old pipes that were stored on the property. Those pipes pose no hazard to the general public, according to the water company.
The Peninsula is surrounded on three sides by a reservoir owned by the water company. That reservoir is no longer used to supply water to the city, but the removal of asbestos from the property must be done properly, officials said.
In a letter to the school system obtained by the Herald-Leader through an Open Records Act request, the environmental firm of Amec Foster Wheeler Environment and Infrastructure said that "debris material samples were collected which identified the disposal of asbestos containing debris in some areas."
The letter also mentions two different environmental tests that were completed in 2008. Kentucky American Water officials have said they disclosed the asbestos and environmental concerns to all potential buyers. Officials with the water company did not attend any of the zoning change hearings.
Traci Wade, the city's planning manager, said an environmental issue such as asbestos that can be remediated or removed from the property is not addressed during a zone change or on a site plan.
However, when developers apply for a grading permit to clear the land the city's engineering department will ask questions about how any environmental hazard or concern has been disposed of, she said.
The 20-acre site the school intended to buy also includes an old cemetery. Wade said Ball Homes will have to conduct a study to determine the boundaries of the cemetery. Wade said the city has asked for the study but has not yet received it.
A lawyer who represented neighborhoods around the Peninsula development during the 2017 zoning hearings said he asked the Urban County Planning Commission during a meeting to require the developers to disclose what was on the property and prove that it had been properly remediated before construction began. That request was denied, he said.
"We raised the asbestos issue and no one paid heed to it," said Nathan Billings, a lawyer for the East Lake Neighborhood Association. Billings said he was told that if he and the neighborhoods had concerns about environmental issues it should contact state environmental authorities.
"All we asked is that it be transparent and public," Billings said. "Why wouldn't you do that? It protects not only the public but future land owners."