Fayette County

Lexington council delays action on proposed design standards for new downtown buildings

More than seven years after public outcry over the demolition of a block of downtown buildings and discussions began on design standards for downtown Lexington, the city is no closer to passing those standards.

And a vote might not happen until January. Even then, its passage is not guaranteed.

After 11th-hour objections from two developers Tuesday during an Urban County Council Planning and Public Safety Committee meeting, Vice Mayor Steve Kay reluctantly put the issue into a subcommittee for further vetting and possible changes.

But it's unlikely the design standards will be back before that committee before January, because so many issues have been assigned to the committee, chairwoman Jennifer Mossotti said.

The city has been discussing making changes to the design standards since a row of buildings was demolished to make way for the long-stalled CentrePointe development. People also had problems with the design of CentrePointe, which was to include a hotel, apartment, restaurants and retail space.

The design standards would be for an area from Midland Avenue to Oliver Lewis Way and as far north as Third Street in some areas and as far south as High Street. The standards would include oversight of elements including building heights, building design, awnings and signs.

The design standards would be overseen by a board that would replace the current Courthouse Area Review Design Board, which oversees design standards for a small area in downtown. Only larger projects would have to go before the board for review, said Chris King, the city's planning director. Smaller projects would be reviewed by staff.

But on Tuesday, Harold Tate of Urban Toolbox, and Mike Scanlon, a developer and a former vice mayor, raised questions about those design standards. Scanlon said he thought much of the language was too vague and could create problems.

Scanlon also said he was concerned that there was no administrative appeal process. That means developers would have to appeal any decisions through the courts, which is costly and can create further delays.

"It is so vague and conflicting in its own language, it will be a quagmire," Scanlon said.

Tate, who is helping with the development of a 12-screen theater downtown, said the proposed designs of that theater would not comply with the proposed standards. Tate said the design standards require windows or translucency. One side of the building — because it is a theater — will have no windows.

But Kay countered that Scanlon and Tate had had plenty of opportunity to raise questions about the design standards and have yet to provide the council with those written objections.

Kay said the text of the zoning change had been available for more than a year, and he was concerned that the objections were "not about fixing it; it's about killing it."

Councilman Kevin Stinnett recommended that a subcommittee be formed and some of the issues between the developers and the text be worked out.

But Kay warned the committee that, after more than five years of being in a task force and three years in a council committee, a compromise on the standards might not be workable.