Fayette County

Lexington council approves development that includes centuries-old oak tree

Arborist Dave Leonard inspected the 300-year-old bur oak near the corner of Harrodsburg Road and Military Pike in Lexington earlier this month. He said the tree needs 100 feet of space to avoid root damage.
Arborist Dave Leonard inspected the 300-year-old bur oak near the corner of Harrodsburg Road and Military Pike in Lexington earlier this month. He said the tree needs 100 feet of space to avoid root damage. Herald-Leader

A development of single-family homes and apartments off of Harrodsburg Road at Military Pike that includes a 300-year-old old bur oak tree will move forward despite residents' concerns about the tree and increased traffic in the residential area.

The Urban County Council voted 8-2 on Tuesday to approve a zoning change allowing Ball Homes to build on the 25-acre site after a public hearing that lasted more than four hours. The Urban County Planning Commission voted 11-0 in July to approve the zoning change. Urban County Councilman Harry Clarke, who represents the district where the development would occur, tried to get the council to overturn the planning commission's decision, but that motion failed 6-4.

Clarke and Council member Julian Beard voted against the zoning change.

Many angry residents who opposed the new development walked out of the public hearing before council took a final vote.

The same bur oak has stopped development on the property before. The oak was at issue in 2008, when developer Kevin Crouse proposed to build 193 townhouses on the site. Residents formed a group called Friends of the Historic South Elkhorn Area Bur Oak Tree and fought to save the tree.

Urban County Council members ultimately turned down the 2008 plans over concerns about the tree and the development's potential impact on traffic.

Ball Homes representatives have said that developers in 2008 proposed putting a road right through the tree, whereas the latest proposal would route the road around the tree and preserve other older trees in the area. Ball Homes also retained an arborist to ensure that the tree stays healthy, said Bill Lear, a lawyer for Ball Homes.

"We have as much an interest in protecting that tree as anybody," Lear said at Tuesday's hearing. Lear said that there would be a minimum 50-foot protection zone around the tree.

But residents — many of whom fought to protect the tree five years ago — told council members that the road might go right over the roots of the ancient tree, which could date to 1669. That's about the time Daniel Boone's father was born.

"This tree has survived storms, droughts, fires, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War," Dr. Loren Larson said Tuesday. Larson showed several pictures to the council of allegedly sick or dying trees at other Ball Home developments.

Dave Leonard, an arborist who has been advising residents who oppose the development, said the road should be at least 100 feet from the trunk of the old tree to minimize disturbance to its root system. "Fifty foot is totally inadequate," Leonard said. "It's an exceptionally old tree ... old trees need more room."

Other residents complained about too much traffic caused by the development. Residents said that Agape Road, a major corridor in the proposed development, is too narrow for the additional traffic that the development would bring. Others said that the schools are already overcrowded. Moreover, the area's sewer system is inadequate and can't support 196 apartments and 45 single-family homes, they said. Apartments and condos already flood the market, and more are not needed, they argued.

But Lear countered that the development "was in complete agreement" with the city's comprehensive plan, which guides development.

Lear also said that the city has already upgraded the pump station in that area.

Lear said he remembers when Harrodsburg Road was only farmland. All the people who are complaining about infrastructure problems have contributed to them, he said. It's a case of "people living in glass houses."

A final development plan must be submitted to the city before construction may begin.

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