A proposal for new design standards for renovation and new development for most of downtown Lexington met resistance from some council members and the public during a Tuesday council meeting.
The Design Excellence Task Force was created by the Urban County Council in 2010 to implement design standards for downtown development. The task force has been meeting for more than three years to develop design standards and guidelines for development in an area that goes 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 and guidelines include oversight of elements including building heights, architectural design, awnings and signs. Tuesday's Planning and Public Works Committee meeting of the Urban County Council was the first public meeting where the proposed new design standards and guidelines were discussed.
Instead of spurring development in the urban core, it could slow it down, many people said Tuesday.
Bill Lear, a lawyer who represents many developers and is a member of the task force, said he agreed with many of the design standards and guidelines, but he said the plan was missing incentives to encourage downtown development.
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"There is not a long line of people who want to build in downtown Lexington," Lear said.
Lear said that if the design standards are implemented, they should be coupled with some type of incentive to encourage more downtown or infill development. For example, other cities have public-private partnerships for parking garages. Parking is one of the main cost drivers for development in downtown Lexington. One parking spot can cost $16,000, Lear said.
"Any new guidelines have to be coupled with real incentives," Lear said. "So far there has only been lip service and no specifics."
Knox van Nagell, the executive director of the Fayette Alliance, agreed and added that trying to implement the standards with no incentives is "all sticks with no carrots." Van Nagell also said the design guidelines would allow for the demolition of historic buildings without a developer showing that he had financing for a new project. That was an issue in the controversial CentrePointe development. Historic buildings in downtown Lexington were demolished while plans for the development stalled for years. CentrePointe developers have said they hope to break ground this month.
Councilman Julian Beard has been on the Design Excellence Task Force since its inception. Beard said the federal prosecutor's office, which was completed several years ago, was the last new building in downtown. There have been too few new developments to warrant the design standards, he said.
"All of this may be much ado about nothing," Beard said. "It was a waste of a lot of people's time, I'm afraid." Councilman Steve Kay, who took over as chairman of the task force after Councilman Tom Blues left the council in 2012, said there were still many issues that had to be discussed before the proposal could return to council. Some of those issues include the makeup of the design excellence board, staffing needs and what the appeal process will be.
Even if the proposal receives council approval, it would have to go to the Urban County Planning Commission for its blessing, then return to the council for final approval. Kay said after Tuesday's meeting that he hopes the plan will be finalized soon so the council can make a final decision. Kay said he hoped that a final vote could be taken sometime in January.
The voting members of the task force include six members of the 15-member Urban County Council. Non-voting members of the task force include design professionals, city officials and citizens.
The public will have an opportunity to review the design guidelines at a public meeting at 6 p.m. on Thursday at the Phoenix Building on Vine Street.
If you go
The public will have an opportunity to review the design guidelines at a public meeting.
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: The Phoenix Building, 101 Vine St.
The Design Excellence Task Force will meet again before the Planning and Public Works Committee meeting on Dec. 3. It's likely that the Design Excellence Task Force report will be discussed again at the Dec. 3 meeting.