Artists and craftsmen would be allowed to live, work and sell goods out of their north Lexington homes if a zoning change approved Thursday is confirmed by the Urban County Council.
The city's first live-work community got the green light Thursday from the city's planning commission.
The project, spearheaded by the North Limestone Community Development Corporation, includes the area bounded by Seventh Street, North Limestone, the RJ Corman railroad line and Maple Street.
Live-work communities have been successful and have driven tourism in other cities such as Houston and New Orleans.
In December, the Urban County Council voted unanimously for a change in the city's zoning language to allow for live-work communities, the first step in the process.
Next, the group filed for a zoning change to allow a planned unit development. Lexington's planning commission approved that zoning change 8-1 Thursday.
The zoning change must be approved by the Urban County Council.
Thursday's zone change was for 19 properties. But there are a total of 171 properties in that block that could apply for the planned unit development zone.
North Limestone Community Development Corporation has called the project the LuigArt Maker Spaces.
Using several funding sources, including a $425,000 ArtPlace America grant, the North Limestone Community Development Corporation was able to buy 18 properties that it is now in the process of rebuilding. It has a contract to buy the 19th property included in the zone change approved Thursday. Eighteen of those homes are on York Street and one is on nearby Eddie Street.
Nearly all the 19 row houses are vacant, have been condemned or have had various code violations. One of the homes has already been renovated. The first family has been approved to buy one of the homes.
In addition to providing a new way for people to live and work, backers of the project say LuigArt Maker Spaces will preserve one of Lexington's older, working-class neighborhoods and provide quality affordable housing. Affordable housing has become a growing and pressing need in Lexington in the past several years.
"Affordability is one of the main goals of this," said Richard Young, executive director of the North Limestone Community Development Corporation. "We want to keep the prices of these homes low."
The group is aiming to have home prices in the $65,000 to $75,000 range, he said.
"We are trying to transition people into home ownership," Young said. But Young said the group is also working with people who may want to rent instead of own.
The zoning change was necessary because the city's zoning laws generally prohibits operating a business out of residential homes. Under the planned unit zoning, people could live in their homes and sell art or other produced goods from their homes.
"Our zoning laws did not allow for it," said Traci Wade, a senior planner who presented the application to the commission during Thursday's meeting. "This will be the first round of zone changes for properties that they control. But they are willing to help other properties (file for zone changes) in the area as time goes on."
The city's planning department recommended approval for the zoning change because the live-work community was in line with the city's comprehensive plan and the central sector's small area plan, which encourages job creation, affordable housing and infill development, Wade said.
Planning Commission member Karen Mundy was the only commission member to vote against the zone change.
"I have a little bit of concern about spot zoning," Mundy said, noting that not all of the properties on York Street are contiguous. "By keeping prices low, you could hold down property values."
But Planning Commissioner Chairman Mike Owens said he thought the project was forward-thinking.
"This is a new concept," Owens said. 'It has to start somewhere. I think this will get the ball rolling."