The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Board of Adjustment voted 6-0 Friday to allow Blue Grass Stockyards to move forward with plans for a new complex to replace the one destroyed by fire on Jan. 30.
“What this represents is a rebirth from that tragedy,” said Bill Lear, one of two attorneys representing the stockyards at the hearing.
“We’re pleased and excited to finally be able to move forward,” said Jim Akers, chief operating officer for the stockyards after the vote.
The stockyards had applied for a conditional use permit for a new facility on Iron Works Pike off Interstate 75 near the Fayette and Scott County line.
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The city planning staff had recommended approval, said city planner Jimmy Emmons. He told the board that the proposed use “will not constitute a nuisance by creating excessive noise, water pollution, traffic, dust or other public health hazards.”
Akers and the stockyards attorneys repeatedly said that the proposed 186,000-square-foot sales pavilion will not be on land that feeds water into Royal Springs, the aquifer that supplies water to Georgetown.
Charlie Denham, who lives in the Spindletop neighborhood, questioned that claim. Citing maps that outlined a border for the basin, Denham said: “You cannot draw an exact line and say that is the limit of the Royal Springs aquifer.”
But Peter Goodman, director of the Kentucky Division of Water, said the data supports that delineation of the aquifer’s boundary.
“The question about the delineation of the aquifer is settled,” Goodman said. “There has been recent data that confirms that delineation as accurate and appropriate.”
Dye traces from the 1970s and 2003-04 showed that the proposed stockyards site “without a doubt, does not drain to the Royal Springs and is not a threat to that water supply,” said Rob Blair, a geologist who monitors ground water for the Division of Water.
But Geologist Tom Dugan, a consultant who does aquifer mapping, suggested that “maybe we need a more recent dye trace. A dye trace from 12 years ago says something but I think we need a more recent one.”
Perhaps the strongest endorsement for the stockyards proposal came from a potential foe. Georgetown Mayor Tom Prather said he believes the stockyards “can be rebuilt on the proposed site without negatives consequences” to the Royal Springs aquifer.
Others lined up behind Prather to give their endorsements.
Kathleen Burke, director of education and outreach for Fayette Alliance, a land-use advocacy group, said: “We applaud Blue Grass Stockyards for creating a site development plan that not only adheres to quality design but also sets the standard for environmental stewardship for stockyards across the country.”
Board of Adjustment member Thomas Glover recalled the strong smell he encountered when driving by the stockyards in Louisville 35 years ago. Glover asked Akers what stockyards, as an industry, have done to reduce that kind of smell.
For one thing, cattle spend less time in a facility, Akers said. Stockyards also have changed their cleaning protocols and use different bedding. Keeping moisture out by having everything under one roof also reduces the smell.
And because the stockyards have created satellite operations in Stanford and other cities in Central Kentucky, the volume of cattle that will go through the new facility will be about half of what it was when the stockyards sought to relocate at the Iron Works Pike site a decade ago.
That plan was abandoned when then-Gov. Ernie Fletcher asked the stockyards not to pursue the move because the upcoming 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Speaking of the horse park, Akers said the peak days for the stockyards will be Mondays and Tuesday, while the horse park’s peak days will be at the end of the week and on weekends.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that Fayette and surrounding counties have 250,000 cattle, which is six times the number of horses in the same area, Lear said.
Board of Adjustment member Janice Meyer recused herself from the three-hour discussion because she and her husband “buy and sell cattle” through the stockyards.
The long meeting was not without its lighter moments. At one point, Lear said he took his wife along for a Thursday group tour of the stockyards’ satellite operation in Stanford.
“That’s what passes for a good date when you’re 65 years old,” Lear said.