Fayette County

Design standards for downtown Lexington still up in air

Downtown Lexington.

A more than six-year push to implement design standards for construction in downtown Lexington appears to be dead.

For now.

Last week, the Urban County Council voted 7-6 to kill a proposal that included making changes to the zoning ordinances for downtown business zones and would require developers that want city money to get city approval for building designs. It would also require a city planning board to review demolition permits for downtown buildings.

Some council members said during the June 14 work session that despite years of debate and discussion, they still weren’t comfortable with what they say were additional requirements for developers who want to build or remodel buildings downtown.

Vice Mayor Steve Kay said Wednesday he was weighing whether to pursue making changes to the B-2 and other downtown business zones through a text amendment and dropping the other parts of the proposal.

“At this point, I’m not certain,” Kay said. “I may look at pursing just making modifications to the zoning text and abandoning the guidelines and the process for review for developers receiving government support. The zoning for the three downtown business zones are the least restrictive of any zone.”

The push to create design standards for downtown started in 2008 when CentrePointe developers tore down a block of buildings to make way for a proposed development that eight years later still hasn’t been built. Concerns were also raised when a developer wanted to put a suburban-style pharmacy on the corner of Main and Vine streets.

Then-Vice Mayor Jim Gray appointed a task force in 2010 to develop design guidelines for downtown.

Kay was the second chairman of the design standards task force. The guidelines have changed multiple times over the past several years as developers and others raised questions about how the process would work. Its proponents say the latest proposal was more streamlined and used existing procedures and boards rather than create a separate process for downtown buildings.

Councilman Richard Moloney was one of the seven council members to vote against moving the proposal forward June 14. Moloney said he wasn’t comfortable making downtown developers go through extra hoops without offering incentives.

“When you tell people that you want their buildings to be designed in a certain way you ought to give them incentives,” Moloney said. Moloney said those incentives don’t have to be complicated — the city could just nix or discount certain construction-related fees.

Kay said he will talk to several council members before deciding whether to proceed with some proposed changes to the zoning text for the downtown business zones. Some of those changes to the zoning text would include building height requirements and minimum setbacks. Currently, the downtown business zones are the least restrictive of all zones. That means a fast-food restaurant can be built next to a bank and a developer can put a parking lot in front of a new downtown building on Main Street.

Nearly every other business zone has some sort of requirements, Kay said.

“I’ll see if there is enough support so we can at least discuss it in committee,” Kay said. “An incredible amount of work and volunteer hours has gone into this process.”

During the June 14 meeting, those who voted against moving the design guidelines forward were Fred Brown, Kevin Stinnett, Jennifer Scutchfield, Peggy Henson, Susan Lamb, Richard Moloney and Amanda Bledsoe. Those who voted to move the proposal forward: Kay, Shevawn Akers, Jennifer Mossotti, Angela Evans, Jake Gibbs and James Brown.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall