Woodford County

Public forum will look at how to make Versailles a better place to live, work, shop

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How do small cities like Versailles and Midway become vibrant destinations for young professionals, families, retirees and entrepreneurs? That's the topic of a Wednesday night public forum at Safe Harbor Academy in Versailles.

Woodford Forward, the one-year-old organization that advocates for policies that promote the highest and best use of urban land and the agricultural use of productive farmland, will host the forum to discuss how redevelopment can create a more vibrant Versailles.

"Physical Education Part II — A Discussion on Urban Development in the Bluegrass," is a free panel discussion on urban revitalization — a $10 phrase that means making a place more livable and desirable, not only for people who live there now but also for future residents.

Panelists will present their experiences in projects that made urban neighborhoods or districts better places to live, shop and work.

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For example, Holly Wiedemann, founding principal and president of AU Associates Inc., will talk about how her company turned old schools into desirable, affordable rental units. The company, which has completed 26 projects all over Kentucky and West Virginia, is about to turn the old Versailles Elementary School into 12 apartments for seniors and families.

Wednesday's meeting will be "a great opportunity to learn what infill development is and how it can revitalize an area," Wiedemann said.

For example, her company developed the ARTEK Lofts, 36 contemporary apartments on Old Georgetown Street in Lexington, not far from the revived Jefferson Street corridor, which is now one of the hottest dining spots in the city.

Since the development of the ARTEK Lofts in 2008, there's been more than $200 million of development in the triangle formed by West Fourth Street, West Second Street and Jefferson Street in Lexington, Wiedemann said.

"The real spark was the neighborhood association of the Historic Western Suburb," Wiedemann said. "The commitment of the neighbors in this particular neighborhood was to ensure that the value of this neighborhood did not disintegrate at the fringes. This transformation was the result of collaboration on the part of a lot of people."

The same kind of collaborative thinking is possible in Versailles and Midway, she said.

"One of the things I think Versailles has is the beautiful urban core and the historic fabric that it's got, and the importance of not losing that but building upon it," Wiedemann said. "What's special about Woodford County and Midway and Versailles is the fact that isn't anywhere else. That's what people love about Woodford County, and that's important to grow sensibly and sustainably and respectfully."

Other panelists will be Louis Johnson from Gresham, Smith and Partners, a design firm in Louisville; Stan Harvey, the director of the urban design and planning practice at the Lord Aeck Sargent architecture and design firm in Lexington; design principal Andy Knight of MKSK, a landscape design and urban design firm in Lexington; Richard Young from the North Limestone Community Development Corp.; and Kyle Fannin, instructor with Spark Versailles, a festival event organized by Woodford County High School students to draw vendors and entrepreneurs to downtown Versailles.

In July, Woodford Forward released a survey that indicated Woodford County residents want development to go within the urban services boundaries of Versailles and Midway. For example, 53 percent of respondents said they would be "more likely" to vote for a candidate who is opposed to expanding the urban service boundary and would stand against converting more farmland for development; 25 percent said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who favors expanding the growth boundary; and 22 percent didn't know or weren't sure.

The urban service boundaries established by Woodford County's comprehensive plan designate where city services such as water and sewer lines are to go in the future. The aim is to encourage planners and developers to use available space as opposed to continually expanding into farmland.

"We know that when you develop and you grow within your urban service boundary, there is more focus on positive, creative development, and you build in a more compact, contiguous manner that reduces the cost of providing local services" from the local government, said Billy Van Pelt, CEO of Woodford Forward.