Politics & Government

New town homes approved for Nicholasville Road. Neighbors say it’s a bad fit.

Proposed town home site

Aerial view of 1847 Nicholasville Road site of a proposed zone change, to allow the construction of eight town houses.
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Aerial view of 1847 Nicholasville Road site of a proposed zone change, to allow the construction of eight town houses.

A controversial town house project on Nicholasville Road was approved Thursday despite opposition from the surrounding neighborhood.

The Urban County Planning Commission voted 8 to 0 approve a zone change from a single-family residential zone to a planned neighborhood residential zone for roughly a half-acre lot on the corner of Nicholasville Road and Penmoken Park to build eight town homes. The property is currently a boarding house.

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council has final say on the zone change. A final council vote is not likely until February.

Under the proposal passed Thursday, four of the town homes will front Nicholasville and four town houses will front Penmoken Park. But the entrance will be on Penmoken Park.

The average price will be $250,000. It’s primarily designed to serve the medical and professional community near Central Baptist Hospital and University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital, said Bruce Simpson, a lawyer for David Jones, who is the principal of Southern and Jones LLC. The town homes will have two stories above ground and one-story below ground, which will include a below-ground, two-car garage.

The city’s planning staff recommended approval of the zone change.

Home and lot, center, 1847 Nicholasville Road, is the site of a proposed zone change, to allow the construction of eight town houses. The site is at the southwest corner of Nicholasville Road and Penmoken Park. Ron Garrison rgarrison@herald-leader.com

Simpson said Jones has owned the property since 2005 and it has been a rooming house for at least 50 years.

The city’s Comprehensive Plan, which guides development, recommends increasing density on Nicholasville Road and other major corridors. The proposed town home development does exactly that, Simpson said.

There are other town homes in the same area, Simpson said.

“Ours will have more amenities,” he said. “We wanted to have something nice.”

There will be a wood fence and shrubs at the back of the property to screen it from the rest of the neighborhood.

“I do care how we develop this,” said Jones, who grew up in the area. “I think this is an opportunity for eight new home owners to come into this neighborhood.”

“This is in between high-density apartments and enough density to make it financially viable,” Jones said.

Tom Wise, who owns property near the proposed development, told the commission during Thursday’s meeting that he supported the new town home project. “It will increase the value of my property.”

Juliette Symons, a lawyer who represents the Pensacola Park neighborhood, said the homes in the area are from the 1920s and 1930s with significant setbacks on Nicholasville Road. The proposed town homes will not have the same set backs and come directly to the street, Symons said.

“This is going to change the character of the neighborhood,” Symons said. Ten people currently live in that boarding house. By tearing it down and building new town homes, the density only increases by nine or ten people, she said.

Other town home properties owned by Jones on Mitchell Avenue and Tates Creek Road are renter-occupied, Symons said.

“I am concerned about this need to densify, densify and not consider what is appropriate,” said Jessica Voigt, an architect who lives in the neighborhood. “This is going to be cookie-cutter design.”

More than a dozen people in the Penmoken Park area spoke against the zone change.

Jody McKee, who lives on Penmoken Park, said most of the homes in the neighborhood are single-story. Many are arts and crafts style bungalows dating to the 1920s.

Approving the town homes “sets in motion the erosion of the fabric of our neighborhood,” McKee said.

Other residents said that traffic in that area is already bad. Wabash Drive, which is behind the development, frequently floods.

Others said Jones should be required to hire an architect to design the town homes prior to the zone change being approved.

Simpson said that the proposed plan was only a preliminary design and that Jones was willing to work with the neighborhood on some of the design features when the final development plan comes back to the commission for final approval.

Many planning commission members said the commission had voted to keep the urban service boundary, or growth boundary. That means that the city must become more dense, particularly on the city’s commercial corridors. The city has not expanded its growth boundary since 1996.

“We have to have more density in the corridors, “said Planning Commissioner Frank Penn. “As a commission, we have voted to keep the urban service area.”

Penn and other commission members said they had concerns about the preliminary development plan. But the final development plan must come back to the commission for approval.

“It better look a whole lot better than it does now,” Penn said.