Elections

Mongiardo tried to develop farm bought with taxpayer help

FRANKFORT — Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo said Wednesday he has previously attempted to develop a Frankfort farm he bought last year with the help of a $30,000-a-year state housing allowance.

Mongiardo, who is running for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, told the Lexington Herald-Leader editorial board he pursued developing the 54-acre farm as a partner with Frankfort businessman Jerry Lunsford in 2003.

Mongiardo has said he has no plans to develop the land, about 20 acres of which is zoned for a city-style subdivision. "I'm not a developer," he told the Herald-Leader earlier this month. Instead, he said he intends to repair and live in an old farmhouse on the property.

Mongiardo clarified his statement Wednesday, saying, "Personally, I don't know anything about developments."

Former state Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Tom Bennett also confirmed Wednesday to the newspaper he met with Mongiardo and Lunsford in 2003 about the property, which adjoins the state game farm.

"They were interested in getting an easement for a road to drive from the property to the game farm," Bennett said. "The commission was not in favor of that."

Bennett said he assumed Mongiardo and Lunsford wanted to develop the property but said he could not recall their discussing with him specific details of any possible development.

Mongiardo bought the farm at 1904 Louisville Road from Lunsford last July for $753,069, nearly $72,000 less than Lunsford paid for it in 2006.

The property has become an issue in this spring's Democratic U.S. Senate race.

Mongiardo's chief rival in the May 18 Democratic primary election, Attorney General Jack Conway, has noted the farm in a campaign TV ad that questions Mongiardo's integrity.

Mongiardo said Wednesday that Conway has turned up little in trying to find missteps in his life.

"If Jack Conway has scoured through my 10-year voting record and this is what he's got, he's in sad shape," Mongiardo said.

The Herald-Leader reported earlier this month Mongiardo and his wife, Allison, had bought the property but continue to live with his in-laws in Frankfort. Mongiardo has said the farmhouse has a broken furnace that couldn't be repaired over the winter.

In response, Conway has called on Mongiardo to give up the housing allowance and return to the state any money that has been used to pay for a house in which he doesn't live.

Mongiardo has dismissed Conway's comment, noting no law requires the stipend to be spent on housing. Still, his campaign has said the Mongiardos eventually plan to move into the farmhouse.

Mongiardo formed a limited liability corporation, By the Game Farm, in 2009 to buy the farm from Commercial Investments LLC, which is managed by Lunsford. PVA records show Lunsford's company bought the property in January 2006 for $825,000

The State Journal in Frankfort reported on June 5, 2003, that Mongiardo and Lunsford were backing a zone change for part of the property, then owned by David and Julian Gabbart Morris, to allow development of four houses per acre.

The newspaper said that Mongiardo was a partner with Lunsford in 21st Century Development and that the business had a purchase option on the property. The State Journal said the development firm met with state "Fish and Wildlife people" before they considered developing the property.

"Mongiardo said the development project would be a 'win-win' for the entire community," the newspaper said.

It quoted Mongiardo as saying, "We've gone to great pains to make sure we are doing the right thing for the community and the environment. A lot of people are interested in having homes in that area."

The newspaper said Mongiardo and Lunsford's development plan called for about 118 lots, or about 2.5 homes per acre.

Mongiardo said Wednesday he decided to pull out of the 2003 development deal because of "public controversy."

"I had been involved with Jerry Lunsford before in other places, not in everything he's ever done, I think two other places, and he offered the option and I said, yeah, we did pretty good, let's do it again," he said. "Then I decided not to. I don't know if you all have noticed, but developers aren't doing so well right now."

The State Journal, in another story about efforts to rezone the property in August 2007, said Mongiardo "was once partnering with Lunsford to develop the subdivision. But Lunsford said Mongiardo is no longer involved in the development."

Efforts to reach Lunsford for comment have not been successful.

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