Like an endearing but dysfunctional family, Lexington is a pleasant place with a vision of being even better but a chronic inability to marshal the discipline to sustain real improvement.
This is nowhere so evident as in the seemingly endless discussion-leading-to-nowhere about creating design guidelines for properties built in our downtown.
Now, more than two years after the CentrePointe project was announced and gave rise to a passionate debate about scale, form, look and fit of new buildings in our downtown, both developers and community members are left to argue the merits of each proposal, case by case.
This is bad for business because few developers want to enter an environment where they will have a choice of either months of discussion with an undefined cast of characters to search for an acceptable design or coming into town with a black eye from charges of ignoring the community.
This is bad for community engagement because burnout is inevitable for all but a few. Volunteers have lives to live and they wear out when they feel they are fighting the same battles over and over.
Fortunately the new and energetic ProgressLex has taken up the role of champion of downtown in the current engagement over the CVS pharmacy slated for a corner of the East Main and Vine Street intersection. The online organization devoted to urban life and design excellence has animated the discussion about whether one of our entries to downtown will be home to a pharmacy designed to stand out in a suburban strip mall or to look more like it belongs at one of the key entries to a downtown developed in the 19th century.
To his credit, the developer, Gary Joy of Louisville, has made some design adjustments and seems willing to give a little to fit into downtown. But, as he told Herald-Leader reporters, it's been a challenge to "try to define what urban design is."
Wouldn't it be better for everyone if Lexington, like so many other cities, had design guidelines for the downtown and a board committed to applying them to proposed projects?
Joy says yes, as do ProgressLex and many other interested parties, including this editorial page.
So, why no action?
Remember the dysfunctional family?
Vice Mayor Jim Gray, who is challenging Mayor Jim Newberry for the top job, says he favors design guidelines but hasn't offered a specific proposal to the council or the mayor to consider.
Newberry has moved from opposing design guidelines to a lukewarm possible support depending "upon the specific proposal." While that seems like progress, the bureaucracies that ultimately would have to research the issue and offer a fully fleshed-out proposal take their cues from the mayor. The mayor's comment doesn't sound like marching orders.
But marching orders we need. The current environment is bad for business and bad for the community. It's way past time to roll up our sleeves and write an ordinance creating a design review process.
This family can do better.