On Nov. 8, the Woodford County Planning Commission will decide whether or not to recommend a new housing development on U.S. 60 near the Bluegrass Parkway. The Backer II project is expected to include 691 apartments, townhouses and patio homes.
For many, like me, who feel firsthand the lack of rental housing in the area, this sounds like a great thing. But, those who live along U.S. 60, also like me, know that more highway traffic means traffic headaches.
Proponents say the development will bring new residents and businesses to the area. Opponents say it will increase traffic, strain government services and alter the personality of the community.
It’s a struggle to balance concerns over traffic with the area’s need for affordable housing.
If you’ve never tried to get onto U.S. 60 during a weekday morning, before or after a University of Kentucky game
or during Keeneland, I suggest you come over so I can show you firsthand.
During the recent Keeneland/Trump visit weekend, it took me 45 minutes to get to downtown Lexington, and that’s driving backroads and only making right turns. Getting into Versailles was a no-brainer at that point — and by that, I mean, no one with any brains would try it.
I told my mom I thought the traffic meant economic development for Versailles. She laughed at me. And she was right to. Because most of that traffic isn’t stopping in Versailles; it’s headed to Frankfort and Lexington.
On the other hand, I’ve recently been looking for places to rent here, but haven’t found anything that fits my budget. I’d really like to live in and spend my money in my hometown. Without an affordable place to live, though, all my money would be spent in Lexington.
Developments like the one proposed would keep money here. People living here spend their paychecks here and keep businesses here alive.
Many on “Voices of Versailles” asked why we couldn’t bring in retail shopping or chain restaurants instead. Others said they didn’t want Versailles to lose its small-town charm.
But the reality is more residents make the area more attractive to chain stores people want. And it is possible to grow and stay charming.
I get people’s concerns. I have them, too. But in order to let our elected officials know how we feel, we have to speak up. Piping up on Facebook doesn’t cut it. Showing up at a public hearing does.
The planning commission held a public hearing last month. It was advertised via a huge sign on U.S. 60, in the Woodford Sun, and on the Facebook page “Voices of Versailles.”
For all those on Facebook who talked about the development — for and against — only a few actually showed up. And by few, I mean four.
According to Pattie Wilson, planning director for the Planning Commission, there were more people on the developer’s team than there were in the audience. Wilson said one of those who spoke at the hearing was a neighboring land owner. Another was business executive, who wanted to ensure the development’s entrance was in the right place for a future stop light.
That’s right. While dozens of residents complained about change and conspiracy on Facebook, only one person actually showed up to ensure someone thought about the future.
In my opinion, these developments are needed to bring in the businesses, residents and taxes that will help Woodford County to be successful. But my opinion doesn’t matter. I didn’t show up at the hearing either.
Now, it’s up to planning commissioners and council members to make their decisions based on the evidence presented to them, including testimony at that hearing. And that means, for those who talked about the hearing but opted not to participate, they had their chance but chose to complain on Facebook instead.
Hopefully, those “Voices” will stay as quiet as they were at the hearing if the development goes in.
Liz Carey is a writer and author who recently moved back to Versailles after more than 20 years as a reporter in the Midwest and Southeast. Check out her blog at hellsfunnybelle.com, follow her on Twitter at @lizardsc or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.