Op-Ed

Lexington homeowners must realize that neighborhoods need to grow, change. Even their own.

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.

In a recent op-ed, three members of the Pensacola Park Neighborhood wrote supposedly to critique the city’s comprehensive plan draft, but it seemed to really be a complaint about the recent approval of eight townhomes on the edge of their neighborhood. I feel many of their arguments or alternatives fail under basic scrutiny.

First, they say that “the highest median price for any category of homes was for those built prior to 1950”as an argument that the market is expressing desire for old homes. But is that really what that statistic is saying? Or is the market expressing a desire for locations that were built before car dependence was ingrained in our culture? Locations that are denser, readily walkable, closer to amenities, and not requiring a car for all daily needs. I imagine if you were to look at these sales records they would be inside New Circle, in more dense areas.

Second, they write that the eight new townhomes add only 400 square feet of living space. I think using additional square footage is a flawed metric to begin with, but their own counts are wrong. The existing property was listed at around 6,500 square feet. The plans for the new townhomes show each home with three stories at 770 square feet per floor, or 18,480 total square feet. That’s almost three times the square footage. So, whether it’s a valid metric or not, it’s incorrect.

They then go on to imply that the development will increase traffic, cause stormwater issues, degrade the city’s aesthetic, and jeopardize pedestrian circulation. I’m not sure what they mean by pedestrian circulation, as townhomes are inherently more walkable, but I’m more curious as to how eight townhomes replacing eight apartments will affect traffic, especially when this is at the edge of their neighborhood. Was there a traffic problem with the original apartments or is this an unfounded argument against change?

Stormwater is a constant worry for Lexington for valid reasons, but that worry is also abused by those who don’t want any change in their neighborhoods. I’d like to see something backing up the claim that it will cause issues before jumping to conclusions.

Aesthetic issues are a common complaint but can be dangerous when you realize what it would take to impose design mandates on property owners. Forcing owners to get approval from their neighbors would be costly in both time and money. What’s worse is that aesthetics are purely subjective and trends often change. Requiring neighborhood approval for something as subjective as design would result in stagnation and homogeneity, neither of which contributes to a vibrant neighborhood.

Their alternative options are also flawed. They suggest using more tax increment financing districts and developer grants to build outside existing neighborhoods and in vacant commercial space. Lexington has used TIF districts in the past, but it’s still debated whether they pay for themselves or function as just another corporate handout.

While I agree Lexington is overbuilt when it comes to commercial space, it’s much more expensive to convert a commercial building to residential. Their suggestions just serve to benefit themselves while pushing the costs onto others.

Lexington homeowners need to come to grips: Just because they’ve bought a house in a neighborhood does not entitle them to unconditional veto rights on any change in that neighborhood. Neighborhoods must be allowed to grow and change as all neighborhoods did up until the 20th century, when our obsession with suburbia set in and we started trying to freeze neighborhoods permanently.

As the previous writers stated, we are expecting about 25,000 more people in the coming decade and those people need homes. Lexington is by no means “full” and to accommodate our new neighbors, we need to be accepting and welcoming of changes in our neighborhoods.

Blake Hall, a member of the Kenwick Neighborhood Association board, blogs about urbanism and urban development at buildabetterlex.com.

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