Tuesday July 7 was the season-finale of the most exciting television in Lexington, LFUCG on GTV3.
It’s been a contentious season: the Landed Gent’ry faced off against… slightly younger and slightly greener Landed Gent’ry during the Tates Creek Sidewalk debate; the Public Library had to show up and explain their expenses (series regular/Library Chair Burgess Carey won’t be returning next season—the Mayor apparently sensed the failing ratings and failed to reappoint/renew his option); a much-debated LexTran budget; tethering ordinances that pitted puppy lovers against fellow puppy lovers; and so much more. There’s even a cliffhanger: what will happen at CentrePointe? (Answer: it will always happen 30 to 60 days… from now.)
The Tuesday night showdown was the wrap-up to the very real drama wherein S. Limestone merchants have been pleading their case to Council that the proposed street closure during the streetscape process could put them out of business.
Council Member Diane Lawless described the vote as the hardest one she’s faced as a Council Member thus far. She reiterated her support for the streetscape project, while pointing out the massive failures in communication between the Lexington Downtown Development Authority and the S. Limestone residents, businesses, and LFUCG.
Vice Mayor Jim Gray echoed her concerns, saying, “a lot is at stake here.” He said over the weekend, he’d asked himself, “Would I do this if it were my business? I wouldn’t.” [His business is Gray Construction.]
He identified problems with Process (Design-Build is an “unusual” approach for this project); Price (the cost is 50 percent higher than the estimate, and it reflects the contractor’s increased risks entailed with a Design-Build bid); and Priority. He asked Mayor Newberry if “Mayors’ Institute on Urban Planning is where (S. Limestone) priority was established?” And if so, “could that information have been shared with Council Members?”
Mayor Newberry responded that he was delighted to have an opportunity, adding there was “so much misinformation generated,” he “can only conclude it is to the point of being intentional…” He announced the S. Limestone Task Force he’d appointed earlier in the day [text is reprinted below].*
He said that Lexington has been talking about College Town since 2002. He reminded Council Members that they were repeatedly told on the trip to Madison that Lexington has ““gotta quit talking and start doing.”
Of the project’s cost, he said speed is “an appropriate premium to pay for,” and added, “Looking out, I don’t see
a vast array of folks from S.Limestone corridor present to complain about how we’re proposing to do this.”
[Council Member Lawless’s response was, “they’re not here tonight because they’re working.”]
The Vice Mayor pointed out that Tuesday was the “first real discussion we’ve had.” Council Member Lawless pointed out that the “open dialogue” should have come much earlier in the process. She was initially told, for example, that one lane would remain open. In fact, one lane will remain open, for emergency vehicles, not for thru-traffic.
CM Feigel said that while she would vote for the project, she “raised the same issues: Process, Priority, and Price,” during the Tates Creek sidewalk discussion. (She voted against the sidewalks.)
CM Beard voiced possible communication concerns on behalf of Bank of the Bluegrass—which has a High Street address, though their drive-thru exits onto S. Limestone.
Beard added “it would be Silly to have this beautiful streetscape with empty buildings on it.” His vote was a “reluctant Yes.”
CM Lawless said she would vote Yes, reflecting “full faith and credit” in the Mayor’s faith in the project—making it clear that any blame for prospective failure would also rest with him.
CM Doug Martin said he would vote yes, adding “I think this project stands on its own. I think it’s gonna be a good thing for the Limestone corridor.”
Vice Mayor Gray was the only No vote cast—his explanation was pre-empted by the parliamentarian—but presumably would’ve included the aforementioned Process, Price, and Priority concerns.
The next afternoon, Webb attorney Darby Turner appeared before the Courthouse Area Design Review Board to request a one-year extension to begin CentrePointe construction (though the renewal wasn’t due till Fall).
Asked for an anticipated time frame, he laughed when he responded, “Next 30 to 60 days,” adding that he was aware they’d all heard those numbers before. Asked about permit applications, he said, “We have applied for neither at this point. We have submitted preliminary drawings,” but “Just as soon as the Investment issue is Cleared Up, we’re ready.” He explained the extension would help the Webbs show the dead mystery financier’s estate that the project is still “doable” in Lexington, adding, “We will be filing as soon as we’ve cleared Financing.”
Anthony Wright moved for approval. Motion died for lack of second.
Council Member Diane Lawless and Vice Mayor Jim Gray both attended the hearing. CM Lawless addressed the board members, “I’m not hearing a substantial reason for that to be renewed now rather than come back in Oct which would give them more time.”
Wright was invited to renew motion, which carried on the second try. Chair Mike Meuser (a Lexington attorney and former president of the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation) says, “for the record, it doesn’t make any sense.”
He said a mouthful.
S. Limestone Post-Season Notes: PRESS RELEASE FROM THE MAYOR
Saying it is vitally important to â€œprotect and support commercial activity, residential activity and the interests of property ownersâ€ during the reconstruction work on a section of South Limestone, Mayor Jim Newberry appointed today [July 7, 2009] a commission to provide input to the Mayor and to the city officials overseeing the reconstruction, which will require the closure of sections of the road for a sustained period.
â€œItâ€™s important to our downtown that we do this work, but itâ€™s also important that we do it as quickly as possible to minimize the impact to the area,â€ Newberry said. â€œThe construction and street closures, while necessary, will certainly disrupt businesses, residences and property owners in the area. We want to do everything we can to mitigate the impact, and that requires the input of the people who will be living or working in the midst of this construction.â€
The city plans to replace sewer lines, bury utility lines, improve pedestrian and bike access, plant street trees and install rain gardens and informational signage. The overall goal is to strengthen the link between downtown and the University of Kentucky campus and, as a result, support the growing vitality of downtown Lexington.
The executive order appointing the South Limestone Reconstruction Commission asks the group to â€œprovide regular input and focus attention on the priorities of residents, business and property ownersâ€ in the construction area. The Mayor said city officials will meet regularly with the group and implement suggestions whenever possible.
Members of the commission include: Reese Reinhold, property owner; Public Works and Development Commissioner Michael Webb, Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government; Dal Clark, University of Kentucky; Steve Baron, CD Central, business and property owner; Carol Behr, Kennedyâ€™s Book Store and Pazzoâ€™s, business and property owner; and Beth Hanna, Hannaâ€™s on Lime, business owner. The Mayor said he may ask additional individuals to serve.