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Friday, December 2, 2016

Midway Business Association, citizens hash out issues

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift, standing, spoke with Business Association members and interested parties Thursday night.
By Emily Priddy
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media 

The Midway Business Association hosted a “business social” Thursday night to allow business owners and citizens to share ways the group can improve attendance at association meetings and prepare for the future of the Midway Fall Festival.

The group discussed how to improve communication among members, how to address parking issues, and how to provide a public restroom for visitors, and heard Mayor Grayson Vandegrift say a new City Council committee will help local businesses.

Business Association members, Vandegrift and interested citizens gathered at the Grey Goose to discuss the future of the group. Approximately 20 people attended, participating in open discussion for nearly an hour. Amid waning attendance at meetings, communication was a point of concern.

“There just seems to be a lot of pettiness and self-interest,” said Steve Simoff, MBA member and council member-elect.

Joshua Naylor, general manager of the Grey Goose, commented on communication issues, citing “unnecessary and detrimental pettiness.”

Elisha Riddle, a social media and marketing consultant who works for the MBA and the Versailles Merchants Association, also pointed out the communication problems. “I think the biggest thing I see in Midway is a cohesion problem,” she said, “In Versailles I have cohesion. People work together, they ask what the event link is, they ask what they need to do, and they do those things.”

For example, Riddle compared the towns’ Christmas open houses. She said 1,000 people were interested in the Versailles event’s page on Facebook, while Midway had 256 people interested in its event. “There is no reason we can’t accomplish the same thing here,” she said.

Vandegrift told the group, “I have seen this merchant association do well, I’ve seen it not do well, and the key is y’all have to work together. If you all work together, the city will be there to carry you across the finish line.”

Two years into his four-year term, Vandegrift sees the need for the city to play a bigger role in helping local businesses. “Maybe we need to help out a little more than we have the last two years,” Vandegrift said.

Vandegrift announced that he would be making appointments to a new committee called Events, Outreach and Tourism. He has named council members-elect John McDaniel and Simoff to the committee already, both were present at the business social Thursday night. Vandegrift said more appointments will be made in January. 

The committee would focus on city events and tourism by reaching out to the business association on how they can help, Vandegrift said.

Vandegrift, who operated a Main Street restaurant for several years, had some advice: “Try and every now and then see the city as the newcomer sees the city.  Try to remember the first time you saw the city, it’s magical, it just captures you immediately.”

Kenny Smith, association president, said the Fall Festival is a tremendous amount of work for one person, and the association will benefit from hiring Riddle to be its coordinator, a job he has handled the last two years. Riddle was chosen to take over the festival by three members of the association who attended its October meeting. He suggested that she be hired as the event coordinator year round.

Many in attendance voiced the need for a public restroom on Main Street. “We have to work with the city to get a bathroom downtown,” said Leslie Penn, owner of the Historic Midway Museum store and association treasurer.

Vandegrift said he understood the need, but saw it as a future endeavor for the city: “We can use our resources in better ways.” He estimated $20,000 would need to be raised for a restroom and maintenance that is required, and suggested that Midway Renaissance aid in the fundraising effort.

Vandegrift encouraged more shop owners to provide bathrooms for their customers if possible. 

Brian Lynch, owner of Amberway Equine, suggested that City Hall restrooms be opened on weekends with volunteer help.

Vandegrift said, “If we had a consistent turnout for volunteers to man City Hall I would certainly look into it.”

Lynch volunteered to build a public parking lot on land he owns just north of Main Street, with help from the city and businesses. Lynch said he would need “stone, electric . . . put some lights in for the staff to safely get back to their vehicles” after restaurants close.

Simoff expressed the need to resolve the parking situation for businesses downtown. “An idea I have is that if you own a business try to find a place off the street so that your customers can park there,” he said. Simoff said each parking spot in front of businesses downtown is worth about $5,000.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Neighbors protest two-lane plan for Weisenberger Mill bridge, but state says it won't change that design

The bridge was closed July 1 after an inspection found danger.
By Marjorie Kirk
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media
    Residents of Woodford and Scott counties contested the plan for a two-lane Weisenberger Mill Bridge during a three-hour meeting Tuesday evening at Midway University.
    The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the State Historic Preservation Office invited property owners who would be directly affected by the project to help find ways to mitigate any adverse effects on historical and archeological properties.
    The National Historic Preservation Act requires that federally funded projects consider effects on historical sites and give the Advisory Council on Historical Preservation a chance to make comments or recommendations.
    The cabinet gave about a dozen people “consulting party” status, and most objected to the limited time they were given to look over documents concerning the project, including the physical features of the new bridge, and communications with Project Manager Ananias Calvin III.  
    Nearly all took issue with the proposed two-lane bridge, but Kentucky Heritage Council Director Craig Potts said the plan is a foregone conclusion and the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the project’s effect on the historical aspects of the area—not to debate one lane versus two.
    Some of the consulting parties pushed back. Ellen Bagby interrupted the agency representatives with calls to change the plan and push back the deadline for comment on the mitigation process.
Bagby said she lives less than a mile from the bridge and making it two lanes would encourage drivers to speed on the narrow country road, creating a hazard to other cars and pedestrians. Others made the same complaint.
    Calvin said a two-lane bridge would be safer than a one-lane, and engineers on the project had considered the traffic that would use the road—including the semi-trailer trucks that were part of the reason for the bridge’s July 1 closure—when evaluating the safety standards the road would have to meet.
    “I can’t say if the speed [of drivers] is going to increase or decrease,” Calvin said. “What we’re going to recommend is that they put a sign over on the Scott County side as well as the sign they have on the Woodford County side: 15 miles an hour because of the curve. We can’t make people abide by it, but that’s one issue that we’re going to bring up.”
    The road is maintained by the counties. Woodford County has responsibility for the bridge, but the state is doing the project in return for the county doing work on a state road a few years ago.
Calvin said semi-trailer trucks continued to drive on the bridge after a 3-ton weight limit was implemented last winter, causing the bridge to weaken. When it was inspected in late June, it was discovered that there were significant problems with the steel infrastructure and it was closed.
    The bridge attracts residents, touring motorists and bicyclists because it offers a good view of the historic Weisenberger Mill, and it is also a popular spot for anglers in South Elkhorn Creek.
Tuesday night’s discussion in a meeting room at Midway University turned into a contentious debate that often interrupted the Transportation Cabinet’s presentation.
L-R at table: Midway Magistrate Linda Popp, mill owner Mac Weisenberger and wife Sally (Photo by Marjorie Kirk)
    At one point, Scott County resident Pat Hagan got up from his seat in the crowd and joined the table of authorized consulting parties after he was told that the meeting’s priority was to address the concerns of those parties.
    When the group continued to make points about the safety of a one-lane bridge, and a cabinet representative said that alternative would not be considered, Bagby shouted out, “Change it.”
    As the night was coming to a close, Bagby persisted, asking for an extension of the Dec. 13 deadline for written comments.
    To this, a member of the crowd pointed out that the longer the public tries to prolong the project, the longer ambulances, buses and traffic from using a route that in some cases is faster for them.
    The cabinet refused to extend the deadline, but representative Jonna Wallace said the discussion did unearth the option of keeping one of the stone abutments that would have been replaced to accommodate a bridge that will be nearly twice as wide.
    But aside from that, Wallace defended the cabinet’s decision. “These determinations and recommendations are evidence-based,” including traffic counts and consultations from traffic experts, she said. “They’re not just because we think it should be this way.”
    Consulting party Bryan Pryor was among those voicing concern over the two-lane bridge, but he suggested at the end of the meeting that the best use of the parties’ efforts would be to lobby their county governments to put up warning signs and traffic restrictions on the approaches to the bridge.
    The bridge is a “pony truss,” or small-truss, span built in 1932. All such bridges more than 50 years old are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, according to David Waldner, the cabinet’s director of environmental analysis.
    To mitigate the loss of the old bridge in a historic district, the new one will be “a truss structure of similar design,” Waldner said in an interview before the meeting. “The aesthetics of that were important.”
    Calvin said in an interview that the cost estimate of $1.3 million is about double the cost of a standard bridge for such a location.
    Waldner said the cabinet considered rehabilitating the bridge, but estimated that would extend its life no more than 20 years and would have cost 40 to 50 percent of the cost of a new bridge, which will last 75 to 100 years. “The economics really didn’t make a whole lot of sense,” he said.
    Waldner said the cabinet wouldn’t normally hold a meeting for consulting parties and observers on such a small project, “but the interest in this project is fairly high.” He said the cabinet had shared information with consulting parties for six to eight weeks and had met with some of them.
    Calvin told the Midway Messenger on Wednesday that the bid letting for the project has been delayed again, until June, to give the cabinet time to buy small pieces of property that will be needed for the project. He said offers cannot be made until the project’s environmental documents are approved by the State Historic Preservation Office.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Midway Christmas events start with tree and pole lighting Friday night; Santa set to arrive by train Sat.

Santa's arrival by train is a big event. (2013 photo by Jill Novak)
The holiday season has arrived, and downtown Midway is a full participant, with a big ad from local businesses on the back page of today's Woodford Sun, inviting readers to "Spend a Day in Midway."

The Christmas lighting ceremony is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday, starting with the downtown light poles and concluding with the community Christmas tree. Christmas carols will follow. "Please come and add your voice," says Mayor Grayson Vandegrift.

Santa Claus, hitching a ride with R.J. Corman Railroad, is scheduled to arrive downtown at 11 a.m. Saturday. Children can visit him at his Main Street workshop from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Free carriage rides will be available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

"It's no coincidence hat this event takes place on 'Small Business Saturday,' an answer to 'Black Friday,' where Americans are encouraged to support their local businesses who really make our economy go," Vandegrift says. "I hope you'll come out and support out Midway entrepreneurs, enjoy the magic of the season and sip on some hot cocoa provided by the Midway Presbyterian Church."

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Mayor, EDA chairman clash over proposal to have Midway pay more and expand chairman's contract

UPDATE: EDA Chairman John Soper withdrew his proposal from the agenda for tonight's Fiscal Court meeting.
UPDATE, Nov. 23: Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott offered a new proposal that would have Midway pay 15 percent of EDA expenses, up from 10 percent, and 24 percent of planning and zoning expenses, up from 11 percent, with an additional appointee form Midway to both the EDA board and the planning commission, and a prohibition on EDA advocating "anything even remotely similar to" the northwest Versailles bypass. For a copy of the proposal, click here.
By Alexandria Kerns
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media
    The Midway City Council meeting Monday evening ended in frustration after discussion of modifying the contract with the Woodford County Economic Development Authority.
    The tension rose after Mayor Grayson Vandegrift gave an update concerning the revision proposed by Versailles and the EDA. 
    The proposal would have Midway, Versailles and Woodford County each pay $26,884 a year for EDA operations. Midway now pays $5,000 and the other two $22,500 each.
    The extra money would cover an expanded contract for EDA Chairman John Soper, whom Versailles now pays $63,000 a year for job recruitment. Craig McAnelly, part-time executive director of the EDA, would be phased out of his position. 
    Vandegrift said at the council meeting that he would like to see the city receive another seat on the EDA board and another seat on the planning and zoning commission in return for the new agreement. Last week, he suggested two new seats on the EDA, but he said Monday night, “I don’t think we can agree to this deal without getting more representation on EDA and planning and zoning.”
    Currently, Midway only has one representative of seven on the EDA board and one of nine on the planning commission.
    Vandergrift said Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott and County Judge-Executive John Coyle did not seem open to his suggestions in his meeting with them Monday. The proposal is on the agenda for the Fiscal Court meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m.
    “I think we can be open to other possibilities,” Vandegrift said. “I don’t think anyone has a problem with giving us two more EDA appointments, but I think in reality this is a big step up for us and it’s the first time we’ve been asked to be an equal partner in it, and I thought what’s really more important was . . . give us one more planning and zoning appointment, because those two things do go hand in hand, and I think, honestly, the planning and zoning appointment would be extremely important.”
    The Midway council indicated agreement with the mayor’s stance.
     “If I’m going to go down to the Grey Goose, and order a steak, and two other people order a steak, and we’re all paying $27, they’re better damn be all the same size steak,” Council Member Dan Roller said.
    Vandegrift said, “I appreciate John Soper’s work, I appreciate Craig McAnelly’s work, but I’ve never seen a deal like this where you already have the person in mind ahead of time. I think in all fairness – this is nothing against John, because he’s a wizard – but there probably should be some kind of open hiring process to this.”         
    Soper said, “If you want to start the process and look at somebody else, that’s certainly an option.”
    Vandegrift replied, “It’s not personal, John, it’s just that I’ve never done this . . . and had a person picked out ahead of time. Generally it’s not done that way.”
    Soper responded, What we have now, I think, is working.” He said Midway Station was developed by a volunteer board and “was poorly designed and was a failure,” costing the city and county $750,000 in extra interest costs until developer Dennis Anderson agreed to pay the interest in return for an option on the property.
    Soper argued that someone who is familiar with the development should be in charge of its future.
“I’ve uncovered most of the issues in Midway Station, and let me tell you there’s a lot of issues,” he said. “From you all not knowing that you didn’t own the water tank, to there not being proper easements into it, to the roads you got that you can’t get a car turned around in. . . . If you go out and you try to bring someone else in, they’re gonna have that learning curve. It’s a tough piece of property. It’s a snake pit and it always has been.”
    Anderson recently decided against building housing in Midway Station, a decision that local leaders endorsed, but he has never developed industrial property and wants EDA’s help. “I think he’ll stay on board if we help him,” Soper said.
    “I’m not sure, you know, if we don’t have a good presence trying to help him convert that, that he’ll continue to pay $10,000 a month in interest for the learning experience of knowing how to do an industrial development. I think he’ll walk. I think he’ll sell three or four more lots and I think he’ll walk.”
    Soper said he disagrees with those who think Anderson is already too heavily invested in the property to walk away from it. “If we’re going to convert it to industrial, which I do think is what needs to happen, then we need to keep the press on like we’ve got and let’s get it converted and get the debt paid for. . . . As long as the principal is out there, you all are still on the hook for the interest.”
    Soper said some members of the Fiscal Court have said the ultimate solution would be a foreclosure sale, but he said that might not produce enough money to pay the debt, and without the property as collateral, “You’d have to pay off the debt or you’d have to pay interest forever.”
    After a brief discussion with council members, Vandegrift said, “I just don’t think it’s the best tactic in the world to say, pay up this money or it’s all going to fall apart, and that’s what I am hearing tonight.”
    Soper replied, “Grayson, I am a realist. You do not pay me to be a politician. I tell you what my opinion is, and my opinion is you all got a lot at risk here. It’s as simple as that.”
    When Vandegrift replied, “Thank you,” and Soper kept talking, Vandegrift cut him off,  saying, “That’s enough. That’s enough. Thank you. That’s enough.”
    Soper then left the meeting. McAnelly, who stands on the losing end of the proposal, stayed for the rest of the meeting. Afterward, Soper sent the Midway Messenger a summary of new tax revenue generated by EDA-coordinated projects.
    Midway’s relations with the rest of the county also figured in the council’s 3-1 vote to approve the revised goals and objectives for planning and zoning.  One change would allow more flexibility in the urban services area. 
    Council Member Sara Hicks voted no, saying the new language “makes the urban service boundary fluid in a way that does not protect agricultural lands.”
    Vandegrift said he believed accepting the language would be a good compromise with Versailles and the county, since a committee of representatives agreed to remove from the proposed goals and objectives a specific reference to the proposed northwest Versailles bypass, which Midway opposes.
    Vandegrift said, “Removing that bypass language was extremely important, and I think we have to show the rest of the county that we are willing to compromise, we are willing to find common ground, even when they are not.”
    In other planning and zoning business, the council approved Vandegrift’s reappointments of Phil Kepler to the Architectural Review Board and Al Schooler to the Board of Adjustment.
    Earlier, the council passed on second reading an ordinance of intent to annex 33.485 acres next to Midway Station, which Lakeshore Learning Materials is eyeing for expansion and a possible supplier.
    After more than two months of discussion and debate, the council passed an ordinance that would make the killing of domestic animals through kill traps illegal. This stemmed from the death of the pet cat of Sarah Gilbert and Stewart Surgener, who wanted to prohibit kill traps altogether.
    “I do not feel as if the ordinance addresses the heart of the problem,” Gilbert told the council.
    Council Member Libby Warfield said a kill-trap ban would be difficult to enforce, and said she hoped that people who set traps for groundhogs or other pest animals will let their neighbors know so pets can be protected.
    The vote on the ordinance was 4-0. Council Members Kaye Nita Gallagher and Steven Craig did not attend the meeting.
    Craig ran seventh in the recent election for the six council seats. This council will have one more meeting next month before the new council including newcomers John McDaniel and Steve Simoff, begin their terms. Roller did not seek re-election.

Zeb Weese named director of Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission

Zeb Weese (Commonwealth of Kentucky photo)
Gov. Matt Bevin has appointed Zeb Weese of Midway director of the Kentucky Nature Preserves Commission, which oversees 63 state nature preserves with a total of 63,000 acres.

Weese had been coordinator of the nonprofit Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund, which works closely with the commission. Before that he was a naturalist at Natural Bridge State Resort Park and a conservation education and natural-resources manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

"Since 2008, the commission and its work have come under withering attack from governors and lawmakers alike, with cuts and funding source raids adding up to about a 40 percent reduction," reports James Bruggers, environmental writer for The Courier-Journal. "Staffing had been cut from 23 in 2008 to about 14 employees," according to former director Donald Dott.

Weese said in a press release, “I am excited to play a role in furthering the KSNPC’s mission to promote understanding and appreciation of the aesthetic, cultural, scientific and spiritual values of our natural areas. These special places are part of our legacy to our children and future generations.”
Weese previously worked at Natural Bridge State Park and the Kentucky Department for Fish and Wildlife Resources as a conservation educator and natural resource manager.

KSNPC Commissioner Carl W. Breeding said in the news release, “I’m very confident that he will take the preserves to the next level.”

Midway Business Assn. to hold social Dec. 1 to discuss future of the group and its Midway Fall Festival

The Midway Business Association will host a “Business Social” Thursday, Dec. 1, at 6 p.m. at the Grey Goose to give community members an opportunity to express their opinions about the future direction of the Business Association and its main event, the Midway Fall Festival.  You are invited to attend and make your views known.  Light hors d'oeuvres will be provided by The Grey Goose.   "We hope to see you there," says Kenny Smith, president of the association.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Mayor cancels ban on open burning in Midway

Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift has canceled his executive order banning all open fires in the city. "The burn ban has been lifted, but please use extreme caution when having contained burnings, as drought conditions still persist," Vandegrift said in an email today.