Monday, December 9, 2019

Council debates, tweaks ordinances to crack down on blighted property; first reading scheduled Dec. 16

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift displayed metal objects that he said had fallen from the building at 116 E. Main St.
The Midway City Council seems ready to pass two ordinances to enforce ordinances requiring property owners to maintain their property, following a final work session Monday night.

Following the half-hour discussion, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift, who has been trying to crack down on blighted property since he took office almost five years ago, said he would schedule the ordinances for first reading next Monday, Dec. 16, and hope to pass them Jan. 6.

116 E. Main was once the Odd Fellows Hall.
To demonstrate the need for the ordinance, Vandegrift showed the council pieces of metal, some of them heavy and some of them sharp, that he said had fallen from the old Odd Fellows Lodge Hall at 116 E. Main St., which has been owned by Ness Almadari of Lexington since early 2016.

He said someone could have been killed by the heavy object, and Council Member John Holloway said likewise of the sharp ones. "I knew somebody who was killed in an accident like this," he said.

"This is the reason for the rush," Vandegrift said, adding later, "That's sort of the crux of the issue to me."

The only issue that prompted disagreement at the meeting was Council Member Bruce Southworth's concern that one of the proposed definitions of "blighted or deteriorated real property" is too broad.

The proposed definition, taken from state law, applies to vacant structures, or vacant or unimproved lots or parcels "in a predominantly built-up neighborhood" and includes seven alternative criteria. One covers property that "has not been rehabilitated and brought into compliance with the housing, plumbing, electrical, fire or nuisance code of the local government . . . within the time constraints placed upon the owner by the appropriate permitting or code-enforcement agency."

Southworth said half the houses in Midway don't meet the current electrical code. Holloway said the code "grandfathers" such houses and doesn't require them to be upgraded to code.

Vandegrift said action against any property requires a complaint and action by the code inspector, and "you would think it would have already been a problem statewide or it wouldn't be in the current KRS," the Kentucky Revised Statutes. He said the ordinance would be enforced by "a reasonable board, which we're going to appoint."

In response to a question from the Messenger, Vandegrift and Council Member Logan Nance said the provision is intended to apply only in cases where a permitting or code-enforcement agency has ordered the property owner to comply and the owner has failed to do so in the time period established by the agency.

Nance said the provision needed to stay to discourage "slumlords." Council Member Stacy Thurman said it would make enforcement stronger, and Council Member Sara Hicks said "It makes people want to do the right things . . . and it makes the town safer." The other council member, Kaye Nita Gallagher, did not attend the meeting.

Holloway, Nance and Thurman were elected last year, making the council more amenable to action on the issue, but the process has required three special meetings and who knows how many private conversations between members. Vandegrift told the council, "I think you all have made good steps to preclude some things that can be done just out of spite."

The council did ask for one last change, a clarification of the time a property owner would be given to comply after receiving a citation. The proposed code-enforcement ordinance says it would be up to the enforcement officer, but "not less than seven days," while the proposed blighted-property ordinance calls for 10 days' written notice. The council agreed both should say 10 days.

If the owner didn't comply, the case would go to a new Code Enforcement Board of at least three members and two alternates, who must have been residents of the city for a year upon appointment. After initially staggered appointments, they would serve three-year terms, be limited to two terms and could be removed by the mayor or a council majority plus one for "misconduct, inefficiency or willful neglect of duty." They could not hold any office with the city or any agency that enforces housing, plumbing, fire, maintenance or related codes.

Vandegrift has said the Code Enforcement Board is the key to enforcement that would stand up in court. The ordinances follow state laws that were passed in 2016 to give cities more power to crack down on blighted property.

In addition to safety concerns, the mayor said dilapidated properties bring down property values and discourage investment by adjoining property owners. He said the sport of the proposed laws is "not to burden those who don't have the means" to improve their property, "but to make people who have the inventory do something with it."

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Model train displays draw children and adults downtown

Christy Reaves's "Holiday" layout (For a larger version of any photo, click on it.)
Closeup shows ice-skating detail on the top of the layout.
Story and photos by Grant Wheeler
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Train enthusiast Christy Reaves put her “Holiday” model train layout on display for the citizens of Midway and visitors to the town Saturday, marking the second year she has hosted an exhibit in the old bank building on East Main Street.

The Midway Business Association sponsors the exhibit, which Reaves said makes use of salvage parts from her past projects in Ashland. “There was so much stuff that was just going to be thrown away,” she said. “It’s great to take it and make it interesting.”

Another view of the layout shows the list of items in the Midway Business Association scavenger hunt.
Reaves said the layout made use of one she did for Halloween, in particular the upper level addition: “I liked it for Halloween so it stayed for Christmas.”

The event aims to bring joy to families and children of the community while attracting shoppers and diners to Midway, the first town in Kentucky created by a railroad (Kentucky's first railroad).

“I’m so glad that all these kids can come see it,” Reaves said as she observed her one-year-old grandson Jaiden, right, fix a fallen sign on the massive layout. She will host classes from Northside Elementary School on Monday to view her layout.

The event drew many families to view the exhibit in the building, owned by Amy and Mike Stinnett.

“It’s a wonderful exhibit,” one viewer said. “Midway being a train town is a significant part of our history. I’m glad that history can be celebrated, that and holiday season really makes this event something special for my children.”

In addition to Reaves’ exhibit, a scale model of Midway was on display in City Hall. The display featured a miniature recreation of Midway, brought to life by parts and other contributions made by citizens of the town and others.

The layout was done in the early 1980s by Laurine and William Grant, who donated it to the city in 2001. A few months ago, Midway Renaissance and several community volunteers joined forces to put it back in shape. It was first displayed at Midway Heritage Day in July.

The restoration added background representations of Midway Christian Church and Midway University.
This view, looking west, shows two RJ Corman trains; when the model was built, two parallel tracks ran through town.

The trains in the layout are miniature RJ Corman Railroad Co. trains, to acknowledge the company that runs trains through Midway on their journeys hauling aluminum between Berea and Louisville.

Other trains were on display. Dave Kacmarcik, below, of Kaz Woodcraft in Lexington was at City Hall to showcase and sell his handmade wooden toy trucks and trains. “Woodworking has always been a hobby of mine,” he said, “and it eventually became a hobby with an income.”

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Council to hold special meeting Mon. to discuss draft ordinances on blighted property and code enforcement

City officials say this house at the northwest corner of Higgins
and Turner Streets has been abandoned for about 60 years.
The Midway City Council will have a special meeting Monday night for what seems likely to be a final workshop on the ordinances that Mayor Grayson Vandegrift has been trying to get passed since he was first elected in 2014, to crack down on owners of blighted property.

The meeting at City Hall is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. All council meetings are open to the public, but the agenda for this meeting does not specifically include citizens' comments, as the agendas for regular council meetings do. The council has already held two workshops on the ordinance.

Vandegrift said in his annual report to the council Monday night, "I’ve been very encouraged by the discussion and progress surrounding the proposed Blighted Property and code enforcement ordinances, and this week I will be sending members of the city council the latest draft we’ve been working on together, with the intention of holding a first reading at our meeting on Dec.16 and a second reading and vote on Jan. 6. I understand that this may require a final special meeting on the topic if it appears one is necessary to move forward. I firmly believe this is the only way to truly tackle the problem of blight and abandonment, and the current version is a great example of cooperation and compromise."

Midway woman writes about her 'total lifestyle change'

Wilda Willis Caudle (Facebook photos)
By Wilda Willis Caudle

     A year ago, at 58 years old, I felt like hell and looked about the same. My Type 2 diabetes was managed only by medication and reminded me that I could be the next Willis to die from diabetes-related illness. My primary-care physician was honest and frank with me. The choice was mine to make. Approaching 60 and my family medical history quite honestly scared me to make a total lifestyle change.

Before her lifestyle change
     So, I challenged myself to get in shape and to establish and maintain a healthy weight. No excuses. Well, a year later and thanks to a total lifestyle change I am 70 pounds lighter, off all diabetes and cholesterol medications, at a healthy weight and becoming physically fit. My journey to wellness isn't over it is continually evolving.
     I owe a large part of the lifestyle change to Fit-Time Gym in Frankfort, owned by Diana Geddes, formerly of Midway (the daughter of Patricia and Charles Wilson); my personal trainer, Rebecca Everman; and Rebe Conley's weekly yoga sessions. The encouragement, challenging workouts, and, truthful positive feedback keeps me on track.
     I consider my gym time as therapy; yep, therapy. I have made friendships with women who share my struggles and who are walking the path to wellness. Some have been a member of Fit-Time for at least 20 years.
     Hey, this gym membership is more cost effective than shopping or other forms of conventional therapy. Y'all know how I love making money when shopping for a good deal.
     This year the annual open house is Friday, Dec. 6. Ladies, you can join any other gym in town but you won't have the one-on-one client attention like at Fit-Time for Women. At Fit-Time you get everything all the other gyms have, plus child care, various fitness classes, sauna, the services of a full-service nail salon and massage therapist.The services of the nail salon and massage therapist are in addition to a gym membership. But, you don't have to drive all over town for those services.
     Fit-Time also offers various community projects so its members can give back to others in need like the Backpack Program, the Christmas Angel Tree, recycling plastic bottle tops to be made into benches, and, more.
     Fit-Time for Women is just that -- for women only. A non-judgmental gym for women where everyone is working to be the best they can be. Every journey to wellness is different and nobody is worried about your journey because they are all concentrating on theirs.
     Everyone there is ready to help you be the healthiest and best "you". I might even see you there. What are you waiting for?
The original, longer version of this essay was posted on Facebook on Dec. 4.    

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Mayor looks back at a year of improvements in Midway, suggests others to be made with booming tax revenue

By Garrett Burton
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Monday’s City Council meeting was almost entirely dedicated to Mayor Grayson Vandegrift’s annual report, looking back at what had been accomplished in Midway the past year. 

This was “the year we truly put our money where our mouth is in making large investments in our infrastructure . . . but we can’t rest on our laurels,” Vandegrift told the council, suggesting ways the council can use its booming payroll-tax revenue to make more improvements.

“Tax revenue created from new jobs is growing, and that it’s steadily improving our city’s fortune and future as it grows,” the mayor said, announcing that “We are 29 percent ahead of our occupational-tax revenue for the fiscal year, putting us on track to generate $838,000 this cycle.”  The city budgeted $650,000 in occupational-tax income for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

The tax revenue from wages and profits has boomed mainly because of the Lakeshore Learning Materials distribution center, and further job growth will be led by expansion of the center, with 100 new jobs, announced in September. Vandegrift said this puts Lakeshore’s total investment the Midway at around $75 million.

In the only major action at the meeting, the council passed an ordinance authorizing $35 million in industrial revenue bonds for the expansion. The bonds will be paid off solely by Lakeshore’s lease payments to the city, which owns the property. That makes it tax-exempt, but Lakeshore will pay the county schools an amount equal to what it would pay in taxes.

“They will eventually employ at least 362 full time workers in Midway, far and away the largest job provider the city has ever had, and one of the largest in the county,” Vandegrift noted.

The mayor said “2019 saw us create over 225 more jobs in Midway,” and with other jobs expected from businesses that have bought lots in Midway Station, ”It won’t be long until our annual occupational tax revenue is exceeding 1 million dollars. For reference, back in 2015, we were bringing in $300,000.  That is the effect of bringing in 500 new jobs in five years.”

The city used the new revenue to make improvements, including a sidewalk-repair cost-sharing program.  “Of every project we’ve implemented in the last five years,” Vandegrift said, “none generated the number of compliments we received from citizens than this one.”

He said the city “should look seriously” at building new sidewalks “where they are needed and where they are possible,” such as East Stephens Street near the Homeplace at Midway, Leestown Road (US 421) and “the US 62 bypass,” officially Midway Road. He noted that sidewalks on the latter two would “require state input and/or participation.”

When East Stephens Street was repaved, it also got new lines in the center and on its edges.
Other infrastructure improvements this year have included the wastewater treatment plant and improvement this fall of East Stephens Street, including “edge lines which early eyewitness reports indicate are slowing traffic,” Vandegrift said. “It is time we create a five year road plan for a priority list of which roadways should be resurfaced soon,” he said, such as Higgins, Bruen and Gratz streets.

"Money is budgeted this fiscal year for a sewer repair project “that will mark a turning point for us in our efforts to combat aging infrastructure,” the mayor noted.

He said a “decades-long grievance about Midway,” its high water rates, could be ended by switching to a new water wholesaler in 2015, when the city’s contract with Kentucky American Water Co. is up. “Frankfort Plant Board is an obvious and strong candidate for our business because they can sell us equally clean water at a rate 40% cheaper,” he said, but “as other players come to the table, we should hear them out as well.” He said “wholesalers within our own county” are interested.

After the meeting, he said the interest is from the City of Versailles, which already supplies water to the Northeast Woodford Water District, but it’s unclear whether the water would come directly from Versailles or through the district’s lines.

The mayor ended his annual report by thanking city employees, whom he called “then unsung heroes of Midway.” Earlier, he thanked the council members, the Midway Business Association, Midway Renaissance and the city Parks Board for their work.

“I look forward to continuing to work together with you to maintain Midway’s status as a city that defies all expectations,” he said.

Earlier, noting that Versailles and Georgetown have followed Midway’s lead in banning discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, he said, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that because a city is small that it somehow matters less.”

All council members applauded at the conclusion of the report, which can be read in full here.

Other business: Vandegrift said the long-debated ordinance to crack down on blighted property, which he has been trying to get passed since his election in 2015, should be ready for first reading at the Dec. 16 meeting.  He said he plans to have the second reading and final vote on Jan 6, but a special meeting if there are further questions.

 “I firmly believe this is the only way to tackle the problem of blight and abandonment,” he said, “and the current version is a great example of cooperation and compromise.”

Council Member Logan Nance asked that the council discuss the policy of shutting off water users for nonpayment, policy he said in September should be abolished. Vandegrift said the issue is “next on the agenda.”

Monday, December 2, 2019

Chef Ouita Michel of Midway recognized at UK football game for championing Kentucky's local-food movement

News release and video by University of Kentucky Public Relations and Marketing

The accolades for Kentucky’s food scene have been rolling in the last several years, and few leaders are as responsible for growing the state’s culinary landscape as University of Kentucky alumna Ouita Michel.

Before UK's home football game against the University of Louisville on Saturday, the celebrated chef and restaurateur was recognized on Kroger Field for her work as one of the original champions of Kentucky’s local food movement.

Saturday's rain didn't keep Ouita Michel off the football field.
A James Beard Foundation Award nominee as Outstanding Restaurateur and Best Chef in the Southeast, Michel has built a regional restaurant empire that now includes such popular establishments as Zim’s Cafe, Honeywood, Holly Hill Inn, The Midway Bakery, Smithtown Seafood, Wallace Station, Windy Corner Market and Restaurant and Glenn’s Creek CafĂ©.

Michel majored in political science at the UK College of Arts and Sciences and was a member of the debate team, the honors program (now Lewis Honors College) and the first class of Gaines Fellows. In 1986, she became only the second woman to win a national debate championship.

After earning her bachelor’s degree, Michel moved to New York where she graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and met her husband, Chris. The two returned to Kentucky in 1993 for their wedding, and opened their first restaurant, Holly Hill Inn in Midway, in 2000 where she became one of the state’s pioneers of using local-sourced products.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Midway Makers Market, open five months on Main, sells goods from about 50 Kentucky artists and crafters

Co-owner Amy Bowman with her embroidery machine
Story and photos by Kennedy Sabharwal
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

In July, the Midway Makers Market opened and began selling handmade products from local vendors at 130 East Main St., the former home of Midway Sweet Tooth.

“We have local makers with us from Kentucky as far away as Ashland and Maysville,” says co-owner Amy Bowman, who decided to open the store after months of selling her own handmade embroidery through Local Kentucky 68 in Maysville and the Carlisle Country Market.

Bowman said that before opening, “I posted in two Facebook groups filled with artists from across the state saying I’m thinking of doing this store in Midway; you know, just kind of interested in how many of you would be interested in participating with me.”

The shop opened in July at 130 E. Main St.
She wanted to have 30 or 40 makers respond but within days over 100 sent in applications, Bowman said. She knew that she couldn’t do the task on her own, so she asked Ann Parks to join her.

“I knew Ann,” she recalled. “We had met just by doing shows and then we would bump into each other in different places, and I knew that she had taken time off from her regular 9-to-5 job to work full-time on her craft.”

Parks, who does crochet and woodwork, grew up in Midway and still lives in Woodford County. “Ann immediately said yes when I asked her to please be my business partner,” Bowman said. “It’s just such a blessing and it has made it to much more fun for me to have her by my side.”

Pieces by Croc o' Mud pottery are popular.
Bowman is a Lexington native who moved to Midway about five years ago after, she said, “falling in love with the community.”

Bowman said she keeps about 50 different vendors in her store at a time and will rotate out products when necessary: “We ask people to give us at least three months when they sign on to sell their products through us. . . . We always have new stuff, though, even our regulars will come in and say, ‘Wow you guys moved everything around,’ because you just have to!”

She said some of the most popular things in their store right now are Croc o’ Mud Pottery pieces from Versailles and Classy Collections by MO, from Melissa Owens in Somerset. A few makers from Midway are Whither Wander Jewelry, Honey Bee Bangles and Candles, and Janet Cushing Howard original painted pillows and canvases.

The store has several Midway products.
Bowman said there are always new and fun things in the store, though, so it is hard for her to say which items are the best sellers.

Bowman and Parks said they open their store at 11 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday and strive to keep it open later in the evening, usually until 8 p.m., so people who may work during the day can make a trip over and see the merchandise.

The two owners said they love having the store, and Parks said, “We are really tickled with it!”