Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Council meeting gives glimpse into Midway's future

By Autumn Harbison, Melissa Hill, Sean Patterson & Monica Wade
School of Journalism and Telecommunications, University of Kentucky

Midway’s City Council meeting Tuesday night gave a glimpse into Midway’s future. The proposed Midway Station development and changes in an annual art fair dominated the meeting, but the council also discussed the proposed Woodford County smoking ban and a journalism experiment with the University of Kentucky.

Change is coming to Midway and Anderson Communities is the catalyst. The Midway Station commercial and residential development being planned by the Anderson company would bring 700 new residences to Midway, said Bob Rouse, right, the Midway representative for the Woodford County Economic Development Authority.

That would slightly more than double the number of residences the town currently has, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. "That’s what Midway is all about, bringing people in, and I think this will do that,” said Rouse. “This community is going to change.” He assured the council that it would not be a sudden change, but that the plan would unfold throughout the course of 10 years.

The authority has signed a contract to sell the property, contingent on a zoning change. Rouse said it also depends on the permission of the four companies who bought property with the expectation that it would be zoned for industrial use. The rezoning hearing has not yet been scheduled, pending approval from the former property owners, but the most likely date is March 27, Mayor Tom Bozarth said.

The land in question has been the subject of contention lately. It was the intended location for the Bluegrass Stockyards facility that ended up not being relocated from Lexington. Rouse said the four companies "bought into a plan that has since changed," referring to their approval of the stockyard plan. "We need to get them on board before we move forward."

Asked about the proposed zoning change, Bozarth said, "We need to learn more about it and how it would impact the city of Midway. "We have to look at costs and other factors." But he also noted that the city has a lot invested in the property already. “We’ve paid over $700,000 in interest on the property,” he said. “It’s an interesting piece of property that is not paying down like we wanted to.”

Rouse said the project would lower sewer rates and increase tax revenue. He said he didn't know if the project would provide jobs for local residents, but Council Member Aaron Hamilton, who asked him that question, seemed positive about the plan. “I think it will be a good thing for Midway to bring in new faces and new people,” he said. Council Member Diana Queen also said in an interview that she supports the change.

Art fair responsibility shifts

The only major, formal action of the evening was approval of a new contract transferring responsibility for the annual Francisco's Farm art fair from Midway College to Midway Renaissance Inc., a not-for-profit organization that has worked with the fair in the past.

At the suggestion of Council Member Shelia Redmond, the agreement was changed to say that the Renaissance organization could request, instead of require, assistance from the city.

Council Member Charlann Wombles, right, alluded to past conflict over the issue. “It’s required a lot of patience, but it’s a good thing,” she said.

Other business

Al Cross, assistant professor of journalism at the University of Kentucky, addressed the council and introduced five journalism students who he said would be reporting on Midway for his class. He said he wants his students to get real-world experience in covering a small town, and the city deserves its own news outlet. “This is a town that gets visitors from all over the world,” he said. “People in small towns deserve good journalism just as much as people in large towns.”

For now, a Midway blog has been set up at this site, but the class will soon develop a Midway Messenger Web site. Bozarth said of the students, “I encourage everyone … to be open with [them].”

Bozarth, left, criticized Garland VanZant, the director of the Woodford County Health Department, for not notifying the Council of the county health board's plan to enact a countywide ban on smoking in public places. “I think out of respect and courtesy he should have done so,” Bozarth said -- noting later that Midway businesses already ban smoking.

The proposal, the subject of a Feb. 5 public hearing, would be a major change for Woodford County, which was once among the top five producers of tobacco in Kentucky and still raises the crop.

The council ended the meeting with a closed session that lasted approximately 10 minutes. The motion to hold the session said it was to discuss the purchase of property, one of the exceptions to the state open-meetings law.

Photographs by Sean Patterson

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