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

Friday, January 11, 2008

Economic Development Authority OKs sale of industrial park for residential, commercial project

By Emily Funk

The Woodford County Economic Development Authority unanimously voted Friday morning to authorize the execution of a contract to develop Midway Station Industrial Park into a residential and commercial community. (Click image for larger version)

The contract has yet to be heard at a public meeting, and zoning must be changed by the county Planning and Zoning Commission and the Midway City Council before the sale is final.

If the project runs into opposition from citizens, that would be par for the course. Many opposed creating and annexing an industrial park in the early 1990s, and there was much opposition to a recent proposal to sell it to Blue Grass Stockyards. Due to lawsuits and the high cost of reconstruction, the stockyards pulled out of the deal.

“It has been a long, frustrating journey,” said Bob Rouse, a Midway resident and member of the EDA.

The Anderson Communities development plan (above) includes 253 attached residential units, 256 single-family detached residential units, 149 residential units associated with commercial uses and 57 residential uses associated with office uses.

Developer Dennis Anderson has numerous residential and commercial properties in Fayette County and is developing property on the south side of Midway’s Interstate 64 interchange. Midway Station is on the north side, farther from the old section of town.

Anderson met with members of the EDA on Sept. 26, 2007 to outline his plans for Midway Station, reported the Oct. 4, 2007 issue of The Woodford Sun.

“We think we have been doing a good job on meeting three basic needs of people: clean, safe, affordable,” Anderson said. “We build communities,” he continued. “That’s what separates us. It seems like everybody else is selling houses or selling land, and they don’t look at how it all interacts with one another.”

Sidewalks will be wide enough for people to walk side-by-side, and though houses will contain back yards and other venues for their residents’ privacy, elements such as front porches, garages in the back or sides instead of the front, and open green spaces will encourage public interaction, the Sun reported.

Previous Anderson communities have added chain restaurants, but Anderson said that Midway Station is “going to be a boutique community: neat little houses, small back yards, village greens, community center.”

The purchase agreement between the EDA and Anderson Communities was approved on July 27, 2007. At Friday’s meeting, EDA Chair Michael Duckworth acknowledged the short time period between the purchase agreement and the execution of the contract.

“Some think we rushed, but we were under pressure,” Duckworth said. “We have looked at the company and product. The [Industrial] Park needs a transition if it’s going to be successful.”
The pressure felt by the EDA stems from the difficulty it had had in selling property in Midway Station. The land has been controlled by the EDA for 10 years and marketable for five years. In 2006, Blue Grass Stockyards of Lexington decided to purchase and relocate to Midway Station, causing a local controversy.

Supporters saw an opportunity to create jobs for the area. Opponents, however, were concerned that the operation could cause traffic problems, pollute groundwater and the nearby South Fork of Elkhorn Creek, and create other pollution such as animal odor and noise. They were especially concerned about the possibility the stockyards might compost animal waste on-site, reported the July 5, 2007 issue of The Woodford Sun.

Despite the opposition, the Midway City Council voted 4 to 2 in April 2007 to change the zoning ordinance to allow stockyards in industrial zones. Councilwomen Sheila Redmond and Sharon Turner voted against the measure.

Despite the vote, stockyard Chairman Gene Barber decided that his business would not relocate to Midway from near downtown Lexington.

In a letter sent in June 2007 to The Woodford Sun, Barber cited the difficulties the stockyards would face in awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit filed by a group opposed to the relocation to Midway. He said a new facility could take up to six years to complete and, given the current age and condition of the Lexington facility, the owners would need to pour a large amount of money into it to keep it operating until a new facility could be built. He also cited the cost of repaving roads in the industrial park.

Duckworth said, “We spent 14 months trying to relocate the stockyards to Midway Station. On July 2, 2007, the deal ended.”

Nearly eight months later, Rouse is still trying to understand the opposition to the stockyard relocation. “I’m an eighth-generation Midway resident. We are a farm land community,” he said. “Preserving that market would have been a nice fit.”

The Anderson Communities have encountered less resistance than the Blue Grass Stockyards, but some citizens still have concerns about development of the property. They were not called on to speak at Friday’s meeting, but were interviewed afterward.

Jo Gardone works at the Eagle’s Nest Gallery in Midway and resides in the Ironworks residential community in Scott County, on Elkhorn Creek downstream from Midway Station.

The creek runs near Midway Station and has flooded four times since Gardone has lived there, she said.

“I am worried about the environmental impact on the creek when they start construction,” she said. “That land is very fragile.”

Transformation of the property from an industrial park to a mixed-use community depends on the zoning change, which requires a public hearing – a date for which has not been set.

If the change occurs, the construction will not begin anytime before spring 2009, Anderson said at the September 2007 meeting.

He added that the plans call for the development to take place over 10 years. “I doubt we’re going to get it done in 10 years,” he said. “It isn’t going to be Earth-shaking — we’re just going to ease into it.”