Sunday, April 13, 2014

Planning Commission recommends City Council zone part of Midway Station industrial again; approval expected

By Kristen Sekinger and Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The Woodford County Planning and Zoning Commission has recommended rezoning part of Midway Station back to industrial, signaling that the failed industrial park might generate hundreds of jobs after all.

Dennis Anderson, developer of Midway Station and the former Weems property across Interstate 64, said before Thursday evening’s meeting that the success of the Shell convenience store and the planned McDonald’s restaurant in the Green Gables development will carry over to Midway Station.

“The Shell station was a big success,” he said, and “McDonald’s is the biggest dollar money” among restaurant chains. He said more than half of the Shell store’s business comes from the interstate. The commission also approved a final development plan for Green Gables and plat for McDonald's.
Area to be rezoned industrial is outlined in purple. Residential zones are yellow. (Click on image for larger version)
Anderson is requesting that 43.5 acres on the north side of Midway Station now zoned residential be changed to light industrial. The commission’s recommendation goes to the city council, which is expected to approve it, since outgoing Mayor Tom Bozarth and the two council members running to succeed him have indicated that they support the idea of turning some of the residential tracts into job-creating properties.

Anderson’s request is at the behest of the Woodford County Economic Development Authority, which owns the property and has prospective industrial buyers for the land, perhaps a supplier for the Toyota plant at Georgetown.

Anderson’s attorney, Dick Murphy, noted that the county’s comprehensive plan, adopted in 2011, calls for an increase in manufacturing jobs. “We think it will be a great benefit to the community,” Murphy said.

Multiple strategies for developing the property have failed. After the county and city borrowed millions to buy and develop the property, only four lots were sold and only three very small industries located there.

In 2007, rezoning of the property was approved for relocation of Bluegrass Stockyards from Lexington, but the company dropped the idea when it became apparent that a court challenge from opponents of the plan would delay it for years.

In 2008, burdened by debt payments on property that had generated little income, EDA and the city contracted with Anderson to create an integrated community, which included commercial and  residential zones and recreational areas. The property was rezoned again, but the recession stalled development.

“A lot of things have happened since 2008,” Murphy said. “Timing is everything. We brought that zone change to you just three months before the economy started collapsing.” He added, “Dennis, to his credit, has kept up his agreements with the Economic Development Authority and has extended those and have invested very substantial money in this property.”

In 2011, Anderson signed an agreement to buy Midway Station, under which pays the taxes on the property as well as the interest on the county and city’s debt. Later in 2011, the commission and the local governments adopted the new comprehensive plan that has as one of its goals an increase in industrial employment, which declined during the recession.

In aisle seats at commission meeting: Bozarth, Anderson, Soper
The land to be rezoned is the northernmost portion of Midway Station, and is adjacent to a tract where the small industries are located. Planning Director Pattie Wilson said there would be 54.2 acres of light industrial land if rezoned. Wilson said in the meeting that no specific users for the property “have been identified at this time.”

She also noted that traffic to and from the industrial section will have a separate entrance from the commercial and residential section. “The economics have changed,” she said, “and it appears that it would be more beneficial for the community and the property to have an area for large-lot industrial users.”

Tom Guilfoil, owner of a small industry in Midway Station, asked if the new industry or industries would have to follow the strict design standards that he had to in the first phase of development. No one answered his question, but EDA Chairman John Soper said after the meeting that those standards were repealed by the 2011 plan.

Two commission members expressed reservations about industrial zoning next to residential, but Soper told the commission, “This is probably going to be a showplace for that corporation. They’re going to want to fit in and be a positive to the community and not a detriment,” he said. “This will be a place where the people live, they work, shop, and that will contribute to the life in Midway… I think we can fit all of this together and make a unique place.”

He also said, “When we looked at the quality of the applicants and who we are talking to and what they build, I think we are satisfied.,Whoever is going to come to Woodford County is going to make a unique substantial investment because of the quality of life here and the quality of our workforce.”

Soper said Anderson is sacrificing long-term profit to convert the residential area to industrial: “He has been a great partner through this whole thing. … We’ve got obligations to the banks we need to meet, We’ve got obligations to the taxpayers that we need to meet. This is the big opportunity that we have to satisfy all of those.”

Craig McAnelly, EDA’s executive director, indicated what sort of industry might be coming. “It fits in with the automotive industry that is expanding,” he said.

Jim Beam Brands considered the property for a distribution center that recently began construction on the Midway side of Frankfort. “The economy is bouncing back right now,” McAnelly said. “It’s not just automotive bouncing back, it’s everything.”

McAnelly said after the meeting that the property has three prospective buyers. He expressed confidence that any of them would build a plant that will be compatible with the surroundings. “When we looked at the quality of the applicants and what they build, I think we’re satisfied they can do that,” he said.

Commission member Jim Boggs said after the meeting that he was were surprised the rezoning drew no opposition. Perhaps partly joking, he said, “I guess they blew it on the stockyard.”

No comments: