Wednesday, March 18, 2015

State offers city money to create parkland along Lee's Branch, but city would lose much control of the tract

By Anthony Pendleton and Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Should the Midway City Council give up control of seven wooded acres along Lee’s Branch in return for state money that can be used to make the tract usable by the public but maintain its natural state?

The council deferred action Monday night on the issue of a conservation easement suggested by Zeb Weese of the state Land Heritage Conservation Fund.

At last week's Cemetery and City Property Committee meeting, Weese said the city could apply for funding to help clean up the seven acres and make it easier for the public to enjoy. In exchange for the funding, the city would lose its right to develop it.

Council Member Sara Hicks, chair of the committee, told the council that up to $15,000 might be available for removing invasive species from the property and otherwise improving it. That was the amount Weese had suggested at the committee meeting.

The Internal Revenue Service defines a conservation easement as the "historic preservation of land and buildings" in which "the property owner gives up certain rights but retains ownership of the underlying property."

Council Member Libby Warfield, a member of the committee, said at the council meeting that she is not in favor of the conservation easement.

"If we do this with the state, I don't believe we'll ever have control again. ... I have read all of their application forms and then their management guidelines and so forth. They are pages and pages and pages," she said. "Anything you want to do within that seven acres, you have to go to their board and ask."

Warfield said she believes there's no need for a conservation easement because the land is already partially protected by covenants in an existing conservation easement. "They are fairly extensive,” she said. "So the property is already protected to a certain extent."

In 1991, Blue Grass Properties & Investment Co. granted the city of Midway an easement on 23.54 acres for “preservation of scenic and agricultural values,” including the seven acres along Lee's Branch.

The 1991 easement prohibits “industrial and commercial activity” on the land but allows farming and “recreational activities approved by the City of Midway,” subject to certain requirements.

More significantly, it allows the city to build “facilities deemed necessary and appropriate by the City of Midway,” including access roads and “recreational and community facilities, and accessory structures,” including fences.

It could not do that under the state easement, though the committee seemed to agree that the entire seven acres did not have to be included in the easement. Specifically mentioned as an exception was the flat area in front of the old rock quarry.

The council discussed possible improvements to the area in 2013. Here's an aerial photograph that then-Mayor Tom Bozarth used for reference (click on image for larger version):
Warfield told the council she also wants to discuss conceptual plans from 2007 that would add a walkway from Northridge Estates to the rest of Midway, through or near the area. Hicks said at last week’s committee meeting that such a walkway is needed, but shouldn’t go through the wooded area.

The council decided to defer further discussion until a Property Committee meeting on April 13.

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