Tuesday, July 27, 2021

City's 'growth spurt is ending,' no matter what happens with housing and RV-resort proposals, Vandegrift says

County Judge-Executive James Kay, left, and Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott listened as Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift spoke at the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce event Monday evening. (Photo by Tim Culver, Midway University)
By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Now that most of the land in Midway Station has been sold, 600 jobs have been created and the City of Midway is no longer on the hook for millions of dollars in debt on the property, "That growth spurt is rapidly coming to an end," Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said Monday evening.

The mayor spoke at the annual report by Woodford County's three government executives, held at Midway University this year. He said 30 acres in Midway Station that are zoned for commercial development by the county Economic Development Authority should be rezoned for light industry.

"I just don't see why we need 30 more acres of commercial," he said. "Light industrial makes more sense. I think the EDA sees it that way; I think the City Council sees it that way, so I think we'll get that done." EDA Chair Michael Michalisin of Midway told the Messenger afterward that he generally agreed, but might want some property near Georgetown Road to remain commercial. He noted that the commercial lots fronting the road are owned by developer Dennis Anderson.

Vandegrift raised the issue of growth in the context of the controversial proposals for a high-density housing development on Northside Drive and a luxury recreational-vehicle resort on either side of South Elkhorn Creek, the Woodford-Scott County line. The first requires a zoning change by the City Council, and the second would require annexation to use the city's sewer and water systems.

"Like every other controversial thing in my administration, we take it to the people," he said. "We have public forums; the council listens to them. I listen to them. And in the end, so far, people have generally always dictated what happens. . . . That's what's going to happen here, with these two current growth issues going on."

That's as far as he went on those issues. "But I will say this; I can say it confidently. We went through a growth spurt recently, a necessary growth spurt, as I explained it."

(Earlier, he said "We had to develop Midway Station," because of the debt that the county had incurred for it; he said the late Phyllis Hudson, then city clerk, told him when he became mayor in 2015 that the city could be insolvent in 10 years.)

Vandegrift continued, "But I can say confidently that that growth spurt is rapidly coming to an end. And that doesn't mean that there won't be any growth for a long time, or anything like that; there will always be room for smart-growth pieces here, but the growth spurt is ending, regardless of what happens with these two issues before us.

"And that's because we accomplished the goal; we did what we needed to do; there's no reason to grow, just to grow. And people of Midway will tell you, they want to keep it intentionally small, so we should. We are members of a democracy, and will remain so."

Earlier, he said, "Growth is a good thing when it's necessary. It's a good thing when it leads to things like lowering people's taxes, like improving their services, lie making sure their water and sewers are set up for the future. And it's a good thing when it's sustainable. But when you have growth, other developers see opportunity."

Developer Mike Bradley says there is great demand from people making $40,000 to $50,000 a year for housing like the 68 "townhomes" that he is planning next to the grocery his parents once owned and that he plans to sell for $150,000 to $185,000 each.

The county's comprehensive plan allows as many as 82 units on the eight acres in the zone Bradley has requested, but opponents say the development would be too dense and create traffic and drainage problems. The county Planning Commission has not rescheduled a hearing on Bradley's request.

The RV resort would have 492 accommodations in Woodford County and more than 500 in Scott. The developers' lawyer, Hank Graddy of Midway, argues that it is the best use for the property, formerly the Mitchell farm, and that if the proposal is rejected, the next request is likely to be for industrial zoning, since Midway Station is across the road from the property entrance.

Opponents have raised concerns about water pollution and RV traffic, which the developers say they would steer away from US 62. The city recently delayed its public forum on the proposal so a traffic study could be done while schools are in session. The forum is set for Sept. 9 at the university.

Also at the Monday evening event, sponsored by the Woodford County Chamber of Commerce, Vandegrift said the city may move its administrative functions so the space now used as City Hall can be used for a historical museum and visitors' center.

Vandegrift first spoke only of "a brick-and-mortar museum," saying he would reserve details until next Monday's City Council meeting (unless his wife is having their baby at the time), but during the question-and-answer period the Messenger asked him about it.

He said the "administrative wing of City Hall" could be moved to another building the city owns. That is next to the Rau Building, which houses City Hall, where several historical items are on display and city employees welcome tourists. He said the city might ask the county Tourism Commission to help.

Another project in the works seems certain to involve a partnership: a new city fire station and a county ambulance station, sharing a wall in a new building Midway Station. Vandegrift noted that it would give the northern end of the county 24-hour ambulance service for the first time.

Vandegrift recounted major expenditures authorized by the budget for the fiscal year that began July 1, including $400,000 for storm-sewer repairs, mainly in the Gayland subdivision, and $140,000 in water and sanitary-sewer work. He said the city is making probably its biggest investment ever in drainage.

The budget has $50,000 to begin rehabilitation of the city's only operating water tower, but Vandegrift said he is "leaning more and more" toward using all the $490,000 that the city will get from the federal American Rescue Plan Act to do all the rehab work now, but wants to hear from the council.

Vandegrift was elected in 2014 and re-elected in 2018. He is passing up a re-election bid next year to run for the state House seat held by freshman Rep. Dan Fister, R-Versailles. Vandegrift is a Democrat but city elections are non-partisan.

County Judge-Executive James Kay and Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott also spoke at the event.

"The state of Woodford County is strong," Kay said. "The state of our union together, as leaders, as governments, as a community, is even stronger." He said the county has the state's lowest unemployment rate, its highest voter turnout and Covid-19 vaccination rates, and its highest level of educational attainment, which may be the most important "because people care about education."

Kay complimented the work of Midway University President John Marsden and his staff and faculty in transforming it from women-only Midway College: "Midway University will be one of the best colleges or universities in the state, for its size, in a few years."

He said the county plans to use its ARPA money for "stimulus programs," including one to help farmers. Referring to a longtime concern in the county, especially the Midway area, he said, "The only way to save agricultural land is to make sure farmers are still farming."

On the downside, Kay said the county is still dealing with the opioid epidemic. "It is one of the most pressing things that we don't talk about in our community." He said the county will start an "Aware Woodford" program to share stories of people in recovery and remove the stigma of substance-abuse disorder.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Midway Christian Church invites all to community dinner

Freeny giving city 14 acres on South Elkhorn Creek

Map shows initially estimated acreage of Freeny property, outlined in blue, which is now measured to be 14.3 acres. Lots in Midway Station are outlined in yellow; unnumbered lot is not platted for development and is now owned by the city.
Mike Freeny and Mayor Grayson Vandegrift shook
hands after the City Council accepted Freeny's gift.
(Photo by John McGary, The Woodford Sun)
The City of Midway will soon own 14.3 acres bordering South Elkhorn Creek that it plans to develop into a recreational site with watercraft access to the kayak, canoeing and fishing stream.

The property will be a gift from Homer Michael Freeny Jr., who goes by "Mike" and has been transforming his farm next to Midway Station into industrial land or, in the case of Brown-Forman warehouses at the back corner, conditional use in an agricultural zone (whiskey being deemed a product of agriculture).

The property will be the city's first on the creek. Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said it is valued at $140,000, or about $10,000 an acre. Land developed for industry in Midway Station has sold for $65,000 an acre; part of Freeny's property is in the floodplain and adjoins a section of Midway Station that was not platted for development because of the terrain.

Freeny is donating the property to the city in return for the council de-annexing 27 acres of his land north of Lakeshore Learning Materials. That made the property more attractive; if it had remained in the city, a pump station would have been required to access the city's sewer system.

Just how the city will develop the property for the public remains to be decided. Vandegrift told the City Council that he expects to appoint a committee of council members and perhaps others to discuss it.

The council authorized Vandegrift to accept the property, which the mayor said would happen once "a few legal things" are accomplished. He said that includes consolidating Freeny's property with the 38 acres of Midway Station along Interstate 64 that the city recently received from the Woodford County Economic Development Authority. That property was also never platted for development.

Vandegrift told Freeny, "I want to thank you for this incredible gift . . . that future generations are going to enjoy." He added, "I wish all developers were like you."

Freeny alluded to criticisms of the proposed luxury recreational-vehicle resort downstream from his property, saying the property "looked like it would be a good place for Midway to develop some recreational facilities without affecting the character and quaintness of Midway."

Housing study: Council member Stacy Thurman, chair of the Housing Committee that Vandegrift appointed more than two years ago, reported on plans to contract with Alison Davis, a University of Kentucky professor who runs UK's Center for Economic Development In Kentucky, for study of housing needs in the city.

Vandegrift said he expects the study will be done in cooperation with Versailles; Mayor Brian Traugott sat in on the committee's Zoom meeting with Davis last week. Thurman said housing needs in the two towns "can't really" be studied separately, but she will talk with Davis about being "Midway-specific." 

Other business: The council approved an event to be held by Verna "Dee" Mason from 6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 11 in Walter Bradley Park, which Mason said she is having to thank the many people who have helped her in the past year while she has been battling cancer.

The council heard from the city's new public-works supervisor, Nelson Wright, who asked Vandegrift for an opportunity to get acquainted with council members. "It's a blessing working here," said Wright, who previously worked on parks and streets in Lexington.

Vandegrift said Wright, who grew up in nearby Davistown and still lives there, is "doing a great job." Wright complimented his crew, saying "I was really amazed at the amount of work the guys do. They work their butts off, especially in the summertime."

When Thurman asked Wright what he needed, Wright said the city could use a small excavator to dig graves in the cemetery, which would be more efficient. Vandegrift noted that the council put money in the new budget for such equipment, which he said would probably turn out to be a lease-to-buy deal.

The council heard from Anaris Sickles, a representative of Kroger's "Hometown Pickup" program that delivers groceries to customers at a pickup point in Midway and about 15 other Kentucky towns who place orders online. She said the company wants to get involved in community activities and is looking for ideas. Vandegrift suggested that it help fund playground equipment in the small park at the south end of Gratz Street. 

Council Member Sara Hicks said she used Kroger's service three times but stopped, partly because she got the wrong products even though she asked that no substitutions be made. Also, she said, "I felt a little guilty about not being loyal to Corner Grocery," the common name for Midway Grocery. Kroger's pick-up point in Midway is the parking lot of the church across Northside Drive from the grocery.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Boil-water notice is issued for North Winter Street, First Street, Northridge Drive, and North Winter Court

"A boil-water advisory is in effect for North Winter Street, First Street, Northridge Drive and North Winter Court," Mayor Grayson Vandegrift says in an email. "Approximately 50 homes are affected. A function on private property accidentally hit a water main. Our crew is on site and working to repair the line. I’ll update when we can lift the advisory."

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Forum on RV resort is reset for Sept. 9 so school-bus data can be included in traffic study, mayor says

UPDATE, July 14: Mayor Grayson Vandegrift announced today that he has postponed the forum to Sept. 9, at the request of the developers, so school-bus data can be worked into their traffic study, "as has apparently been requested by" the state Transportation Cabinet. "It was indicated to me that the study would be competed in its entirety by early August, but that is no longer the case and it is best to have all data that could possibly be available rather than incomplete information." He added, "This moves the likely vote to September 20 at the regular scheduled council meeting." The story below has been revised.

Master plan for Kentucky Bluegrass Experience Resort; click on it to enlarge.
The Midway City Council is likely to decide the issue of the proposed recreational vehicle resort next month, following a public forum, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said Tuesday night.

The forum will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 9Aug. 5, at Midway University’s Anne Hart Raymond Center, and will be moderated by Tad Long of the Kentucky League of Cities, Vandegrift said in an email.

"The Bluegrass Experience Resort and their counsel will have 15 minutes to present their argument, followed by 15 minutes allotted for Joe Childers, representing some of the opposition," he wrote. "The rest of the forum will be dedicated to public comment. Each commenter will have three minutes to share their feelings on the proposal."

Vandegrift said June 17 that the council would not act until the traffic study for the park was completed. In another email, he said it has not been done, but "My understanding is it will be by then."

He said in the original email that he and council members "will simply be there to listen. We will not respond to any questions or comments that evening. It is very likely that the council will vote on the question of whether the city shall provide water and sewer services to the proposed park or not at our next regularly scheduled council meeting following the forum, which will be Sept. 20 Aug. 16."

Under current city policy, providing water and sewer service would also require annexation. The project, which has more acreage in Scott County than Woodford County, could get water service from Georgetown, but Midway's nearby treatment plant is the only feasible option for sewer service.

Woodford County planning officials have given Bluegrass Experience Resort a conditional-use permit to operate a major tourism destination in an agricultural zone, with 390 RV sites, 56 cottages and 26 accommodations for owners and employees. The Scott County section would have over 500 sites.

Objections have focused on its size and scope; its impact on South Elkhorn Creek, which runs through the property; and traffic issues. Vandegrift has said widening of Georgetown Road "needs to be happening" before the park can open, and there is concern about RV traffic coming through downtown Midway. Developers say they will steer guests from the Bluegrass Parkway to US 127 and Interstate 64.

Vandegrift said June 21 that he had asked the developers to "go back to the drawing board," to no avail.

The Midway Business Association has tentatively voted to endorse the proposal, and MBA President Cortney Neikirk and member Amy Bowman reported after a trip to a similar luxury RV resort in South Carolina that they saw nothing there that would keep them from supporting it.

Scott Hayes pleads guilty to endangering police and EMTs in December standoff, gets five years in prison

Scott E. Hayes of West Higgins Street has been sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to eight counts of first-degree wanton endangerment in a two-hour standoff at his home Dec. 12.

The indictment of Hayes said he waved a loaded gun in the direction of police officers and emergency medical workers, creating a substantial danger of death or serious injury, The Woodford Sun reports.

Hayes, 50, is a former emergency medical technician. He ran a write-in campaign for mayor against incumbent Tom Bozarth in 2010, losing 483 to 104.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Positive coronavirus test prompts mayor to close City Hall to the public Monday; he urges all to get vaccinated

UPDATE, July 12: Thankfully all potential exposures have tested negative for Covid-19. City Hall will resume with normal activity tomorrow. The employee who tested positive is recovering at home and is expected to be healthy and back to work in the next week, once they are medically cleared to do so.

By Grayson Vandegrift
Mayor, City of Midway

Out of an abundance of caution, we will close City Hall to the public tomorrow. There will be an employee working there most of the day if you need assistance.

I learned today that one of our employees has tested positive for Covid-19. We have been conducting our own contact tracing, and no employee working in the field has been exposed. However, one City Hall employee has potentially been exposed and will be tested shortly.

We have offered the opportunity for vaccination to all of our employees, but we have not forced it upon them if they choose not to for personal reasons. It has always been my hope that each and every individual, whether they work for the city or not, would come to the conclusion that getting the vaccine is the safest thing to do.

Unless told otherwise by a doctor, we encourage everyone to get vaccinated. The vaccine is safe, extremely effective, free, and highly accessible. Getting vaccinated will protect yourself and others and will also help prevent workforce disruptions and lost wages. If you’re still unvaccinated, I strongly recommend you consider getting this safe and highly effective vaccine so we can return to complete normalcy and put this virus behind us before other variants are able to replicate.

Once we receive test results from our one potentially exposed employee, I will update on when City Hall will reopen to the public.