Monday, May 31, 2021

No brush pickup this week; next week will move to Wed.

The City of Midway is not picking up brush this week because its chipper truck is down for maintenance, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said today. "If residents still want to put brush out, that is perfectly fine," he said in an email.

Vandegrift said that when brush pick-up is resumed next week, it will be changed to Wednesdays, when there will be less likelihood of large trucks encountering each other, "as sometimes happens on Tuesday because of trash collection. So, when brush collection returns next week, it will take place on Wednesdays."

Courier Journal spotlights David Hume's Excelsior Motors on Old Frankfort Pike and his distinctive Citroën

To replay the video, refresh the page. The Citroën model shown is the SM; read about it on Wikipedia. For the Courier Journal story, by photographer/videographer Pat McDonogh, click here.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

City, county planning new fire station in Midway Station that would house first 24-hour ambulance based in city

POA tracts (with acreage) are outlined in blue. Yellow tract is proposed for emergency-services building. (Click to enlarge.)

Midway and Woodford County officials are planning a new emergency-services building in Midway Station that would house the first 24-hour emergency medical service based in the city.

The building would go on the westernmost tract of the "property owners association" land that separates the developed or platted-for-development parts of Midway Station from Interstate 64 and Georgetown Road. The Woodford County Economic Development Authority is giving the land to the city in exchange for forgiveness of debt for utility projects.

"We will propose to build a joint station in the 3.5 acre section that will house the first-ever 24-hour EMS station for this end of the county as well as a second Midway Fire Station/Training Center," Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said in in an email. He said the land swap "hastened a collaborative effort begun in 2019" by him and County Judge-Executive James Kay, Midway-area Magistrate Liles Taylor and EMS Director Freeman Bailey.

"This collaborative city/county effort would greatly improve our life-saving services in a more cost-efficient manner and give our firefighters a training center that will enhance our training and improve our insurance scores," Vandegrift said. "We will still keep the station downtown as Station 1 with at least one of our engines kept there, and the ladder truck would then be housed at the new station, where it’s likely to be used more because of the activity and larger structures at Midway Station."

The EDA has approved the land swap, and Vandegrift said it will be on the agenda for the next meeting of the Midway City Council, on June 7. It has been awaiting an appraisal of the property, which was designated property-owners-association land when Midway Station was to include housing.

"If the POA land deal is approved, we will begin to turn our efforts to the next phase of planning and eventually building this joint station," Vandegrift wrote. "There are still many details to work through, and ongoing discussions between Midway City Council, Woodford County Fiscal Court, EMS and Midway Fire will be necessary. It is possible that the county will pursue selling the old EMS station on Leestown Road while the value is so high. This is also a good time for our governments because of our financial positions and because bonding is so favorable right now. The building will quite possibly use steel and other materials whose costs aren’t as through-the-roof as other building materials are."

Vandegrift concluded, "This will save lives, ease anxieties, and greatly improve our emergency services, and Judge Kay, Magistrate Taylor, Director Bailey, Chief [Butch] Armstrong and myself are very eager and excited to see it come to fruition."

Friday, May 28, 2021

Newscaster Barbara Bailey, KET executive Donna Moore Campbell honored by Midway University

Recently retired newscaster Barbara Bailey received Midway University's Pinkerton Vision Award last Thursday evening.
Two leading Bluegrass broadcasters received the major honors at Midway University's Spotlight Awards before a large crowd at the school last Thursday evening, May 20.

Newscaster Barbara Bailey, recently retired from WKYT-TV, received the Pinkerton Vision Award, recognizing her impact in regional television during her 40-year career, in which she served as a role model for many women in broadcasting and other professions. The award recognizes an individual or group for improving the lives of women, a woman who has served as an outstanding role model, or a woman who has displayed great leadership, innovative thinking and influence in her chosen field. The video documenting Bailey's qualifications can be seen here.

Donna Moore Campbell, right, recipient of the Legacy Award,
with fellow Midway trustees Belinda Metzger, left,  and Jan Hunter 
Midway alumna and longtime Kentucky Educational Television executive Donna Moore Campbell received the Midway University Legacy Award, honoring her many years of service and support to the university. She chairs its Board of Trustees. The award honors those who have helped the university over many years by giving time, service, support, and/or resources. Her video can be seen here.

The Spotlight Awards dinner, held annually in May, is both a celebration and fundraiser. It was canceled last year due to the pandemic, but returned this year with a record crowd of 300, a university news release said. It started with an outside reception followed by a seated dinner inside the McManis Student Center. All past winners at www.midway.edu/spotlight.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Council finishes drafting budget, adds $30,000 for South Gratz Street playground; annexation gets first reading

Google map shows softball field at end of South Gratz Street, site of playground. Red line is city limit.

By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Midway City Council finished writing its 2021-22 budget and had first reading of an ordinance to annex the proposed housing-development tract on Northside Drive at a special meeting Wednesday.

The council had already passed an ordinance of intent to annex, a procedural step that could have led to a referendum if anyone lived in the 7.48 acres bought by Northside Homes LLC last year. Second reading and passage are set for the next council meeting, on June 7.

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said the property is being annexed so the council will have the final say on the rezoning being requested by Northside Homes for its 68-unit development, which is tentatively scheduled for a Planning Commission hearing at 6:30 p.m. June 17 at Northside Elementary School.

The council made several additions to the budget for the fiscal year that will begin July 1. The biggest was $30,000 for playground equipment near the softball field at the south end of Gratz Street, an idea suggested by Council Member Steve Simoff, who has rounded up $15,000 in private funds for it.

Simoff said he recently learned that grant money may be available for the equipment, so "It may not end up costing us anything" to improve "that end of town where we don't really have a playground." He said the equipment would be like that in Walter Bradley Park, but smaller and safer, for kids 3 to 12.

Vandegrift said, "That's an area of town where we have a lot of kids. . . .  It's a quality-of-life issue." He noted that the area already has a basketball court, monkey bars and a swing set. Nance suggested that the project also include portable toilets, and Simoff endorsed the idea.

Other additions to the budget included:

  • $10,000 for a countywide gift-card program that would use federal funds to subsidize purchases at local businesses. Versailles and Woodford County would contribute $20,000 each.
  • $2,000 for an inventory of trees on city property, requested by the city's recently reactivated Tree Board. Council Member Sara Hicks, a board member, said it would identify trees that need pruning, cutting or pest control, and sites where trees are needed, as well as providing guidance for species that would cause fewer problems.
  • $1,000 for more efficient lights at City Hall and further analysis of measures needed for energy efficiency.
  • $500 for a baseline survey by Mosquito Mate, a Lexington firm that does biological control of the insects. The company had proposed a project costing $18,000, then cut it approximately in half, but the council wants to know the extent of the problem before tackling it.

Hicks abstained on the tree-inventory money because she is on the Tree Board. All the other votes were 4-0. Council Members Stacy Thurman and Kaye Nita Gallagher were absent. Vandegrift said Thurman had a scheduling conflict with the special meeting.

The city's general budget (aside from water and sewer) anticipates income of just under $3 million and expenses of almost $2.79 million. Both are much higher than the current year, mainly due to grants and other income being received and spent for specific purposes.

The city's major income source remains its occupational tax on wages, which is forecast to bring in $900,000, but Vandegrift said in March that it was already nearing that figure and could go as high as $1 million. This year's budget anticipated getting $737,500 from the tax. The city also taxes net profits, and revenue from that occupational tax is forecast at $55,000, almost double this year's $30,000 estimate. The city insurance tax is forecast to generate $225,000; this year's estimate was $190,000.

Increased expenses for the coming year include a raise in volunteer firefighters' run fees; more money for maintenance and equipment for the department; $75,000 for street paving, up from $50,000 this year; and $20,000 for a sign at Georgetown and Leestown roads to direct I-64 motorists to downtown.

"Looks like we've agreed on a budget that's going to serve our people very well," Vandegrift said, adding later, "It's a budget to be proud of." The budget will be put into ordinance form and get first reading June 7, with second reading and final passage set for June 21. It also includes:

  • $50,000 for initial rehabilitation work on the city water tank in Midway Station, a project that Vandegrift said would probably take several years and cost $400,000.
  • $50,000 for a trail along East Stephens Street, despite uncertainty about the project. Vandegrift said it would be studied further by the city's Bike-Walk Task Force, and the city would not apply this year for the grant that it hopes would pay most of the cost. 
  • $2,500 for a historical marker at the site of the Freedmen's School that was ransacked by white supremacists in 1868. The money was not an addition, but an earmark in the streets budget, suggested by Council Member Mary Raglin.
  • $200,000 for repair and replacement of storm sewers, $150,000 for those in the Gayland neighborhood. That $350,000 project will be paid for mainly with a $200,000 low-interest loan from the state. 

As the council approved a resolution authorizing Vandegrift to sign documents related to the borrowing, Council Member Logan Nance asked if the project could use any of the $490,000 the city expects to get from the American Rescue Plan Act, the latest pandemic relief bill to become law. Vandegrift said he thought only sanitary sewers were eligible for ARPA money, but more guidance is expected from the state Department for Local Government. He said the sanitary sewers in Gayland are in good shape.

Vandegrift said the council should consider holding onto the ARPA money and not spend it in an election year (next calendar year), as he said some local governments plan to do. (He is running for state representative, not a third term as mayor.) He noted that the city has a $900,000 surplus and its books "look as good as they ever have."

"We need to think real big going forward about what we're going to do with this surplus; it's only going to get bigger," Vandegrift said. The surplus stems from occupational-tax revenue, spurred mainly by employment in the Midway Station industrial park.

The mayor's remarks prompted suggestions. Simoff suggested a traffic study, saying "It can stop development or it can increase development." Vandegrift said such studies are usually done by the state, but the city might want to do one of its own.

Hicks suggested a welcome center or rest area at the southeast quadrant of the US 62-421 intersection, on property that Helen Rentch has offered to the city. Hicks acknowledged that the configuration of the property and traffic in the area would make an entrance to it "tricky."

Vandegrift reminded the council that it will eventually need to spend $400,000 to preserve the old "Tin Man" water tower, which is no longer used but is an iconic symbol of the town. Hicks suggested that since it was built for the town's last distillery, that the next one, Bluegrass Distillers, sponsor the tower. Vandegrift said any such sponsorship should avoid being tacky or the appearance of "selling out."

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Holly Hill, Heirloom do well in latest Open Table ratings as Kentucky restaurants prepare for full capacity

Midway's best-known restaurants, and some in Lexington operated by their owners, scored well in the latest regional ratings on Open Table, the online restaurant reservation and rating service. 

Overall, Holly Hill Inn, 426 N. Winter St., ranked No. 2, behind Dudley's on Short in Lexington; third for service (behind Dudley's and Rodney's on Broadway in Lexington); fifth in value; and seventh for ambience (which Open Table misspells as "ambiance," which is how it's pronounced).

Screenshot of part of one page of Open Table ratings
Heirloom, 125 E. Main St., was ranked seventh for food, just ahead of Dudley's. 

In the specialized categories, Holly Hill and Heirloom were rated first and second, respectively, in "Healthy" and "Fit for Foodies." Honeywood, the newest Lexington restaurant of Midway's Ouita Michel, rated seventh in Fit for Foodies, ninth in Healthy and sixth in Good for Groups.

Holly Hill ranked first in Great for Brunch (Honeywood is eighth); second in Great for Lunch and Notable Wine List, in both cases behind Dudley's; and fourth for Special Occasion.

Holly Hill and Heirloom, respectively, are ranked third and fourth in Romantic.

Distilled on Jefferson, the Lexington restaurant of Heirloom owner Mark Wombles, ranked ninth for food, 10th for value, and second in Outdoor Dining and Vibrant Bar Scene.

All the restaurants mentioned above are rated "exceptional" by Open Table users. The state is lifting pandemic capacity restrictions on restaurants and most other businesses Friday.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Council to have special meeting Wed. to hear Northside annexation ordinance, deal with two other matters

The Midway City Council will hold a special meeting at 4 p.m. Wednesday, May 26 at City Hall to start passing an ordinance to annex the property Northside Homes LLC has proposed for a housing development, start applying for a state loan to fix sewers in the Gayland subdivision, and hopefully finish writing the city budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The annexation ordinance will get the first of two readings required for passage. Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said in an email, "I had hoped to have the first reading on our last meeting, but some legalese held it up, and we feel it’s important to have annexation completed before the Planning Commission holds its public hearing or makes its recommendation" on Northside Homes' application for rezoning.

The council has already passed an ordinance of intent to annex, the first step in the process. The public hearing is tentatively scheduled for June 17 in Midway.

All council meetings are open to the public. The meeting will be telecast on the Midway Government Streaming Meetings page on Facebook.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Drainage report on Northside development will be ready for Planning Commission review, engineers tell panel

Plan shows detention basin in dark green, resident parking in yellow, visitor parking in orange. Click on it to enlarge.

Estimates of the drainage impact of the proposed housing development on Northside Drive will be given to the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning Commission before its public hearing on the project in Midway in about a month, developer Mike Bradley told the Messenger today.

Bradley's consulting engineers told the commission's Technical Review Committee Tuesday that it is their intent that the stormwater retention basin planned at the northwest corner of the property will handle all the drainage from the development, which calls for 68 "townhomes" mostly in groups of four, joined by breezeways.

The engineers from EA Partners of Lexington said there had been some concern about drainage at Midway Grocery, which is across North Winter Street from the eight-acre tract to be developed. Planning Commission staffer Kim O'Reel said the City of Midway's consulting firm, HMB Engineers, has said that EA needs to reveal the detailed calculations that support its estimates.

One question not answered at the meeting was whether the development needs more than its one planned entrance, on Winter Street. Bradley told the Messenger that the fire code requires only one entrance for subdivisions of 100 or fewer homes, and noted that 24 homes would face Northside Drive.

On other fire-code issues, county Building Inspector Joshua Stevens said the homes will need to have fire-resistant walls on both sides, and EA Partners said the turning radii at the development's intersections are big enough to accommodate the city fire department's ladder truck.

The committee, which has the task of ensuring that proposed land-use changes meet the commission's technical requirements, forwarded the proposal to the commission with several recommendations, including:
Diagram by Northside Homes LLC, copyright 2021; click it to enlarge
  • Listing of the square footage for each type of floor plan. The basic house would have two bedrooms, but Bradley said last week that due to interest from potential buyers, some would have a third bedroom, in the space otherwise occupied by breezeways.
  • Correction of lot lines that show them going through areas that would have the extra bedroom.
  • Addition of screening and buffering along property lines that abut lots with single-family homes, especially where dumpsters appear on the plan. Bradley told the Messenger that the two dumpster sites have been removed from the plan and will probably be sites for mailboxes.
Bradley is seeking a zone change from R-1 residential to R-3 residential to allow the dense development, to be called The Reserve at Midway. The next step in the process is the public hearing, which the commission has agreed to hold in Midway, probably June 17.

The hearing was tentatively set for Midway Presbyterian Church, but it is not large enough to accommodate the expected crowd, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift told the Messenger. He said the commission staff is checking with Northside Elementary School to see if the hearing can be held in its gymnasium.

The Planning Commission will recommend to the City Council whether or not to change the zoning. The property is surrounded by the city limits, but the council has passed an ordinance of intent to annex it, in order to control the zoning.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Council OKs events, measures for distillery financing; city getting $490,000 from latest federal relief bill

The Midway City Council approved several event permits Monday evening, as well as measures needed to help finance construction of a tourism-destination distillery at the Interstate 64 interchange.

The council also heard Mayor Grayson Vandegrift announce that the city will get $490,000 from the American Rescue Plan Act, the latest pandemic relief bill. He told the Messenger afterward, "I would prefer to see the lion’s share go towards water and sewer infrastructure, and I’d be interested in setting something up that helps individual households who’ve been affected by Covid." 

The council approved three event permits, for a June 26 medical fund-raiser for Allen Vann in Walter Bradley Park; the Juneteenth celebration, mainly downtown on June 19; and on July 31, the second annual Remembrance Walk from downtown to Second Christian Church.

Juneteenth, which commemorates the Emancipation Proclamation, "will essentially be an all-day event," Vandegrift said. The north side of Main Street will be closed. The event sponsor is Honoring Black Stories in Midway and the main underwriter is Midway Renaissance, Vandegrift said, adding that the city will be the main financial supporter next year. He made June 19 a city holiday last year.

The council adopted five resolutions needed to qualify the city for a $440,000 community development block grant that has been approved by the state as a low-interest loan to Bluegrass Distillers, which has received approvals to build a $3 million distillery on the northwest side of the interchange.

The resolutions adopt policies on drug-free workplaces, fair housing, displacement and relocation, procurement and racial discrimination.

Greyson Evans of the Bluegrass Area Development District said the money, which will be used to buy equipment, comes from a federal program that subsidizes new jobs at a rate of $20,000 per full-time job if at least 51 percent of the employees have household incomes under 80 percent of the local median.

The lien on the property will be held by the Woodford County Economic Development Authority, which will receive the loan repayments for use with "other economic development projects around Midway," Evans said.

Most of the discussion at the meeting dealt with Vandegrift's tentative proposal that the city limit food trucks' use of public property in the city. He said he has had three or four requests in the last year from food trucks, which buy business licenses but don't pay property or occupational taxes and could compete with local restaurants.

"I don’t see any need for them here unless we’re having a big event," he said, adding later, "It’s like the restaurants grew this cherry tree and now everyone wants to come in and pick cherries off of it.  . . . Sometime this year or next we should probably have some kind of ordinance in place." He said he might assign the issue to a committee.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Message from the mayor: Stay engaged, make your voices heard, and respect your fellow human beings

By Grayson Vandegrift
Mayor, City of Midway

Every now and then, an issue arises organically that proves to be a flashpoint for what a community cares for, and for what it doesn’t. Inevitably, these issues seem divisive, but they don’t have to divide us.

That is where we find ourselves with the current proposal by Northside Homes LLC to rezone the land they purchased recently from R-1 to R-3. No matter how you feel about the current proposal, one thing good will clearly come from it: a citizenry that has not historically built many homes will get to learn more about how this process works. It’s important that we understand how our governmental processes work so we make make clear-eyed assessments of whichever situations may arise.

Any landowner may purchase land and file a development plan with Planning & Zoning. They can also request a zoning change, as has happened here. Regardless of the plan and what it looks like, that person is afforded under the law the right to go through the process.

In going through that process, Scott and Mike Bradley are most certainly learning exactly how individual Midway citizens feel about their particular proposal as well as housing in general.

With them officially filing their plans to the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning & Zoning Commission, they now will need to go before the Technical Review Committee. That body, made up of appointees from all three governments, will study the development plan and make suggestions or send back changes to the developers which must be made before they can have their “day in court,” so to speak.

If the Technical Review Committee is satisfied that the plan meets engineering and infrastructure requirements it moves on to a hearing by the Planning Commission, another body made up of appointed officials of all three governments. That, as it turns out, will likely need to be held in a larger facility than the previously mentioned Midway Presbyterian Church’s fellowship hall, due to Covid-19 restrictions and expectations of a large audience. It will be held in Midway, most likely in mid-June.

At this public hearing, the developers will present their plan formally to the planning commission and members of the community will have the chance to tell the commission their thoughts on the proposal. It is unlikely that the commission will make a recommendation that evening, but at some point after they will make an official recommendation to the Midway City Council. An official document will be sent to myself and the six members of the City Council, detailing the vote and whether the commission recommends the zone change or not. The council will then vote to either accept the commission’s recommendation, or to reject it.

We held an informational session on Monday night so folks could see those plans earlier than they normally would. It has set off a lot a community participation on social media, and that’s a good thing. Civic engagement is the bedrock of a strong democracy.

Most of the comments I’ve seen have been valid, well-thought-out concerns. That sounds like Midway. Some however, have been pretty nasty, and that does not sound like Midway.

Because of several comments I’ve read, I want to make sure I say something to any citizen who might have read the same things I read, and might therefore be feeling a little unwelcome today.

If you’re like me and make less then $40,000 a year, I can promise you, you’re welcome here. If you’re a renter, which I was for the first seven years I lived here (renting was the only way I could move to Midway), you’re welcome here. Regardless of the intentions those commenters had, if you perceived them as hurtful, as I know some did, remember that it doesn’t represent Midway. This continues to be a wonderful, welcoming community that takes care of each other, and no matter who you are, you’re welcome here.

In times of passion it’s good we all step back before hitting that “Enter” key and make sure our comments are constructive in nature, that they not unintentionally make someone feel like they’re less than or unwelcome because of their socioeconomic status or some other arbitrary thing that divides us. Make sure that if a young person were to catch wind of your comment that it wouldn’t add to the natural confusion that growing up in this world may bring.

To all Midway citizens: continue to follow the process, stay engaged, make your voices heard, and stay united in respect for your fellow human being.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Developer says homes will fill 'missing middle' housing, won't be 'a negative for the adjacent neighborhoods'

Plan for The Reserve at Midway. Left edge of document provided by developer Mike Bradley was cropped; right and top were cropped by the Messenger to increase legibility. Yellow parking spaces are for residents; orange spaces are for visitors.
By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The high-density housing development proposed between North Winter Street, Northside Drive and Northridge Estates would fill an unmet need for "missing middle" housing for people with income of $40,000 to $50,000 a year, the developer told a Zoom meeting on Facebook Monday evening.

One of Bradley's slides; click on it to enlarge.
In a 15.4-mile radius of Midway, "There's almost no new construction going on that fits into this price range" of $150,000 to $185,000, Mike Bradley said. "Nobody is building in that middle anymore. It’s not cost-effective unless you’re doing something unique like we’re proposing here."

Asked if he had data to show that enough people are willing to buy such homes at such prices, he said “I could have sold them all in the last month; that’s the demand that we’re facing, partly from workers at factories and Lakeshore Learning Materials. “There’s no place for these workers to live.” At another point, he said, “We’re missing the boat in having the money turn over in the town.”

Bradley's plan for his 7.48-acre tract calls for 68 frame-construction, two-bedroom "townhomes," connected mostly in groups of four by breezeways, not common walls, as is typical with brick townhouses. He said some will have a third bedroom instead of a breezeway.

The plan is slightly denser than the originally reported but unofficial plan of 60 townhomes in groups of three. Bradley said Woodford County's comprehensive land-use plan would allow as many as 82 units on the property, and “All the numbers we've run are based on the 68.”

Bradley said he filed his development plan Monday with the countywide Planning Commission, which he is asking to change the property's zoning from R-1 to R-3 to allow the development. The Midway City Council has passed an ordinance of intent to annex the property, which is surrounded by the city limits, so it can have the final say-so on its zoning.

To avoid a possible conflict, the council didn't take part in the meeting, but Mayor Grayson Vandegrift asked questions submitted by citizens. Officially, the meeting was held by the city's Affordable Housing Committee.

Committee member Lori Garkovich, the retired University of Kentucky professor who moderated the meeting and has been active in land-use issues in Woodford County, said “It is very rare, if not never, that a developer is willing to have a conversation or listen to the issues of community members prior to the submission of a final development plan.”

Garkovich said the questions submitted by citizens dealt mainly with “scale and density,” a concern that the development “does not reflect type of neighborhoods in Midway” and environmental concerns such as such as water runoff, “noise and light trespassing,” and traffic.

Bradley showed this example of similar construction
in Jessamine County by another developer.
“It’s dense,” Bradley acknowledged. “Unfortunately, that’s what it takes to make a house affordable these days.”

Asked about the impact on the area, Bradley said “I actually don’t think it’s gonna be a negative for the adjacent neighborhoods.” He noted that it borders a commercial area and “Northridge Drive is typically not heavily traveled.” He said he doesn't “expect a lot of lights” except on back porches.

Bradley said he thinks he can improve drainage on the tract and the adjoining area of Northridge Estates. He said his company also owns the detention-basin area for that subdivision.

Several questions dealt with the possibility that the homes would become rental properties. Bradley said he has never seen that prevented by a deed restriction, but the deeds would create a "pretty strong" homeowners association that would maintain the homes' exteriors and enforce prohibitions against "leaving stuff in the yard and parking in the street."

Bradley's background for the Zoom meeting was a rendering
of the streetscape of the project he calls The Reserve at Midway.
The homes would have very small yards, but the plan has several areas that would be controlled by the homeowners' association and “could be public use,” Bradley said.

Bradley said there had been mistaken talk that the project would be government-subsidized. “This is absolutely not a subsidized project,” he said.

Bradley said the next step in the process will be the commission's Technical Review Committee, which is scheduled to meet Tuesday, May 18. Vandegrift said the commission's public hearing on the rezoning application will be held at the Midway Presbyterian Church on a date to be announced soon.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Developer presents plan for high-density housing development, answers questions in Zoom meeting

Northside Homes developer Mike Bradley presented his plan for 68 townhomes on the large lot on Northside Drive in a Zoom meeting hosted by the City of Midway this evening. Above is an artist's rendering of the proposed streetscape; below is a color-coded version of the development plan filed with the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning Commission today. (It can be downloaded by clicking on it.) Bradley is asking that the property be zoned R-3 rather than R-1 to allow the high-density development, and the city has passed an ordinance of intent to annex the property so it can have the final say on its zoning. A story about the meeting will appear later. A recording of the 70-minute meeting is on the Midway Government Streaming Meetings page on Facebook. 

Left edge of document provided by Bradley was cropped; right and top were cropped by the Messenger to increase legibility. Yellow parking spaces are for residents; orange spaces are for visitors.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Mayor sees some progress on properties facing tax penalty for abandonment, says won't use 'heavy hand'

129 S. Turner St. has a new roof, but more work remains to be done.
By Warren Taylor
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The City of Midway has seen progress on the five local properties that were placed on the Kentucky Abandoned Urban Properties list last year and as a result will not look to use a “heavy hand” in assessing the owners a larger tax bill this fall, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift says.

After years of largely private debate, the City Council passed an updated nuisance ordinance and an ordinance creating a three-member Code Enforcement Board on Jan. 6, 2020.

In December, the board handed down its first recommendations for buildings that needed to be brought up to code after walking the city to find addresses that did not comply with the standards for abandoned property set by a state law passed in 2016.

The council promptly ratified the list: 111 E. Bruen St., 116 W. Bruen, 318 Second St., 129 S. Turner St. and 105 S. Winter St.

The nuisance ordinance gives property owners at least 10 days to correct code violations. If they do not comply then the issue goes before the Code Enforcement Board, and if the property owner does not agree with the board’s decision, they may appeal it to Woodford Circuit Court.

318 Second St. also has missing siding on the side that is not shown.
At least one owner of a property on the list says he didn’t know anything about it.

William Mullins of Versailles said he inherited the Second Street property from his father in 1984, and he and his family lived there until 2006 and that he has been trying to fix it up to sell ever since.

“The idea was to have a place for my son to buy a house, since he has some college debt,” he said.

Mullins said that he stopped work on the property due to his health, the pandemic and losing help he had for the project,.

“I didn’t know that it was on anybody’s list,” he said.

Asked about that, Mayor Grayson Vandergrift said in an email, “We’re still completing title searches on some properties, and didn’t want to reach out until we were 100 percent sure of title ownership … Once we see a clean title we will notify him.”

The Messenger determined ownership by researching property records at the county courthouse.

The records revealed that the Bruen, Turner and Winter street properties are tied to Elizabeth Lehman Feagin, who also owns D. Lehman & Son, an antique and furniture store cattycorner from the house at 105 E. Winter St.

That property and the one on West Bruen are listed as owned by Lehman Properties LLC, a company that Feagin registered with the Kentucky secretary of state in 2002. Feagin is listed as the custodian of the Jeanette Lehman estate, which holds the deed to the Turner Street property, and the W.G. Lehman Estate, which holds the deed to the one on West Bruen.

Feagin could not be reached for comment. A phone call to her store ended with a recorded message stating the number had a voicemail box that had not been set up. When a reporter left a note in the store door, a neighbor said Feagin was out of town.

Feagin and Mullins have until Sept. 1 to make the necessary repairs before being slapped with a higher tax bill, but the pandemic and its recession have caused the city to rethink its approach, Vandegrift said.

“We are trying to solve the issue without being too heavy-handed,” he said. “We are going to work with people, especially coming off of a pandemic/recession.”

He said the city is mainly looking for progress on the properties, such as repair of broken windows or new roof installation, and has seen evidence of progress.

“We have seen improvement on a few of the properties,” he said, citing perhaps the most visible property as an example.

“The one that kind of everyone knows about the most is the property at the corner of Turner and Higgins; it’s a property that has been abandoned for at least 50 years and no one has lived there in that long either. It recently got a new roof and we’ve noticed some activity over there. They’ve got a dumpster out front and it is being filled.”

Vandergrift said that the city “would not be hoodwinked” by mere activity, and if steady progress is not made, property owners could see a tax penalty of up to 70 percent. The actual amount, he said, would be set by the state as part of the compensating rate it assigns to a tax district each year.

Ultimately, he said, the goal is to help the property owners and not to punish them.

“At the end of the day we are trying to help them,” Vandergrift said. “They have a piece of property they can’t make money off of. They can’t rent it out. We’re also trying to help out their neighbors by not bringing down property values or create attractive nuisances.”

Friday, May 7, 2021

Midway University dedicates new baseball stadium

Midway University officials, benefactors and others posed on the field at Thursday's dedication.

Midway University officially dedicated the Tracy Farmer-Don Ball Stadium and Dick Robinson Field, the new home for the Midway Baseball Team, yesterday. Entrepreneur and greater Midway resident Tracy Farmer, along with housing developers Mira and the late Don Ball provided a gift to for the naming rights. Mira Ball is a life trustee of the university and has served on its board for 31 years. Farmer has been a trustee.

In addition to the naming rights, an additional fundraising effort was dedicated for the naming of the field in honor of the late Dick Robinson, who died in 2011. A longtime Georgetown resident and prominent civic and business leader, Robinson helped establish Midway's Sport Management program. He was a fixture in Central Kentucky sports, most notably for creating and managing until his death “The Joe B. and Denny Show” on radio from 2004 to 2014.

“Midway University is pleased to honor all of these community leaders who not only have made significant contributions to our historic university but to Kentucky as a whole,” President John P. Marsden said in a news release. "Their gifts, along with several other generous donors who helped the University build its first-ever baseball park, have positively impacted our institution and helped in various ways over many years.” Baseball became a Midway sport after its admission of men in 2016.

The stadium fundraising was part of the larger Campaign of Opportunities, which was launched in response to the rapid growth the university experienced after going co-ed and expanding athletics. The campaign's main goals were improvements to existing facilities and construction of new facilities. It also funded the construction of the new Hunter Field House and major renovations of Pinkerton Hall and Marrs Hall, as well as updates to Belle Wisdom Hall, all without incurring any new debt.

The Midway baseball team played two games on Robinson Field in spring 2020 before the pandemic ended the season. The team resumed practice this past fall and has hosted several home games, and looks forward to the time when larger home crowds can gather to cheer on the team, the release said.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

City Hall and its restroom reopen; masks still required

Midway City Hall will re-open for public access Monday for the first time since the pandemic forced its closure in April 2020, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift announced today.

"Masks will be required by all who enter, and social distancing protocols will still be in place," he wrote. "Citizens can still use either of the two drop boxes available out front."

City Hall hours are still 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. A public restroom is available.


UK scholar Herman Farrell of Midway finds unknown letter from Tennessee Williams to Eugene O'Neill

Letter found by Herman Farrell of Midway, University of Kentucky theatre professor

By Whitney Hale
, University of Kentucky, and Alexander Petit, The Eugene O'Neill Review

American theatre researchers will benefit from the major discovery of correspondence between two of the nation’s most storied playwrights — Tennessee Williams and Eugene O’Neill. University of Kentucky Professor Herman Daniel Farrell III of Midway, a playwright and noted O’Neill scholar, found the letter while doing research in the archives at Yale University.

The newly discovered letter gives readers an idea of the impact the two celebrated artists had on the other. The correspondence, penned by the critically acclaimed Williams in 1945 — not long after the success of his work “The Glass Menagerie” — speaks to his appreciation of a new work of Nobel Prize laureate O’Neill — “The Iceman Cometh.” Williams’ letter expressed admiration for O’Neill’s play describing it as “an unique dramatic achievement.” O’Neill’s response remains lost.

Farrell found the Williams letter in a collection of newly discovered O’Neill-related materials at the Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Library at Yale University. Farrell’s trip to Yale was made possible with assistance from Farrell’s University Research Professorship, funded through the UK Office of the Vice President for Research, and a UK College of Fine Arts Research Enhancement Grant.

Herman Daniel Farrell III
“I was heeding [Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author] Robert Caro’s advice to researchers to ‘turn every page’ and found this gem tucked away in a folder marked ‘W’ that contained a stack of correspondence that O’Neill received between 1928 and 1948. I immediately recognized that it was a new discovery,” Farrell told The Eugene O’Neill Review.

Grasping the importance of his find, Farrell reached out to Robert M. Dowling, then-president of the Eugene O’Neill Society and author of “Eugene O’Neill: A Life in Four Acts,” to confirm the letter’s significance.

Dowling’s response to the discovery and publication of the letter in the new issue of The Eugene O’Neill Review was understandably enthusiastic. “An impassioned letter from Tennessee Williams to Eugene O’Neill is an astonishing find in the world of American drama studies. Just when it seems that the archival well has been drunk dry for these exhaustively studied artists, something truly wonderful appears and changes things.

“This is one of those times … Herman Farrell III has discovered a deep and refreshing well indeed for O’Neill studies with many other new finds. Let it never run dry.”

Williams’ scholars are also thrilled with Farrell’s find; evidence of the once rumored letters penned by the two renowned playwrights. “Farrell’s discovery of the Williams half of that mythical correspondence among the O’Neill papers at Yale finally confirms what theatre scholars have long surmised, namely that the younger Williams had indeed sent cordial and earnest words of encouragement to the beleaguered master at his creative vision of the play,” said John Bak, author of “Tennessee Williams: A Literary Life” and editor of Williams’ “New Selected Essays.”

Researchers and fans alike worldwide can check out this landmark discovery online for a limited time. Penn State University Press, which publishes The Eugene O’Neill Review, is making Williams’ letter within Farrell’s journal article available for public view via JSTOR through the end of June 2021.

Research like Farrell’s is important to history and scholarship surrounding the field of theatre. To make such work possible, Farrell took advantage of the UK College of Fine Arts Research Enhancement Grant competition and Faculty Scholarship and Travel awards, which allow college faculty to pursue research and creativity through dedicated funds to support endeavors like travel, conferences, materials, recordings and archival research.

Dean Mark Shanda generously put these programs into place shortly after his arrival in order to demonstrate his commitment to our faculty’s research and creative profiles in order to encourage the advancement of faculty careers, to firmly plant the CFA as a robust member of the UK research community, and to highlight the gifts and talents of our faculty,” noted Associate Dean of UK College of Fine Arts Beth Arnold.

“The importance of Professor Herman Farrell's discovery from the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, confirms the positive relationship of these literary giants as contemporaries,” UK Department of Theatre and Dance Chair Tony Hardin added.

At UK, Farrell teaches playwriting, screenwriting, theatre history, seminars on playwrights (O'Neill, August Wilson), as well as staging history, a course that examines historical dramas and involves the devising of a documentary drama over the course of one semester. In 2015, he was one of the first two Travis Bogard artists-in-residence at the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site.

Farrell’s other plays have been developed in workshops and readings at Manhattan Theater Club, Crossroads Theater Company, Primary Stages, The Working Theater, New Dramatists and the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center National Playwrights Conference. His work has been recognized and honored by several national arts institutions: New Dramatists (member playwright 1995-2002, Joe Calloway Award); National Endowment for the Arts grants (“To Mandela” at The Working Theater, 1998; and “There” at Primary Stages, 1996); MacDowell Colony Fellowship, 1996; 1994, 1995 and 1999 National Playwrights Conference (“Bedfellows,” Brodkin Scholarship Award; “There,” first Eric Kocher Playwriting Award; and “Memorial Day”). More recent work includes “Cousins Table,” (National Playwrights Conference Semi-Finalist) a family drama in the Obama era, “Supremacy” set during the Trump years, and a commissioned work for the American Slavery Project called “Assento,” part of the Writing Collaborative of “Unheard Voices,” a theatrical response to the African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan.

Farrell was co-writer of the Peabody Award-winning and critically acclaimed HBO film Boycott about Martin Luther King Jr. His play productions include: “Rome,” 2004 New York International Fringe Festival; “Portrait of a President,” 2002 New York International Fringe Festival (Excellence in Playwriting Award); “Solo Goya,” Lincoln Center’s Director’s Lab at HERE (N.Y. 1998); “Bedfellows,” The Flea Theater (N.Y. 1997) and The Echo Theater Company (Los Angeles 1996, Drama-Logue Award and Critic’s Choice).

A 2018-2019 University Research Professor and professor in the UK Department of Theatre and Dance, Farrell holds a bachelor’s degree in drama from Vassar College, a juris doctor from New York University School of Law, and an MFA in playwriting from Columbia University. He served as the Kentucky regional representative for the Dramatists Guild of America from 2011-2014 and is vice president of the Eugene O'Neill Society.

The Department of Theatre and Dance, part of UK College of Fine Arts, is an accredited institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Theatre. Students in the department get hands-on training and one-on-one mentorship from professional theatre and dance faculty and renowned guest artists in acting, directing, playwriting, theatrical design and technology, and dance. From mainstage productions to student-produced shows, students have plenty of opportunities to participate on stage or backstage. Special programs include a musical theatre certificate, education abroad, as well as a thriving dance program that emphasizes technique, composition, performance and production.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Recreational-vehicle resort gets conditional-use permit

Plan for Kentucky Bluegrass Experience Resort, which will start on the Woodford County side; for a larger version, click on it.
This story has been revised to correct the capacity figure.

Two major projects planned for the old Mitchell farm on the northwest side of the Interstate 64 interchange have received their final green lights in the last week.

Monday night the Woodford County Board of Adjustment approved a conditional-use permit for the Woodford County part of a recreational-vehicle resort to be built along South Elkhorn Creek. Last week, Bluegrass Distillers was approved for state financial aid to build a distillery, warehouses and event venues between the resort property and Leestown Road.

The adjustment board added a key condition that had not been specifically recommended by the county's Agricultural Review Advisory Committee: a limit of six months on stays at the Kentucky Bluegrass Experience Resort, which says it can accommodate up to will have 472 sites. people. The permit allows that many, plus 11 sites for owners and 15 for employees.

The board also required that all sites be connected to city water and sewer. Mayor Grayson Vandegrift told the Messenger that the resort already planned for that, so the city plans to annex the property.

Vandegrift announced at a City Council meeting last Wednesday that the city and Bluegrass Distillers had been approved for a $440,000 community development block grant that will actually be a low-interest loan that will flow from the state through the city to the company.

At Wednesday's Midway Business Association meeting, members said they were looking forward to the developments because they expect both will bring to Midway visitors who will come downtown.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

City accepts street and sidewalk bids, hears mayor report that East Stephens Street trail idea is in trouble

Diagram by David Brown of city consultant HMB Engineers shows paving projects to be done by H.G. Mays Corp.

Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift's dream of a sidewalk or trail along East Stephens Street to the Homeplace at Midway is foundering on engineering challenges and the skepticism of residents.

Vandegrift reported on the issue at Monday evening's City Council meeting, at which the council accepted low bids for street paving and sidewalk repair.

The mayor said it's impractical to put the trail entirely on the Midway University side of the street, because that would require a crossing to The Homeplace, and putting it on the other side would require a retaining wall in residents' yards. He said some residents are opposed to the trail for privacy reasons, even if it were to be built without lights.

He said there is another alternative, a route through or behind the Campus Gate subdivision, but that would require construction on The Homeplace's property, and he didn't know what the facility owner would think about that. The trail would be less for Homeplace residents than for visitors. He said Susan Coates, owner of the farm that borders Campus Gate, is open to the idea but some residents are not.

Council Member Logan Nance asked if the city could extend the sidewalk from Brand Street to Campus Gate, little more than a block but requiring a crossing of Lee Branch. Vandegrift said that would still qualify for the federal grant the city is pursuing, which is for asphalt trails, not concrete sidewalks. The other possible grant source is AARP, which would be available only if the trail served The Homeplace.

Council Member Stacy Thurman said a sidewalk or trail is needed in the area because pedestrian traffic is increasing and "It's getting more and more dangerous." Vandegrift said, "People are not going to stop walking on Stephens." She asked him if residents in Campus Gate and the Mill Creek apartments had been asked their views on the project; he said they had not.

Blue-dot route from Homeplace to City Hall goes through the university campus.
During that discussion, Vandegrift announced that after its spring commencement, Midway University plans to reopen the campus walkway that crosses Lee Branch and ends at Brand and Cross streets. A Google map shows that would reduce the walk between City Hall and The Homeplace by one minute (but provide a safer stream crossing).

Bids: The council accepted a $78,328 bid from H.G. Mays Contracting for street paving, which will be done on West Stephens and Martin streets, the junction aprons of First and Second streets and the driveway to the new pavilion in the Midway Cemetery. Randle-Davies Co. bid $80,317 and Imperial Asphalt bid $85,050. All the bidders are based in Frankfort; Imperial has a lot in Midway Station.

Vandegrift said Mays already has a state contract to resurface North Winter Street and Georgetown Road, and he expects the city's work to start by the end of the month. He said likewise for the sidewalk work, which got only one bid, $13,565 from ADE Contracting of Lawrenceburg. Residents will pay half the cost of the 11 projects, the most expensive of which is 65 feet of walk at 212 S. Gratz St.

The council also declared surplus property a piece of sewer cleaning equipment that Vandegrift said the city no longer needs. He said he thought it could bring bids of $6,000 to $7,000.

Nance asked that anyone who knows of veterans who had Midway connections and should be listed on the veterans monument in the cemetery should bring their names to the city's attention.

Upcoming meetings: The council will hold an informational session via Zoom at 5 p.m. Tuesday to discuss possible use of solar power with Jamie Clark of Synergy Home. No action will be taken, said Nance, who arranged the meeting.

Vandegrift said next Tuesday's meeting with Mike Bradley, who wants to build 60 townhomes on seven acres along Northside Drive, will be held by the council's Affordable Housing Task Force, with the exception of its chair, Thurman. "None of us are going to be part of the meeting," Vandegrift said.

The mayor had previously announced that the city would host the meeting, which is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. via Zoom. The council has passed an ordinance of intent to annex the property, and would have final say on the higher-density zoning that Bradley plans to seek from the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning Commission. The mayor votes in case of a tie.

Vandegrift reminded the audience that next week's meeting is not designed for public comment, which will be invited at a public hearing to be scheduled by the commission in Midway, probably in June.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Volunteers pick up trash around town, especially in park

The Divine family picked up trash along the park boundary behind the Midway library.
Volunteers picked up trash all over Midway this morning, in a cleanup effort organized by Friends of Walter Bradley Park and Midway Renaissance. Gloves, buckets and pick-up sticks were provided. The event was originally scheduled last Saturday morning, but was rescheduled due to rain. Today's weather was ideal.
Volunteers met at the pavilion at the top of the hill in the park to get equipment and assignments.

City to open hydrants to flush sediment from water lines next week; your water may get cloudy but will be safe

The City of Midway will conduct its annual flushing of water lines Monday through Friday, May 3-7, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at fire hydrants around town.

"This is a necessary action to keep water lines free of sediment buildup," Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said. "It is not uncommon to experience cloudy water in the home during this time. The water remains perfectly safe to consume. We recommend folks run their tap for several seconds if they notice this, but it is not necessary. If you have any questions please let me know."

Council puts firefighter raise and housing-needs study into budget draft; proposed distillery gets state loan

Firefighters in their new turnout gear (Click on photo to enlarge it)
Midway's largely volunteer firefighters would get a raise under the latest version of the budget being drafted by the City Council.

Firefighters are paid $35 per run. The council voted during its third budget workshop Wednesday to allocate enough money to make it $50. The estimated extra cost is $8,000. A typical run has four to six firefighters, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said. 

"It would be great for morale," the mayor said of the raise. "It is a constant struggle for Chief [Butch] Armstrong to keep the 15 firefighters we have to have" to keep the city's fire-insurance rating. "They don't do it for money. It sends the message that we value them." Pay was last raised in 2012, from $30.

After considerable discussion, the council added $7,000 for an assessment of housing needs in the city, a topic brought to the forefront by the proposed development of 60 "townhomes" in 20 groups of three in the seven-acre enclave along Northside Drive that the city plans to annex.

Council Member Stacy Thurman, chair of the council's Affordable Housing Task Force, proposed the study and said it would take four to six months, following selection of someone to do the work. The Planning Commission is expected to hold a public hearing on the development in June.

Asked after the meeting if she wished she had proposed the study a year ago, Thurman said she was going to propose that it be added to the current budget, but the pandemic hit and prompted the council to scale back its spending plans. It later restored some spending but didn't discuss a housing assessment.

Vandegrift suggested that the council read the county's comprehensive plan, which guides the commission, and ask, "Do we need a housing study as much as we think we do? The comp plan is highly detailed." He added, "Put the money in there, but don't spend money where you don't need to."

After more discussion, the mayor said the plan discourages sprawl, and said that's good for Midway. "What happens if you allow sprawl? Midway will eventually lose its identity." One alternative to sprawl favored by planners is "infill" development on undeveloped or lightly developed land in an urban area.

Later, he noted that all 10 council candidates last fall said "they would not allow sprawl to happen" by annexing and rezoning agricultural property and expanding the city's urban services area, which the plan defines. He said he has pointed that out to developers "who want to create sprawl."

The council made several other budget adjustments, including approving the Parks Board's requested $14,000 budget. It added $5,000 for a water bottle filling station downtown, at the request of Council Member Logan Nance. Vandegrift said water usage would be minimal.

Council members also added added $17,000 to the storm-drainage budget to cover expected additional work, totaling $200,000, at Vandegrift's suggestion. He said the cost estimate for initial work in the Gayland subdivision has gone down, creating the opportunity for other projects.

The council deferred action on the alternate proposal by Mosquito Mate, the Lexington firm that uses biological controls to reduce populations of the insects. Given the lack of baseline information about the mosquito population, the council may have the firm do only preliminary work this summer.

Other business: Vandegrift started the meeting with a piece of good news, that the city and Bluegrass Distillers had been approved for a $440,000 community development block grant that will actually be a low-interest loan that will flow from the state through the city to the company, which will build a distillery on the northwest quadrant of the Interstate 64 interchange.

The mayor also announced that bids for sidewalk and street work came in lower than expected and would be part of the agenda for the council's regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday. 

The council also approved an encroachment permit for Darlin Jean's Apple Cobbler Cafe to use its basement porch, part of which lies in the 66-foot Dudley Street right of way. Vandegrift said city streets have unusually wide rights of way because the railroad that started the town made them that way.

Ronald E. "REB" Butler, owner of Darlin Jean's, said he would post signs warning customers that they are near an active trafficway. 

Vandegrift said the council would have one more budget workshop. The budget must be adopted and published in The Woodford Sun by July 1, the first day of the fiscal year.