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Tuesday, June 29, 2021

A special 'Thank you' from Milan Bush, coordinator of Midway’s first Juneteenth Celebration

By Milan Bush
Honoring Black Stories

Something is to be said about a community that can rally behind its citizens. Woodford County did just that, making Midway’s first Juneteenth celebration and Versailles’ second Juneteenth celebration such a success. It warmed my heart to see people of all ages, all colors, creeds, dominations, affiliations, associations, and sizes come together and find joy in celebrating what is now a federal holiday, Juneteenth. As I step down as coordinator, I still look forward to what’s in store for the future.

Thank you to my family, thank you for supporting me for the seen and unseen. Thank you Chantel Bingham, Bud Ratliff, John Holloway, John Batts, Greg Bush, Sandra Darneal, Jillian Hall, Mary Kane, Sally Kinnard, Dwayne Depp II, Vincent Bingham. Thank you councilpersons Mike Coleman, Mary Raglin and Stacy Thurman, Chamber of Commerce, Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott, Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift and County Judge-Executive James Kay. Thank you, Gennelle Rice Thomas. Thank you to Midway Fire Department, Woodford County Police and Fire Department. Thank you to Nelson with the City of Midway. Thank you to EMS/EMTS, to first aid tent keepers Claire and Sarah. Thank you, Ness Alamdari. Thank you to community parade participants, Midway Presbyterian Church and Sankofa Drum Corps. Thank you Micah Lynn, Desiree Jackson, William Saunders, Virgil Covington Jr. Thank you DJ Green, DJ ForeRunner, The Ark Band. Thank you Claude Carothers, LaTonsiia Givens, Rev. Stephanie Raglin, St. Paul AME Choir and members, St. Matthew AME of Midway, Simpson Methodist Church of Versailles, Carolyn and the New Gospel Stars of Elizabethtown, Second Christian Church of Midway, First Baptist Women’s Choir of Versailles, Embry Chapel of Elizabethtown, Versailles Baptist Church. Thank you DJ Bruce Granville, Ellis Collins, Bookie Hayes Wilson, Cory Nicholas Cooley, evangelist Gayle Lang, Lorie Love-Dale, photographer Patrick J. Mitchell, Top Notch Rydaz Motorcycle Club of Lexington, Rarebreed Motorcycle Club of Louisville, Barron’s Motorcycle Club of Lexington, Nicole Stromberg, Rev. Floyd Greene. Thank you Huntertown Interpretive Park members, Walter Bradley Park members, Woodford County Health Department. Thank you Woodford Nutrition, Sans Healthy Choices, Graze with AK, Petty By Nature, P3's, Mandapanda Creations, A1, Goodiez and Thangs, Terry’s, Freshwind Creations, Positive Power, 2 Ladies and a Kettle, Versailles Brewing, Nubian Lady, Sprinkle of Sunshine, Next Level Beauty. Thank you, Marcie Christensen. Thank you, Midway’s restaurants and businesses. Thank you, Midway City Council. Thank you Deborah Shockley, Amy Bowman, Cortney Neikirk, Elisha Holt and Christy Reaves. Thank you sponsors Honoring Black Stories and my crew, John Holloway, Mary Raglin, Midway Renaissance and Midway Museum. Thank you, cities of Versailles and Midway, for giving us the opportunity. This couldn’t have been done without you. To all that got to share in this experience: Thank you!

Monday, June 28, 2021

Message from the mayor: Sparks in the Park returns this Saturday, with free barbecue, ice cream and music

Sparks in the Park, 2017 (Midway Messenger file photo by Al Cross)
By Grayson Vandegrift
Mayor, City of Midway

We’re excited to announce that Sparks in the Park is returning this Saturday, July 3, from 6 p.m. to dusk at the pavilion area of Walter Bradley Park.

The City of Midway will provide a free barbecue dinner prepared by Smokin’ Hogg BBQ of Versailles, as well as a bounce house for the kids.

We’re also adding a special treat this year to reward everyone for a hard year: the City of Midway has partnered with Railroad Drug & Old Time Soda Fountain to provide free ice cream!

Andrew Nelle of Midway will provide live music, and the weather looks optimal. So bring your own chair or blanket and prepare to have good family fun!

Midway Business Assn. president, shop owner visit S.C. RV resort, see nothing to keep them from supporting it

Google map, adapted by Midway Messenger, shows location of RV resort visited by Cortney Neikirk and Amy Bowman.

Editor's note: Developers of the proposed recreational-vehicle park on South Elkhorn Creek have asked the Midway Business Association to endorse the project, which needs City Council approval to get sewer service. When MBA President Cortney Neikirk told the Messenger that she and Amy Bowman were going to visit a similar park in South Carolina, I encouraged them to write a report for the community. 
Their conclusion: "We did not see or experience anything at the Carolina Pines R.V. Resort that we felt would stop us from supporting this project as business owners and residents."

They acknowledge that their report does not address concerns specific to the Bluegrass Experience proposal, such as road widening and environmental impact, "but we know there are processes and professionals with the experience and expertise to assess, plan, and execute the necessary steps needed to make this a successful project. We found the atmosphere of the park and the attitude of the guests to be very much in line with the lifestyle and values of ourselves and our Midway friends and neighbors. They were respectful of their surroundings, friendly and welcoming, and there was a community spirit."

In an email issuing the report, Neikirk wrote, "At no time were we asked to make this trip, nor were we paid to do so.  In full disclosure, when Andrew [Hopewell, the developer] found out we were making this trip, he was so thrilled that we were willing to take such a trip, he offered to pay for our cabin.  We allowed him to do so, because if not we would not have been able to afford to stay on the resort."

The full text of the report, edited for our standard style, with selected photographs, appears below. The full report is available on a downloadable PDF, here. A video of a seven-minute driving tour of the resort is on YouTube, here and below. --Al Cross, editor and publisher

By Cortney Neikirk and Amy Bowman

With little to no first-hand knowledge of what an RV park is like or what the culture of an RV park is, we decided to drive to Conway, S.C., to check it out first-hand. Knowing that the Carolina Pines RV Resort is a similar concept to the Kentucky Bluegrass Experience Resort planned for Midway, our goal was to see if we thought an RV park of this size, its guests, and amenities could bring a positive economic impact to Midway while not diminishing quality of life for us residents. This report reflects our personal experiences while visiting the park and information gathered from talking with current staff, guests, and local small businesses. We acknowledge that Carolina Pines is not an exact comparison to the planned Kentucky Bluegrass Experience Resort.

Carolina Pines headquarters (Photos from report)
Carolina Pines is a multi-phase project that is currently operating with 164 cottages and 550 RV sites on approximately 110 developed acres of land 15 miles from Conway, S.C., and 30 miles from Myrtle Beach. They are beginning construction on Phase 3 that will bring their total number of combined RV sites and cottages to about 1,000 once completed. Carolina Pines has been open for just under three years. (Acreage and years of operation were provided by a park staff member; not sure how many additional acres they have to be developed.)

The park entrance is on four-lane SC 90, with a left turn lane available. Directly ahead are four stacking lanes, clearly marked. Just to right is the welcome center. This is all set in about 30 yards from the entrance off the highway. To keep incoming traffic from backing up into the highway during busy weekends they set up temporary check-in stations in the stacking lanes to keep the lines moving. Think Chick-fil-a.

Premium and standard RV sites are available. All sites include hook-ups, picnic table and fire pit. All sites have paved parking to hold an RV and a vehicle off the road. The majority of the RVs we saw were either pulled by a pick-up truck or were towing a vehicle. Most also had golf carts with them. Only electric golf carts are allowed.

Cottages were mostly in one area of the park with a few small clusters in other areas of the property. Most are rental units; a handful are for sale. The cottages available for sale may not be the owner’s primary residence; they may not rent, sublet or AirBnB it; there is no mail delivery, and in addition to the purchase price, the owner pays a monthly $684 HOA fee. They are currently building more due to demand. They find that the residents use them as vacation homes. (Kentucky Bluegrass Experience is not selling cabins; we just wanted to share this information.)

The cottages create a quaint neighborhood atmosphere with lots of kids out playing, adults sitting on porches or walking/exercising and lots of friendly interaction with neighbors.

The lots shown in the photo at right are more dense than what is planned in Midway and the units will look different, we did not find them to feel overcrowded and think the more spacious plan will only add to the unique Bluegrass Experience.

Amenities and local economic impact

What's the big deal about amenities? They help draw the guests to the park and help keep them there and entertained. Amenities influence how often some guests return to the park. They are important because RVing is a lifestyle for many, not just a vacation.  Kids participate in nightly planned activities at Carolina Pines. Both nights there was a huge group of kids playing organized games, like giant soccer in a safe recreational area.

A group of photos from the report shows some of the amenities at Carolina Pines.

Amenities provide activity and distraction for guests allowing them to trickle out to explore Midway rather than overwhelm the community looking for things to do. They won’t need to leave the site for swimming, parks, planned activities, a gym; those types of things are inclusive.

Sure, we want them to eat and shop in Midway! Amenities will encourage them to rely on the RV park for necessary items and services so local communities can be an additional, fun amenity and are not drained of resources. We do not know specifically what amenities are confirmed for the Kentucky Bluegrass Experience and are not implying that any of the amenities at Carolina Pines will be included. Just letting you know what we saw!

Who is utilizing Luxury RV resorts? We saw and spoke with:
• Families with kids who love the safety and all-inclusiveness of the park.
• Retired couples who enjoy seeing the world and taking a bit of home with them.
• Couples with older kids who come back year after year.
• Employees who love working there and living on-site.

Carolina Pines, as a part of their Phase 3, is adding an area specifically for singles and couples without kids that will feature outdoor fireplaces and other amenities due to popular request.

The economic impact on the local shops and restaurants was of huge interest to us. Midway is just about a mile away from the Bluegrass Experience RV park site; Conway, S.C., is about 15 miles away from Carolina Pines. (Editor's note: Conway's population was 17,103 at the 2010 census, and was estimated at 25,956 in 2019. It is the county seat of Horry County, which includes Myrtle Beach.)

We spent an afternoon in downtown Conway visiting the shops and talking with the merchants. They were all well aware of Carolina Pines and had nothing but good things to say. They expressed that they felt a positive economic impact, people from the park often visit the downtown to shop and eat, and they do not drive their RVs to town.

We were unable to determine any specific numbers in terms of the economic impact. We were basically just walking in and starting conversations. It was our conclusion from these conversations that no one was ever overwhelmed by the extra business, just that it was nice and created a noticeable increase in revenue.

Downtown Conway is larger than Midway but there is one block of shops very similar in size and look to our Main Street. We focused on this area, which had a shop similar to Midway Makers Market that features local vendors, a café, a general store, a few clothing boutiques and gift shops, and a few small service providers such as an insurance agent and shoe repair, and a small downtown theatre with an attached costume shop.

Just a few things . . .

Yes, there have been traffic back-ups and issues. This was a problem when the park first opened, but it was resolved by adding additional staff and outdoor check-in stations in the stacking lanes where the guests arrive. They are also able to move the temporary check-in stations further into the park entrance to move more traffic into the staging area, further alleviating the issue.

They had a problem with crime about a year after opening. People were sneaking onto the property and stealing guests' bikes and other items left out at night, as well as stealing from unlocked cars. They added some well-placed surveillance cameras and more night security. The criminals were caught and there have been very few issues since. All staff and guests we spoke with indicated to us they felt very safe in the park.

The staff acknowledged that they were understaffed at this time. The restaurant was noticeably overwhelmed at dinnertime. The staff we spoke with did say it was a great place to work, they really like it but can get overwhelmed at peak times. They are fully staffed at around 300 employees. (We do not know how many of this 300 are seasonal, needed only for peak season.)

The closest gas station to Carolina Pines is about 12 miles away. Because the concern about gas stations was brought up at the Midway community meeting, we asked if it was an issue or concern. It was not. It was noted that most RV drivers tend to prefer the larger, truck-stop-style stations due to the additional maneuvering space they provide, so they typically chart their stops in advance. The reservationist of two years shared that it’s rare they have guests with rented RVs. Almost all own their RV; those that do not tend to use the cabins.

It’s not at all uncommon for RV parks to require that an RV be less than 10 years old. Exceptions are made by having the guest send information and photos of the RV when making the reservation. This rule is not to keep out older, well-cared-for or refurbished RVs, but to avoid a “Cousin Eddie” situation.

Carolina Pines is on approximately 110 acres, while the Kentucky Bluegrass Experience resort would be on 242 acres (including Woodford and Scott Counties), creating a much less dense development.

Carolina Pines draws people traveling to the Myrtle Beach area and includes a shuttle to a private beach area. The colors and design of the cabins are beachy and nautical. Our understanding is the Kentucky Bluegrass Experience cabins, glamping sites, and structures will be designed to fit in with our surroundings here in Kentucky. so the look and feel will be different from what is pictured in this report.

Carolina Pines has a poolside concession stand, walk-up drink and snack window, and a sit-down restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. The restaurant is designed to “grow” when needed; we saw areas that were partitioned off and unused. This was also advertised as an event space. All three of these food options were in the same general area of the park, with most of the amenities. Another option was to order food from the Carolina Pines restaurant using an app for pick up or delivery. Kentucky Bluegrass Experience is planning similar food options within the park. It would be interesting to see if they may want to partner with area restaurants to provide additional food options for delivery.

Carolina Pines has a short entrance area while Kentucky Bluegrass Experience is planning a much longer (1/3 mile) entrance to allow for an overflow of vehicles to wait during a busy check-in day. This additional parking and check-in space should alleviate any concern about vehicles backing up to the road and creating a traffic hazard. Should they find they exceed this space they could implement a fast track check-in, similar to that done at Carolina Pines.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we did not see or experience anything at the Carolina Pines RV Resort that we felt would stop us from supporting this project as business owners and residents. Yes, we are aware that we are not addressing every concern such as road widening, environmental concerns for a project this size, but we know there are processes and professionals with the experience and expertise to assess, plan, and execute the necessary steps needed to make this a successful project.

We found the atmosphere of the park and the attitude of the guests to be very much in line with the lifestyle and values of ourselves and our Midway friends and neighbors. They were respectful of their surroundings, friendly and welcoming, and there was a community spirit.

Why listen to us? You don’t have to. We found ourselves in a difficult position wearing multiple hats as business owners, leaders of the Midway Business Association, and members of the community. We thought it would be a good idea to check out a park with a similar footprint before forming an opinion, so we did.

We were asked by many people to share our findings and opinions, so we are. If you disagree or think our experience is irrelevant, that’s your opinion, and we respect it. Like most of this community, we have no experience in the infrastructure planning or operations management of a luxury RV park and are not implying that we do.

Cortney Neikirk is a 15-year Midway resident and small business owner. In addition to her current business, she has previously owned a Main Street business, and currently does contract work for multiple Midway business owners. Cortney is serving her third year as president of the Midway Business Association and lives on West Main Street. Amy Bowman is a six-year Midway (Scott County) resident and co-owner of Midway Makers Market at 134 E. Main St. She lives not far off of South Elkhorn Creek and is vice president of the Midway Business Association. Amy works full time as a project coordinator for the state.

Here is a video of Neikirk and Bowman's driving tour of the Carolina Pines RV Resort:


Community dinner at Midway Christian Church tonight will be the first one held in person in 16 months

This was the last in-person dinner, in February 2020. (Messenger photo by Hayley Burris)

Perhaps the clearest sign that the pandemic crisis has passed is that the Midway Christian Church will resume its free monthly dinner for the community this evening at 6:30.

The church and volunteers have been delivering meals on the last Friday of each month for more than a year, but this evening the community will have the opportunity to gather again at what has become a signature event for Midway.

"Since August 2011, the church has served a free meal the last Monday of each month for anyone in the community who wants to attend," Justin Wright reported for the Messenger in March 2012. Pastor Heather McColl told him that the dinner is a good chance for people to meet people in the community who are new to them.

This evening's menu barbecue, summer vegetables and dessert. Delivery and carry-out are available by calling 846-4102 by 12:30 p.m.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

State plans to take over road to Ironworks Pike, widen to county line; mayor says RV resort should redraw plan

The Midway City Council wraps up its meeting Monday evening. Council Member Kaye Nita Gallagher was absent.
Google map shows KY 341 label on Midway Road in Scott County, but
that's not actually happened yet. For a larger, clearer image, click on it.
By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Prospects of widening Georgetown Road by the Midway Station industrial park have improved because the road is about to become a state highway all the way to Ironworks Pike, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift opined at Monday's Midway City Council meeting.

The council heard from citizens concerned about traffic and development along the road, including former mayor Becky Moore, and approved the city's budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Vandegrift said he has asked the resort's developers to "go back to the drawing board," to no avail so far.

The first speaker at the meeting was Riley Sumner of Ironworks Estates in Scott County, who wanted to know what the council had done to get the state to widen the road, which is a state highway (KY 341) in Woodford County, where it serves mainly industry, but not in Scott County, where it serves homes and farms.

"Two weeks ago I dodged a bullet," Sumner said, explaining later that he nearly had a collision with a tractor-trailer in his lane on the road. "Somebody else is not going to be as fortunate." He said the road should have been widened when Midway Station was developed.

"It's one of the biggest needs we have in this community," Council Member Logan Nance said. "What that means is the politicians divvying out the money, they don't care."

Vandegrift said the state plans to widen Georgetown Road. He said the project will be made likelier because the state will take over the Scott County portion of the road as part of a road-swapping deal with the state. After the meeting, he relayed a message from Scott County Magistrate Chad Wallace, saying the swap would become final when the state finishes paving some roads in Scott.

The project in the state's planning process calls for widening the road from Interstate 64 to the county line. Natasha Lacy, regional spokeswoman for the Transportation Cabinet, said in an email Tuesday that the state's takeover of the Scott County portion does not make the project more likely. Vandegrift said the state plans to do a traffic study in the area, but Lacy said it has no such study planned, and Vandegrift "could have been referring to studies that were required of developers along KY 341."

A study is being done by developers of the proposed recreational-vehicle resort, the entrance to which would be across from McKinney Avenue, the busiest street in Midway Station. Vandegrift has said that the road should be widened before opening of the resort, which is seeking city water and sewer service through annexation. He has said no action will be taken on that request until the traffic study is done.

Former mayor Becky Moore addressed the City Council.
Moore, who was mayor from 1999 through 2006, said resort developer, Andrew Hopewell, "should go back to the drawing board" and apply for a zone change instead of trying to operate a "housing" facility, a large restaurant and other commercial enterprises in an agricultural zone under a conditional-use permit, which he has received from the county Board of Adjustment.

If the resort is built, Moore said, "That land use is permanent. It's no longer conditional use on agricultural land." Advocates of the resort have said putting it under conditional use allows the county to enforce the 16 restrictions placed on the permit and even add to them.

Moore commended the council and Vandegrift for not advancing the annexation request while the community has its say on the proposal, but she said the city, the county and Versailles should consider changing the zoning ordinance that allows such tourist destinations on farmland.

Vandegrift said he has urged the developers to "go back to the drawing board. Whether they're willing to listen to that, I don't know, but I hope that this process becomes a lesson to all developers looking to develop in Midway, whether it be residential, industrial, agricultural, commercial, that -- how do I say this? -- that they need to understand our community fully before they draw up their plans."

He added, "They need to stop squeezing every nickel out of everything, because that is not going to fly in Midway, It never has, and it never will."

Budget approved: The council adopted the 2021-22 budget without discussion, other than the mayor's listing of major spending items, including:
  • Raising volunteer firefighters' run pay to $50 from $35 and giving city employees 3 percent raises, with the potential for performance bonuses.
  • $200,000 for storm-sewer repairs, including $150,000 in the Gayland subdivision, which will also use a $200,000 low-interest loan from the state.
  • $139,000 for the final payment on the natural-gas line serving Midway Station, which Vandegrift said was key to the city's turnaround. He said he was told in "my first week on the job" that the city was risking insolvency unless it could rid itself of the debt for developing Midway Station.
  • $75,000 each for paving of streets and replacement of water lines.
  • $50,000 as an initial appropriation for rehabilitation of the water tower in Midway Station.
  • $30,000 for playground equipment at the small part at the south end of Gratz Street.
  • $22,500 for gates to connect the Midway and St. Rose Tabernacle cemeteries.
  • $20,000 for a sign at the KY 341 and Leestown Road intersection to bring visitors downtown.
  •  $7,000 for a housing needs assessment.
  •  $5,000 for a water bottle filling station on East Main Street. 
Other business: City Clerk Cindy Foster has proposed that the city have the Woodford County sheriff's office include the city's property-tax bills on the bills it sends to taxpayers each fall. The sheriff charges a 4.25 percent commission, but "I think we can save money in the long run," she told the council.

Council Member Sara Hicks was skeptical, suggesting that it would be a step toward merging Midway's government with the county's, but Vandegrift said, "I think merging services could be a smart thing." He said he would compare costs and report back at the next meeting, which will be July 6 because July 4 falls on a Sunday and the holiday will be observed on Monday, July 5.

The council approved an encroachment permit for RD Holdings, which is building a facility in Midway Station for storing and servicing golf carts, and three event permits:
  • Race to Rise, on Labor Day, to support the community meals served by Midway Christian Church. The parking lot on Higgins Street will be used for pre- and post-race activities, which council members said should reduce complaints about loud music. The four-mile race will start at 7:30 a.m. and go out Spring Station Road and back.
  • Bourbon Burn, on Sept. 25, held by Bluegrass Bicycle Tours, with a rest stop in Midway, either at Walter Bradley Park or Midway University. The three-day event will take about 1,500 bicyclists to distilleries via varying routes, with entertainment and tastings provided by distilleries in the evenings.
  • Bourbon Chase, on Oct. 16, a 200-mile relay with about 400 teams running from Clermont in Bullitt County to Lexington. They will enter Midway on West Stephens Street, go north on Turner, then east on Main and Dudley streets to the park. The next phase of the relay will run from the park, south on Brand Street and east on Stephens Street to exit town. Runners will start entering town around 7:45 a.m. and finish around 6:30 p.m.
In the roundtable that ends each council meeting, Council Member Mary Raglin said "I'm still basking over our Juneteenth celebration that was a big success" on Saturday.

When Council Member Steve Simoff said Mike Freeney had failed to deliver on his promise to give the city property on South Elkhorn Creek for public access, Vandegrift said he had reached out to Freeny on Friday and was told that his tax accountants had finally given him the green light. The mayor said he expects a ceremony to mark transfer of the property within a month.

Vandegrift noted that the city's annual Sparks in the Park event will be held July 3 in Walter Bradley Park, with free barbecue and some small vendors.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Midway University says it will add sprint football, for players of no more than 178 pounds, next year

Photo from Midway University
Football is coming to Midway University next year, in a smaller than usual way.

The school is one of six private colleges and universities in Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri that are charter members of a new athletic conference, the Midwest Sprint Football League.

Sprint football, in which each football player can weigh no more than 178 pounds, "has been played for nearly a century at universities on the East Coast," the university said in a news release. "Beginning in 2022, sprint football will come to Middle America for the first time."

The other schools in the MSFL are all Roman Catholic: Bellarmine University in Louisville; Calumet College of St. Joseph in Whiting, Ind., near Chicago; Fontbonne University in Clayton, Mo., a close-in suburb of St. Louis; Quincy University, on the Mississippi River in western Illinois; and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, near Terre Haute, Ind.

“We are excited to add this dynamic opportunity to our sports offerings,” Rusty Kennedy, Midway's vice president for admissions and student affairs, said in a news release. “Sprint football will only add additional vibrancy and excitement to campus life each fall.”

Kennedy said Midway will soon begin hiring a head coach and securing field for their home games, which will not be on campus.

President John Marsden said, “Midway University is continuously looking for opportunities that fit with student interest and the development of each student. We are excited about the opportunity to be a charter member of the Midwest Sprint Football League and to bring a new sport to this part of the country. Since Midway does not sponsor varsity football, sprint football will fit nicely with our other 27 athletic offerings.”

Marsden added, “We know athletics can be a means for many students to enter college and earn their degree while continuing to play a sport they love. Sprint football allows us another means to meet student demand while enhancing the campus atmosphere at the same time.”

Midway University is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics but its sprint football affiliation will be separate from the NAIA. "While NCAA and NAIA football emphasize strength and body weight, sprint football emphasizes speed and agility," the release said.

The MSFL will be independent of the Collegiate Sprint Football League, which has nine teams in the northeast, including the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy. Jimmy Carter, president from 1977 to 1981, played the sport at Navy. Beau Biden, the late son of President Joe Biden, played it at the University of Pennsylvania.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Juneteenth celebration draws diverse crowd downtown

Woodford County Judge-Executive James Kay spoke about the meaning of Juneteenth in the day's opening ceremony on East Main Street as Chantel Bingham, left, and Mayor Grayson Vandegrift listened. (Midway Messenger photos by Al Cross)

Milan Bush, coordinator of the celebration, began the ceremony. At right, City
Council Member Mary Raglin talked with Bud Ratliff, who handled the sound.
By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Midway's Junteeenth celebration got under way today with a parade from the ballpark to downtown, followed by speeches from local officials and a reading of the new official holiday's history.

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift and Woodford County Judge-Executive declared Juneteenth National Freedom Day, and Chantel Bingham read its historical background: the announcement on June 19, 1865, to slaves in Galveston, Tex., that they were free as a result of the Civil War. Slavery did not officially end in Kentucky and Delaware until Dec. 6, 1865, with ratification of the 13th Amendment.

Chantel Bingham told the history of Juneteenth.
Bingham concluded, "We want everybody to take away, freedom means freedom of speech. Free your mind from all those things you were taught when you were younger that now don't make sense. Break the chain of the generational curses and let's all come together, work together as one community., one nation, one world, to free ourselves. All right?"

Vandegrift said it was one of his great honors and pleasures to make Juneteenth a city holiday last year and, with the end of the pandemic, celebrate it. "This has been a true coming-together, Black and white and brown, here all across Woodford County; we're really proud to kick it off today in Midway." 

Kay gave the major address, saying the holiday is held "to celebrate America's real values, the values of freedom and liberty, and equality and justice for all, for every single American citizen."

He continued, "Today we're setting in motion a series of events where . . . the youth here today can understand that freedom means more than what it did when our Constitution was derived. Freedom means freedom for all, and when the Constitution was written, all were not free.

Kay said the county is "working on a community" that can be safe for all, and reeled off a series of recent incidents in which African Americans died unjustly: "We are building a community where you can sleep in your bed and own a weapon and not get killed in your apartment, like Breonna Taylor."

Kay, a Democrat, then touched on the major national issue of the day: "We must make sure to ensure the vote for all, that our democracy and voting is a right, that every American . . . every Kentuckian and Woodford Countian shall have easy access to, easy access to the ballot box."

He concluded, "We know the struggle continues, and our fight is at the ballot box. That's where we win progress. That's where our unity shows itself in this great nation that can always be greater."

ZaMerion Young, left, and Nehemiah Bush led the parade
from the ballpark to downtown. (Photo by Milan Bush)
Kay acknowledged Larry Blackford, the county's first Black magistrate, and Mary Raglin, the first Black woman on the Midway City Council.

After the event, Raglin noted the good turnout from both African American and white residents. "This is meaningful, right here, to have everybody together, very meaningful. And it's only gonna get bigger. I can just see it getting bigger and better. . . . I'm loving this."

Rain threatened the parade, but dissipated before arriving. Midway writer Bob Rouse, who is white, said the ballpark, at the south end of Gratz Street, was a fitting place to begin the parade, because that is where Black and white children mixed most when they were young.

The event continues this afternoon and evening with gospel singing, a chautauqua and music.

Vendors set up in front of the historic Odd Fellows Lodge, built by African Americans at a time when "Jim Crow" segregation practices were beginning to make a mockery of emancipation. The building is under renovation by owner Ness Alamdari.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

City's public forum on proposed RV resort will come after developers' traffic study is completed, mayor says

The City of Midway will hold a public forum on the Bluegrass Experience RV Resort "at some point in the near future . . . but that should not occur before July 8, the original end date to the comment period" of 30 days, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said in an email today. "We will keep the public comment period open indefinitely during this time."

Asked why he made the announcement, Vandegrift said the developers' traffic study won't be completed before July 8, and "After discussing where we are with both sides, it became evident that this is the most appropriate step. . . . I figure more time for input can’t hurt anything." Much of the opposition to the resort is based on the traffic it would generate.

In his initial email, Vandegrift said, "I think we can all agree it’s more appropriate to allow additional time for more questions to be answered. This includes the developers taking time to meet with individuals and smaller groups, and time for the traffic study to be completed. Any mediation that occurs in this time would be welcome news as well. Once the traffic study is complete, we will reevaluate the situation on the ground and plan to schedule a public forum at that time."

The city plays a key role because the resort needs its water and sewer services, and city policy is that a property must be in the city to receive those services. Annexation is up to the City Council.

The resort has received a conditional-use permit to operate a tourist destination in an agricultural zone. It would be one of the 10 largest RV parks in the United States, with more than 1,000 sites, most of them across South Elkhorn Creek in Scott County.

More than 100 people attended a public meeting the developers held Monday. Linda Blackford of the Lexington Herald-Leader noted that story today about the proposal, headlined, "Would an enormous RV park outside Midway help Woodford County’s tiny town or ruin it?"
Read more here: https:/

County Planning Commission scratches hearing on Northside Drive rezoning; will be rescheduled later

The Planning Commission met via Zoom, with an audience that included several Midway residents.

The Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning Commission voted without opposition this morning to postpone the hearing set for 6:30 p.m. today at Northside Elementary School on the request to rezone property on Northside Drive for a high-density housing development. A new date will be set later.

In an emergency meeting, the commission acted on the request of developer Mike Bradley of Northside Homes LLC, after being told by the attorney for the Northridge Estates Homeowners Association that letters giving formal notice of the hearing were not sent out 14 days in advance, as required by law.

The letter was dated June 4. Robert Stilz, attorney for Northside Homes, said counting that day would make 14 days, but he could not "immediately find case law that said we were in compliance," so they asked for a postponement. Bradley told the Messenger on Wednesday that he sought the delay to head off a possible legal challenge.

Preston Worley, attorney for the commission, said arguments could be made both ways, and "If this is in fact a procedural default here, then it makes having the public hearing and the proceedings not worth the effort, knowing that they could be appealed for such a technical violation."

Rich Schein, Midway's member on the commission, supported a delay. "We know, time after time, that we get frustrated as a planning commission because the general public doesn't understand the exact details of the sometimes arcane rules of the Planning Commission, and it seems to me that a little bit of public relations goes a long way," he said. "If there's any doubt whatsoever, I would not want to sit at our desk in terms of trying to rush into something. It's no skin off our nose, really, other than to reschedule a meeting," which will be done by the commission staff.

Commissioner Barry Drury said postponing a hearing less than 12 hours before it was to be held "seems like an inconvenience to everybody involved." Earlier, Worley said the commission could convene and quickly adjourn the hearing, but that "would have caused great inconvenience" for the public, the applicant and the commission.

Worley said as the 13-minute Zoom meeting ended, "Once the applicant and the commission staff and everybody are able to get a date and talk with the attorneys that are going to be representing objectors, we'll come up with a date that works best and there will be a new notice sent out for that."

Bradley wants to build 68 "town homes," mainly in groups of four connected by breezeways, on eight acres. That would require rezoning from R-1 residential to R-3 residential. The proposal has drawn much opposition. The planning commission will only recommend whether or not to rezone the property; the Midway City Council will make the decision.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Planning Commission to consider request at 8:30 a.m. to postpone public hearing on Northside rezoning

This story has been updated more than once.

The Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning Commission may postpone tomorrow evening's public hearing on the application of Northside Homes LLC for high-density R-3 zoning of eight acres on Northside Drive that are now zoned R-1.

The commission has called an emergency meeting for 8:30 a.m., via Zoom, to address a request that the hearing be postponed. The meeting notice didn't say who made the request, but it came from Mike Bradley of Northside Homes after the attorney for the Northridge Estates Homeowners Association told the commission that it had fallen short of the required public notice of the hearing.

Zoom image: The Reserve at Midway concept and developer.
Bradley said in an interview that he asked the commission to postpone the hearing to head off any possible legal challenge.

State law requires 14 days notice to interested parties. The letter from attorney Zachary Cato said the notice was dated June 4, 13 days before the hearing date.

"That does not even account for the time of mailing, which is a minimum is 24 hours," Cato wrote. "Clearly the notice was not timely as a matter of law and the hearing must be postponed to satisfy the statutory jurisdictional prerequisites."

Bradley wants to build 68 "town homes" in what he calls The Reserve at Midway, mainly in groups of four connected by breezeways. Homeowners association President John C'deBaca said the letter raised several objections to the application, including, drainage, traffic and questions about buffering between the proposed development and other neighborhoods. Read the letter here.

The letter argues that the project violates the policy in the county's 2018 comprehensive plan that says development should "reflect and be complimentary to the character and style of surrounding developed areas" because it would be much different from Northridge Estates.

There would be no direct road connection between the two subdivisions, but another policy in the plan says "Infill development should be encouraged that preserves the character of the surrounding neighborhood." The letter says the plan "makes no attempt to preserve the character of the surrounding neighborhood in terms of aesthetics, design, density or intensity."

The letter includes several exhibits, including photos of recent flooding and a satellite photo of the area with the development plan superimposed on it (click on the image for a larger version):
Bradley said his drainage plan for the property, which includes a retention basin, would not increase the flow of water from the site. However, he said he is still trying to deal with drainage issues on city-owned property along North Winter Street near its intersection with Northside Drive. He said those issues will be resolved by the date of the commission's next regular meeting, which is July 8. 

The commission normally meets at the courthouse in Versailles, but the hearing on the Northside application has been scheduled for 6:30 p.m. tomorrow at Northside Elementary School for the convenience of Midway residents. It is the only item on the agenda for the meeting.

Special meetings normally require 24 hours' notice, but a provision in the state Open Meetings Act allows shorter notice in case of an emergency, which it does not define. It says, "The public agency shall make a reasonable effort, under emergency circumstances, to notify the members of the agency, media organizations which have filed a written request [for meeting notices] and the public of the emergency meeting. At the beginning of the emergency meeting, the person chairing the meeting shall briefly describe for the record the emergency circumstances preventing compliance with [the 24-hour notice rule]. These comments shall appear in the minutes. Discussions and action at the emergency meeting shall be limited to the emergency for which the meeting is called."

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Juneteenth Festival Committee invites all to participate

For a larger version of the poster, click on it.
"The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer."
– Gen. Gordon Granger, U.S.A., June 19, 1865

The Midway Juneteenth Festival Committee invites you to our first inaugural Midway Juneteenth Festival Saturday, June 19, from 11 a. m. to 9 p.m. Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is an important part of American history, since it commemorates the official end of slavery in the rebel states. (It officially ended in Kentucky on Dec. 6, 1865, when three-fourths of the states had ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which Kentucky didn't ratify until 1976. -Editor)

The Midway Juneteenth Festival will begin at 11 a.m. with a parade from the Midway ballpark to downtown. The day will feature food, presentations, and music by DJ Green and the Ark Band. The festival provides an opportunity to learn about and commemorate African American freedom, heritage and culture, particularly here in Woodford County. By honoring the countless contributions made by Black Midway residents over the past 200 years, the community as a whole can work together to improve inclusivity as well as celebrate our differences.

"Juneteenth is a day of rejoicing. It is a day of recognition," said Milan Bush, president of the Juneteenth Festival Committee and Midway Honoring Black Voices. " A day of reconciling our United States history by starting here in Midway in 2021 and continuing forever."

Midway Juneteenth Festival Committee members will be present throughout the day to share information and answer questions. For additional information, email Milan.Bush@live.com.

UPDATES: The U.S. Senate passed a bill Tuesday to make June 19 a federal holiday; the House passed it Wednesday and President Biden signed it Thursday. Juneteenth is a city holiday in Midway, which city employees will observe this Friday.

Size and traffic are the main objections as advocates of RV resort hold a meeting that attracts more than 100

The church ran out of seats, so it was standing room only. (Photos by Bill Penn)

Lawyer Hank Graddy and Ouita Michel (back to
camera)
listen as co-developer Joey Svec speaks.
By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

Developers of the luxury recreational-vehicle resort proposed for Midway drew more than 100 people to their question-and-answer session at Midway Presbyterian Church Monday night.

For more than two hours, co-developer Joey Svec and attorney Hank Graddy fielded questions from the occasionally contentious but well-behaved crowd, and drew some open-minded questions and supportive comments. But the prevailing expression was that the proposed resort is too big for such a small town, especially with possible traffic problems that have no clear resolution.

Helen Rentch, one of the last to speak, summed up a lot. Rentch said she likes a lot about the proposal, such as its recreational areas, but "It's the massive intensity of the numbers that are very concerning."

Kentucky Bluegrass Experience Resort got a conditional-use permit May 3 from the Woodford County Board of Adjustment for a facility with 472 overnight accommodations, a restaurant with 265 seats, a self-serve restaurant that can hold 135 people, a 400-seat amphitheater and several other amenities, including pools and other  recreational areas to which locals could buy day passes.

Most of the resort,would be across South Elkhorn Creek in Scott County, with over 500 sites there. Graddy said developers applied June 9 for a conditional-use permit from Scott County, which set a hearing on the proposal for July 1. But Scott County Magistrate Chad Wallace told the crowd that his county's planning officials told him that the hearing would not be held until the City of Midway acts on the resort's request for annexation.

Before the permit was issued, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said the city would follow his policy and not provide utility service to the resort unless it agreed to be annexed. Annexation is up to the City Council.

Svec asserted Monday night that the resort could get the city's water and sewer service without being annexed, but is seeking annexation "so you all can have all the economic benefits that come along with it," including a bed tax (which goes to the county Tourism Commission, not the city), and the city occupational tax. He said the resort would have at least 20 employees and up to 100 in the summer.

Some new information

For the first time, Svec gave the resort's detailed occupancy expectations: 75 percent in summer, 62 percent in spring and fall and 40 percent in winter. And he said it would not have a monthly rental rate. But despite repeated questions, he said he did not know how many guests to expect per site -- in other words, just how many visitors are likely at a time.

A survey for the 2019 Trends Report of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds found that for most of them, their most typical guests are over 55, followed by Generation X (ages 39-54) and families with children. Then come Millennials (23-38), "families without children" and single people. Here's a chart from the report:


Svec also had no new information about traffic. He said the developers have hired a traffic engineer. Graddy said the engineer would survey traffic and identify problems and solutions, and discuss road improvements with state officials. Vandegrift has said the resort should not be built until Georgetown Road (KY 341) is widened.

Dale Benson, a former City Council member, was among those not convinced. "Everything seems to be on the come," he said, adding that he didn't see how the road could be widened easily, and "I just can't imagine that this is what Midway wants, and that's why so many people are here."

The resort says it will direct people who make reservations away from US 62 (Winter Street/Midway Road) and has offered to shuttle guests to East Main Street, but Hank Pinkerton of Midway said "Google will take people from Versailles up Midway Road" and there will be back-and-forth traffic between the resort and downtown.

Benson and others said they fear what resort visitors might do to the creek. "It is gorgeous, it is a treasure," said David Gregory of Muir Lane in Scott County. "You're dumping a town twice the size of Midway in one of the prettiest spots of that seven-mile stretch. . . . Why do we always have to lose these special spots so somebody can make a bunch of money?"

Flora Riddle of Fishers Mill Road said the creek is starting to improve after suffering 30 years of sewage and other pollution from Lexington. "We're just now getting the crawdads," she said. "we still don't have a bullfrog. That's how tenuous this waterway is."

Twice, Graddy said that if the resort did not meet the adjustment board's 16 permit conditions, the board could impose more conditions, such as keeping the creek clean, or even revoking the permit. He said the board did that to a wedding barn that violated conditions, and such permits are subject to annual review.

Some said more police would be needed, but Ray Blease of Midway, an RVer, said RV parks are "probably one of the safest places on the face of the earth." He said RVers respect others' rights and surroundings, and in 10 years of RV travel, he had never seen a police office and "never needed one."

Fundamental questions and concerns

Lori Meadows asked perhaps the most fundamental question: "What does this do for Midway?"

Svec replied, "It brings great tourism . . . that's pretty well controlled," with day passes for local residents. (Some suggested that the tentative cost of those passes, $10 to $20, was too high.) Also, Svec said, "It brings a lot of economic impact."

Graddy and Sam Rock, co-owner of Bluegrass Distillers, which is developing a distillery between the resort property and the interstate, warned that if the resort was not allowed to operate, the property would be sold and rezoned for industry, since Midway Station is across KY 341 from its entrance.

"That is the real threat to this community," Rock said. Pointing to the support of Graddy, who has made a career out of representing environmentally oriented opponents of development, Rock said, "I've known his heart for 30 years."

Earlier, Graddy said, "I think this is the best possible land use for this site," and said he represented the sellers, the Mitchell family, for two decades.

Margie Atwood, a family member, told the crowd that they looked for the right buyer for 17 years, and "This was the best we could come up with. We can't understand why you all are so upset."

The resort has emphasized that it would have a low density of 4.8 sites per acre, which it says is less than half the national average, which will allow it to retain the rolling landscape. Svec said more than half of it would be greenspace, and after he compared it to other large RV parks, Graddy said, "We've given you something with a density that's lower than anything similar."
 
Some questioned the ability of Svec and property owner Andrew Hopewell to manage such a large project, especially because they have never developed an RV park. Svec said Hopewell has been an RV enthusiast all his life and they will hire a consulting firm that is internationally known for resorts an landscape design; he said he worked with the firm in environmentally sensitive areas in the Caribbean.

Beyond the specific concerns, some speakers among the standing-room-only crowd reflected a view that the project just doesn't fit the town.

"Once something like this goes in, you can't go back," warned Riley Sumner, who sat up front and said he recently moved to Midway. "What we know as a special place is going to be forever gone."

Monday, June 14, 2021

Chamber sponsoring town hall about Juneteenth celebrations with Black leaders in Woodford County

Mary Raglin is a Midway City Council member. Larry Blackford is a Woodford County magistrate. Milan Bush operates Honoring Black Stories in Midway and is organizing the Juneteenth celebration in Midway on Saturday, June 19. Friday, June 18, will be a city holiday.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Flooding blocks Dudley; video shows water on N. Winter

Photo by Midway resident Hallie Allison shows flooding on Dudley Street at the Walter Bradley Park entrance. 

Heavy rains in the area, coming after several days with rain, have caused flooding along Lee Branch.

"Dudley Street is impassable where it turns into Newton," Mayor Grayson Vandegrift reports in an email. "Newton residents who need to leave their homes can do so through the university. The dog park should also be avoided until the waters subside."

UPDATE, June 14: Joe Haydon sent the Messenger this video of flooding Sunday afternoon along North Winter Street, driven partly by an overflow of the Northridge Estates retention basin. In the background is Midway Grocery; beyond the fence is property proposed for a housing development.


Thursday, June 10, 2021

Francisco's Farm returning after a pandemic year off; will be downtown, with East Main closing at noon Friday

East Main Street in Midway will be occupied from Friday afternoon to 5 p.m. Sunday by 50 or so artists and craftspeople from several states in the 17th annual Francisco's Farm Art Fair.

The free event is expected to be the first to draw a large crowd here in almost a year and a half, due to the pandemic, which forced its cancellation last year. It is being moved temporarily from its location at Midway University due to pandemic concerns voiced last winter by volunteers who normally shuttle patrons from parking.

Paid parking is planned for Cypress Creek Farm (formerly Southern Equine Farm) but that will depend on how wet the rain leaves its fields, Midway Business Association President Cortney Neikirk said at Wednesday's MBA meeting. Free alternatives include church parking lots and a lot on North Gratz Street. Donation parking will be at Midway Methodist Church, with proceeds going to St. Matthew AME Church. 

East Main Street will be closed at noon Friday; artists will check in from 1 to 6 p.m. The fair will open at 10 a.m. Saturday and run to 6 p.m. On Sunday it will run from 10 to 5.

Music will begin at 10:30 a.m. with Blakey Burger & Friends doing Appalachian roots music until noon. The Mojo Tones will do blues and rock from 1 to 3, and the Robert Frahm Band will do retro rock and rhythm and blues from 4 to 6. Sunday's lineup is singer Maggie Lander, guitarist David "Chill" Napier, and guitarist and vocalist Ben Lacy and Corey Cross. WUKY is sponsoring the stage.

The art fair is a juried show, meaning a panel must approve of an artist’s work before it can be exhibited and sold. It is presented by Midway Renaissance and sponsored and hosted by the City of Midway and the MBA, with support from other sponsors. It is named for John Francisco, who sold his farm to Kentucky's first railroad, which established Midway.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Midway Business Association votes to oppose plan for high-density housing on Northside; letter to be circulated

Rendering for Northside Homes LLC shows a proposed streetscape.
The Midway Business Association voted this morning to send the county planning commission a letter opposing the plan for a high-density housing development on Northside Drive.

The letter will be circulated to MBA members for possible revisions before being sent. There was no opposition to the motion to send the letter, but there were several questions and some abstentions by members on the vote to approve it.

Leslie Penn, who made the motion, was asked if it was intended to oppose all high-density housing on the eight-acre tract, or just the 68 "town homes" currently proposed. She said her intent was to oppose the plan "as proposed."

The property is zoned R-1 residential, like the adjoining residential property. Northside Homes LLC has applied for R-3 zoning, and the Woodford County Planning Commission has scheduled a hearing on the application for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 17 at Northside Elementary School. If the commission recommends rezoning, the Midway City Council would have the final say.

MBA President Cortney Neikirk said that when opponents of the development asked the association to oppose the plan, she thought it should not get involved, but changed her mind when she talked with members and found strong opposition, typically saying the plan would "ruin the charm" of Midway.

Neikirk said two members she spoke with opposed sending the letter. Some who abstained from the vote (including the Midway Messenger, which does not take editorial positions on issues) said the letter should make clear that it was not speaking for all members and list the members who agreed with it.

On Midway's other big land-use issue, the recreational-vehicle resort planned north of town, Neikirk urged members to attend the informal question-and-answer session the developers plan to hold at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Midway Presbyterian Church. She said she expects that opponents of the project will ask the MBA to join them and "We need to educate ourselves on this before anything is ever said."

At last month's meeting, MBA meeting, members said they were looking forward to the resort and the distillery to be built between it and the interstate, because they expect both will bring to Midway visitors who will come downtown. Today some said the resort would be larger than they had thought, and expressed concern about traffic problems it could cause.

The resort has received a conditional-use permit from the county Board of Adjustment to operate in an agricultural zone, but wants Midway's water and sewer service. Under current city policy, that would require the City Council to annex the property, which would make the resort subject to city taxes.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Council annexes Northside property, hears opponents of development; OKs swap w/EDA for Midway Station land

Map highlights tracts for emergency-services station and South Elkhorn Creek access. For a larger version, click on it.
The Midway City Council annexed the Northside Drive property planned for a housing development, approved the long-pending Midway Station buffer-zone land swap with the Woodford County Economic Development Authority, and gave first reading to the city budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, at its meeting Monday evening.

The council also heard a presentation from developers of the Bluegrass Experience Resort, who are seeking annexation, and a lawyer representing citizens opposed to the size and scale of the project. A report on that issue is in a separate story.

The hotter development issue is the proposal of Northside Homes LLC to build 68 "town homes," most of them connected by breezeways, on about eight acres of land that has been surrounded by the city limits. To gain final authority over the requested rezoning, the city had to annex the property.

The council did that unanimously and without discussion, but in the comment period that opened the meeting heard from opponents of the development, who supported annexation.

Estimating that the council table is 20 feet long, Joe Haydon said that would be the distance "from the back door" of six town homes to his backyard. "If you've got two people in each one of those condos, that's 12 people standing there looking at me, at this distance -- grilling out, dogs barking, kids playing. If they're got kids, we could have as many as 24 in my backyard. That's probably the worst-case scenario. This is one reason I'm against this. If it were your backyard, would you want this in your backyard?"

Tiffany Marsh, saying she was speaking for other opponents, both at the meeting and not, thanked the council members for listening to their concerns and asked them to vote against the zone change if it is recommended by the Woodford County Planning Commission after a public hearing at Northside Elementary School at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 17.

The land swap at Midway Station gives the city title to the 38 acres that lie between highways, mainly I-64, and the area platted for development. In return, the city forswears any claim to money it spent for utilities at Midway Station, primarily the natural-gas line that attracted Lakeshore Learning Materials.

The EDA approved the swap months ago, but the city's action was postponed by delays in getting the property appraised. Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said the appraiser valued it at $5,000 an acre. Developed industrial lots in Midway Station sell for $65,000 an acre.

Vandegrift recently announced that he and county officials had agreed to build an emergency-services building in the lot at the corner of Georgetown Road and the exit ramp from westbound I-64. He said at the meeting that the building would probably have a shared wall, separating a second city fire station from a county EMS station, which would be the first 24-hour ambulance station in Midway.

The mayor said the facility would give firefighters more room for training and give them better access to the interstate and Midway Station. It would also provide a home for the city's ladder truck, which is too big for the current station and is more likely to be used at Midway Station.

The east end of the property borders a 16-acre tract that is owned by Mike Freeny and borders South Elkhorn Creek. Freeny agreed last year to give the city the land in return for de-annexing some of his industrial property at the north end of the expanded Midway Station. The city wants to provide access to the creek; Vandegrift told the council that he would prefer to lease the site rather than manage it. He said after the meeting that the transfer of the land "should happen soon, complete with ceremony."

The city budget
 would largely maintain the city's approximately $959,000 surplus, with $894,258 more resources than appropriations. Details of the budget have been reported in stories here, here and here.

Among other things, the budget includes a raise in run pay for volunteer firefighters, from $35 to $50; $30,000 for playground equipment in the small park at the south end of Gratz Street; $7,000 for a study of the city's housing needs; and $150,000 for repair of storm sewers, mainly in the Gayland subdivision; most Gayland work will be financed by a low-interest state loan of $200,000. 

Some of the budget is pass-through funds, such as a $440,000 community development block grant that will fund a low-interest loan to Bluegrass Distillers for equipment at the distillery going in on the old Mitchell farm (Elkwood Farm) at the Interstate 64 interchange. Final passage is set for June 21. 

Other business: At the roundtable discussion that ends council meetings, Member Steve Simoff relayed a suggestion from a citizen that the city needs a "Midway 2050 committee" to examine "what versions of Midway they want to leave their children and grandchildren. . . . Everything's moving really fast."

Vandegrift said he would argue that things have moved much more quickly in the last six years than right now, and he said city decisions have been made with the rest of the century in mind. He is running for state representative next year, not a third four-year term as mayor.

Council Member Logan Nance, apparently referring to social-media discussion of the Northside Homes plan, asked citizens to "be kind to your neighbor online. I saw a lot of hate this last week and I'm not happy about it." Vandegrift agreed, saying he had seen "classic undertones, dog-whistle racism" that moderators of social-media sites should have taken down.

Scot Skidmore, moderator of the Facebook page Petition to Stop High Density Housing in Midway, posted a comment saying that he resented Vandegrift's remark. "This is a private group," he wrote. "This is not a public forum. You had to ask to join this group! As a member of a certain minority group, I feel that I am very sensitive to this accusation. Perhaps overly. Since you have to be a member of this group to read posts, and the mayor is not a member, maybe he is listening to hearsay. Remember, hearsay is bad as we have discussed. You have freedom of speech to discuss your concerns about high density housing in Midway in this group. Yes, some have made comments that low income high density housing could lead to higher crime and other unsavory attributes. Regardless of my personal view, i do not ascribe that these opinions as being racist. But let me make it perfectly clear. Racist comments are NOT allowed in this group and you would be promptly banned should a racist comment be posted."  

Monday, June 7, 2021

Citizens object to 'size and scale' of RV resort, mayor says city will have comment period and hearing; developers set public Q-and-A gathering for 6:30 Mon.

Woodford County section of Bluegrass Experience Resort plan (click on it for a larger version)
This story has been updated more than once.

The planned recreational-vehicle resort north of Midway has run into opposition from a group of citizens who say they are worried about its size and scale, almost 500 sites along and near South Elkhorn Creek in Woodford County, and more than 500 in Scott County.

That's what their lawyer said Monday in a letter to Mayor Grayson Vandegrift and the Midway City Council, which saw a presentation from Bluegrass Experience Resort at its meeting that evening. Lexington lawyer Joe Childers spoke only briefly to the council, asking it to go slowly.

"My clients are not necessarily opposed to the development of an RV park, but they are deeply concerned about the size and scale of the park proposed for Elkwood Farm," Childers wrote. "The rush to development of this farmland should be paused, and the Midway City Council should provide a 30-day public-comment period and a public hearing before approving [the resort's] application for water and sewer service."
UPDATE, June 8: Vandegrift said Tuesday, "We will grant a 30-day public-comment period, beginning tomorrow. Towards the end of that window, we will hold a public hearing at city hall. That date is yet to be determined. I strongly urge the two sides to come to an understanding and to agree that we all want what’s best for Midway. Let’s not dismiss anyone’s concerns, and let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and let’s work together to find common ground."
Vandegrift said before the resort got its conditional-use permit from county planning officials that the city would follow his policy and not provide utility service to the resort unless it agreed to be annexed.  He said after Monday's meeting that if the council decided not to annex the property, it would be within his authority to have the city accept the resort's wastewater, but he would not do that, and would leave it up to the council. "I think the council will decide to do all one thing or all the other," he said.

The mayor said he was optimistic that Childers and Midway lawyer Hank Graddy, who represents the developers, "can find some kind of compromise solution," which would involve scaling back their plan. He noted that they said at the meeting that they expect to operate at 60 to 65 percent capacity.

However, when the Messenger asked them how that figure would vary through the year, and what they would expect for a typical first week of June, developer Joey Svec said those numbers were still being calculated. He told the council, "We don't ever see this thing being 100 percent occupied."

Childers' letter said the project's size has been understated because the planning staff's report to the Board of Adjustment said the Woodford County section of the resort, 97.56 acres, could accommodate up to 472 guests. Actually, that was the number of accommodations: 390 RV sites, 56 cottages and 26 accommodations for owners and employees. 

Counting the 142 acres to be developed in Scott County, the resort would have 1,025 accommodations, including 818 RV sites, 155 cottages and 37 tent sites. "making it one of the 10 largest RV parks in the country," allowing it to have more than 4,000 overnight guests at a time, plus "possibly another 1,000 day guests visiting the amenities proposed," Childers wrote, apparently using an average of four guests per site. At that density, a 65% occupancy rate would be 2,665 overnight guests.

Council Member Sara Hicks asked if the developers had examples of other parks of this scale that the council could study. Svec said they could bring "precedents" to the next council meeting.

But before that, next Monday at 6:30 p.m., the developers will be at Midway Presbyterian Church to answer questions.

Childers said developer Andrew Hopewell "should tell you how many overnight and day guests may be expected, broken down by RV sites, employee housing, owner housing and tent camping or 'glamping'." That's a word formed by "glamorous" and "camping," for a "style of camping with amenities and, in some cases, resort-style services not usually associated with 'traditional' camping," Wikipedia says.

Childers also called on Hopewell to reveal the expected average length of stay, and say how strictly he would enforce the six-month stay limit imposed by the Board of Adjustment. He asked, "If an RV stays six months, pulls away for three days and comes back, can the RV be parked for another six months?"

When Council Member Steve Simoff asked a similar question during the meeting, Graddy said the developers had not dealt implementation of the rule yet, but expect stays to be short. When Council Member Sara Hicks asked the daily rental rate, Svec said they expect it to be $120 to $160.

Hopewell has said the resort would limit stays to six months and has half the sites per acre of a typical resort, but Childers wrote, "Essentially, this creates a subdivision in the city limits of Midway, with a density of 4.7 residences per acre, likely housing twice the current population of Midway."

The conditional-use permit is for "tourism destination expanded," which was added to the county planning ordinance to accommodate development of The Castle between Versailles and Lexington for tourism. Childers said even that property is a small development, as are others allowed by such permits.

"If this RV park is allowed to be developed at the scale proposed, it will seriously jeopardize important farmland protections put in place through the hard work of many Woodford County residents over the past 50 years," setting a bad precedent for development of farmland, Childers wrote.

Graddy, who rarely represents developers and has been a leading advocate for farmland preservation, told the council, "We do not consider this to be a large threat to Woodford County farmland."

Childers' clients include several people who have been prominent in farmland-preservation efforts, most notably Libby Jones, the wife of former Gov. Brereton Jones and co-owner of their Airdrie Stud. Others named in the latter are Joyce Evans, SaraDay Evans, Dottie Cordray and Chris Batts.

The letter said the resort would forever change the scenic character of the creek, and is "exploiting a loophole" in the ordinance, which allows a "tourism destination expanded" at a natural landmark that draws the public. The resort's application cited the creek, a spring and the rolling hills as landmarks. Childers wrote, "The same rolling hills touted by the developers as 'unique' will be paved over for roads and RV sites."

Svec told the council that the landscape would be preserved through good design. "We said the environment's the most important thing," which led to it having only 4.7 sites per acre instead of the 8 to 10 per acre typical for such resorts.

Vandegrift said during and after the meeting that his main concern about the project is traffic. Svec said visitors to the resort will be steered away from narrow US 62, and that traffic from the southwest will be guided from the Bluegrass Parkway up US 127 through Lawrenceburg to Interstate 64 at Frankfort. "These guys don't want to be on narrow roads," he said.

Simoff asked how much vehicle traffic the project would generate, especially from May through September. Graddy said the peak traffic would be on Sundays, the typical come-and-go day for weekly stays, with about 70 guests leaving and 30 coming in. He said the developers have not done a traffic study but could do one if asked. 

Svec said the resort is estimated to generate 83,000 gallons of wastewater per day. Vandegrift said the city sewage-treatment plan can handle 750,000 gallons a day and is handling only 125,000.

Graddy said the Mitchell family that owned the farm tried to fund a buyer that would operate a horse farm there, "but a horse farm will not work work next to industry," with Midway Station across Georgetown Road and Bluegrass Distillers going in between the resort site and I-64.

Vandegrift said after the meeting that if Midway blocks the project, it would lead to the property being rezoned for industry because the developers have spent $3 million on it. "I wish it could stay farmland," he said, "but when the Mitchells decided to sell it, that was over."

Svec said the plan is to develop the Woodford County side of the property first. Graddy said they would be applying soon for a conditional-use permit from the Scott County Board of Adjustment.

Some council members were skeptical of the project's size. Stacy Thurman said the planned number of RV sites, 818, is more than the number of homes in Midway (about a third more).

Logan Nance said, "This is a town that does not like big change, and this is a big change." Kaye Nita Gallagher said, "I'm having a hard time . . . making Midway larger than it is."

Vandegrift, asked after the meeting if he thinks the project to too big, said "I want everybody to be happy at the end of the day. My main concern is to make sure it's not going to affect traffic." He said the state is planning to widen Georgetown Road, and "That does need to be happening before this thing opens."