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Monday, November 29, 2021

Midway University dedicates welcome center in newly renovated building, concluding fund-raising campaign

Wide-angle photo of Ann J. Bowling Welcome Center in recently renovated Marrs Hall (Midway University photo)

Midway University recently held a ribbon-cutting and dedication for the Ann J. Bowling Welcome Center in the school's newly renovated Marrs Hall, the last of several projects made possible by a recent fund-raising campaign.

"The Welcome Center is the first stop for prospective students and their families when visiting campus and serves as a one-stop shop for information related to the offices of Admissions, Business, and Financial Aid," the university said in a press release. "Marrs Hall also includes many other administrative offices and meeting rooms."

University President John P. Marsden recognized three women – Trustee Janet Hunter, Trustee Emerita Ann J. Bowling, and Trustee Belinda Bowling Metzger – who played key roles in the university's recent expansion and recently completed Campaign of Opportunities. Hunter inspired the campaign with a lead gift and provided funds to renovate Marrs Hall. She named the welcome center for Bowling, with whom she had served on the Board of Trustees. Bowling's daughter, Belinda Metzger, co-chaired the campaign with Hunter, and the Bowling family also generously supported it, the release said.

Ann Bowling became a trustee in 1997 after the death of her husband, James Bowling, who had served on the board for 35 years. Metzger, their daughter, was elected a trustee 2012. Hunter has been on the board since 2000.

The Campaign of Opportunities funded several other improvements:
  • Construction of Hunter Field House
  • Construction of the Tracy Farmer-Don Ball Stadium and Dick Robinson Field
  • Renovation and conversion of Pinkerton Hall to residential housing
  • Renovation of Belle Wisdom Residence Hall bathrooms

“As proud as we are to celebrate all the new and improved facilities, the most important item to note is that we covered all projects without incurring any new debt for the university,” Marsden said.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Council cancels Dec. 6 meeting to avoid conflict with Board of Adjustment meeting on RV resort's latest move

The Midway City Council voted this evening to not hold a regular meeting Dec. 6, to avoid conflict with a Woodford County Board of Adjustment meeting on the proposed recreational-vehicle resort's request to let it have its own sewage-treatment plant and buy water from Kentucky American Water Co.

The council normally meets at 5:30 p.m. on first and third Mondays, and the Board of Adjustment is scheduled to meet at 6:30 at the courthouse in Versailles. The board will take oral comments of up to three minutes per speaker, and written comments before the meeting.

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said the city's ordinance on council meetings doesn't allow a regular meeting to be moved to a different day, and scheduling a special meeting is problematic because discussion at such meetings is limited to the agenda for the meeting. Thus, he said earlier, the council couldn't discuss the resort developer's application tonight.

Vandegrift said the meeting could be held earlier on Dec. 6, and mentioned 5 p.m. as an alternative, but said Council Member Sara Hicks "felt like that wasn't a very good idea." Hicks did not attend the meeting, held via Zoom teleconference.

Noting that the council usually cancels its second meeting in December, due to Christmas, Vandegrift suggested that it meet on Dec. 20 but not on Dec. 6. He said he expects the agenda to be short, and that while there is no certainty of that, he has no agenda items yet, and "It's clear right now we're only gonna need one meeting in December."

Council Member Stacy Thurman moved that the council not meet Dec. 6, and meet Dec. 20. The motion passed 5-0.

When the Board of Adjustment granted Kentucky Bluegrass Experience Resort a conditional-use permit to operate a "tourism destination expanded" in an agricultural zone, one of the conditions set was that it must have "City public water and sewer." KBER is asking the board to change the conditions to require use of water from Kentucky American, the city's wholesale water supplier, and sewage treatment by a facility permitted by the state.

The request for a private sewage-treatment plant is likely to be more controversial, since concern about water quality in the creek has been a main concern of those opposed to the project, which would lie in both Woodford and Scott counties, on either side of the creek.

Message from the mayor: Big tree to be lit at 6:30 Fri.

By Grayson Vandegrift
Mayor, City of Midway

Our tree lighting ceremony will take place this Friday at 6:30 p.m. Please join us as we welcome the season, sing some carols, and light up this 25-foot beauty.

Big thanks to (left to right) Public Works Supervisor Nelson Wright and hard-working city employees Spencer “Deen” Craig, Timmy Agee and James Downs on getting the town looking festive.

Please keep in mind that there will not be leaf pickup this week because of the short week and decorative efforts by our staff.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

RV resort asks Board of Adjustment to let it get water directly from wholesaler, have its own sewage treatment

Revised plan shows sewage-treatment plant at upper left, and detail of two types of RV sites.
To enlarge any image, click on it; to download an image, right-click on it.
Adapted image from WKYT-TV drone is centered on the Woodford County part of the project area.
By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The developer who wants to build a recreational-vehicle resort on both sides of South Elkhorn Creek is asking the Woodford County Board of Adjustment to let him get water directly from Kentucky American Water Co. and have his own sewage treatment facilities, since the Midway City Council unanimously refused to give him water and sewer service.

The conditional-use permit that allows Kentucky Bluegrass Experience Resort to operate a "tourism destination expanded" in an agricultural zone requires it to have "City public water and sewer." KBER is asking that the conditions be changed to require use of Kentucky American water, and sewage treatment by a state-permitted facility "in compliance with the Clean Water Act," a federal law that is enforced by the state.

Kentucky American is the City of Midway's main water supplier. It once supplied the city only through a main that runs along Leestown Road, but recently built a line through the project site (the former Mitchell farm) to provide better service to Midway Station and the city's only operating water tank.

The request for a private wastewater-treatment plant is likely to be the more controversial request, since concern about water quality in the creek has been a main concern of those opposed to the project, which would lie in both Woodford and Scott counties.

The application is on the agenda of the Board of Adjustment meeting set for 6:30 p.m. Dec. 6 at the county courthouse in Versailles. The next meeting of the Midway City Council is scheduled for 5:30 that evening, so Council Member Logan Nance has asked that the council move its meeting "so that those who would like can attend the BOA meeting and participate in the public comment portion."

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said he will call a special meeting of the council for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 23, "to give the council the opportunity to reschedule the Dec. 6 meeting to another night."

Under Board of Adjustment rules, each commenter at its meetings is limited to three minutes, and written comments can be submitted before the meeting.

The board gave the resort a conditional-use permit in May after the county's Agricultural Review Advisory Committee gave the resort's application a relatively low score and a qualified recommendation in February.

The $40 million resort would be one of the largest in the East, with over 1,000 sites. That, and lingering questions about its effect on the creek and how much RV traffic would come through Midway, have been its main obstacles. An organized group of opponents is represented by a Lexington lawyer.

When the City Council rejected the resort's request for utility service, which would have included annexation, Nance said the conditional-use permit for a commercial operation in an agricultural zone "shows that our system is broken, and that's something we'll have to fix."

Vandegrift said at the meeting that he is drafting a resolution to advise developers that "We are not interested in developments that are not within the comprehensive plan," the county's planning guideline.

After the meeting, KBER attorney Hank Graddy of Midway said he and developer Andrew Hopewell would continue "educating and persuading, and we may be doing some modifications" of the project. The prospect of private sewage treatment, in the absence of annexation, had been mentioned by Graddy and some opponents of the project at public forums before the council voted against it.

UPDATE, Nov. 22: The application says KBER has made "an exhaustive effort" to get city water and sewer service, noting a town-hall meeting, attempts to meet with opponents, and an offer to design and do initial construction of the 14 acres the city recently acquired upstream on the creek.

"Our team has been in communication with Midway officials since the project was first announced in June 2020," the application says. "The project received great support and enthusiasm through the BOA process and even Mayor Vandegrift sent an email to our team the day after" the permit was approved.

The application quotes Vandegrift as writing, "I'm so happy to have heard last night that your plans were approved by the BOA. We are very excited about this opportunity to grow Midway's tourism and local economic potential. Please let me know if I can help with anything. As you all get an idea of how much sewer capacity you'll be using, let me know and we can start talking services."

A month later, after several Midway-area residents called for a delay in the process and noted the planning staff's report to the BOA said the Woodford County side of the resort could accommodate up to 472 guests when that was actually the number of accommodations, Vandegrift granted them the 30-day comment period they requested and called for the project to be scaled back.

Vandegrift said in an email today, "I was, at the time, like so many others, under the impression that we were accommodating 472 guests on the property, not 472 sites. Something changed between their original communications with me and what got approved, and I don’t quite understand why or how they did that."

The city's official forum on the project was delayed until a traffic study could be completed while school was in session. Vandegrift said last summer that the project should not be built until Georgetown Road (KY 341) is widened. On Oct. 18, the council voted unanimously to deny water and sewer service.

Amanda Glass wins merchants' rainy, chilly chili cook-off

From left: Steve Morgan, second place; Anna Mills, third place; and winner Amanda Glass
Cold, rainy weather slowed but didn't stop the annual Chili Cook-Off of the Midway Business Association today. "We had 9 participants and we sold about 80 spoons" for people to judge entries starting at noon, MBA President Cortney Neikirk reports. "Much smaller than past years, but we are still in an pandemic so we are happy with that turnout!" Amanda Glass was the winner; Steve Morgan took second and Anna Mills third.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Governor puts mayor on state Law Enforcement Council

Gov. Beshear has appointed Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift to the Kentucky Law Enforcement Council, which oversees training for law-enforcement officers in the state.

Vandegrift replaces Jeffersontown Mayor Bill Dieruf, who has resigned and is running for mayor of Metro Louisville. Vandegrift was named to serve out Dieruf's unexpired term, which ends July 1, 2023.

Vandegrift is not running for a third term in 2022 and has entered the Democratic primary for the state House seat held by first-term Republican Rep. Dan Fister of Versailles.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Council annexes planned distillery property, votes 5-1 to turn City Hall into a museum and welcome center

This house at 426 S. Winter St. will be refurbished to house the city's administrative offices.
By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Midway City Council voted 5-1 Monday night to move the city's administrative offices to 426 S. Winter St. so the current City Hall can be a home to the Midway Museum and a tourist welcome center.

The council also voted to complete annexation of the Bluegrass Distillers property at the northwest quadrant of the Interstate 64 interchange, and tentatively agreed to match up to $750 in donations for a piece of playground equipment for Northside Elementary School.

The council informally agreed three months ago to move the city offices to the city-owned house that was once part of the local school grounds and has been rental property since Midway got a new library.

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said in August that the move would resolve three longstanding needs: a true visitors' center, not just a distracting sideline for city employees; public restrooms downtown, open beyond business hours; and a home for the Midway Museum, a collection of historical artifacts and documents held by a nonprofit organization with no permanent home.

He said Monday that the museum has been "on the wish list here for at least 20 years," and "I think we can have a museum in here as early as March."

The Rau Building, 101 E. Main St., houses City Hall.
The Rau Building at the corner of Main and Winter streets will still be called City Hall, and continue to host council meetings and have a drop box for utility payments, but Vandegrift said the administrative staff would work more efficiently and have more security and storage at the new site.

The only major question about the move was the cost of refurbishing the house. Vandegrift and City Clerk-Treasurer Cindy Foster estimated the interior work (paint and ductwork, floor stripping and sealing, replacing the back door, upgrading lighting and electric wiring) at $13,865, based on informal bids from various sources, but there was no estimate for outdoor work (washing, painting, minor landscape work and replacement of a railing).

Noting the indoor estimate, Council Member Logan Nance said he was concerned about the state of the building, "I'm really concerned that there's going to be a lot more than this that we're gonna end up having to pay to fix that place up."

"There might be," Vandegrift replied. "But the question is, do we want to create this attraction that's gonna help downtown and be an amazing display of our history? . . . It'll cost a little bit of money, no doubt about it." He said he was initially skeptical when Foster and her assistant, Sonya Conner, suggested the idea, "but the more I thought about it and the upsides to it, to me, strongly outweighed the downsides." He said a professional inspector had found "no major issues" with the structure.

Vandegrift said the current "visitor center" is called that, but "I don't really think it is one . . . The ability for this to be a true asset downtown outweighs any future costs we may have down the road."

Council Member Steve Simoff, who had asked for the cost breakdown, said the move would avoid the estimated cost of $25,000 to $35,000 to build public restrooms, and "I think this would be a good thing for the city and the people who come to visit."

Vandegrift said an "amazing" number of tourists come to City Hall, and "Sonya's job is not to be a tourism guide." Museum volunteers would handle that, and there are possibilities that the Woodford County Tourism Commission and/or the Midway Business Association would help out. The money for the interior work will come from money originally budgeted for computer upgrades.

Concluding the discussion, Nance said he saw "benefits both ways," but "I just think in the long run the best use of this space is to be a City Hall." But he cast the only opposing vote on the motion to approve the move and authorize the mayor to sign the agreement with Midway Museum Inc. Vandegrift said the agreement will keep council meetings where they are now.

Bluegrass Distillers touted its Midway rye
whiskies at the 2021 Midway Fall Festival.
Annexation:
The council gave unanimous final passage to the ordinance annexing 66 acres where Bluegrass Distillers plans to build a $3 million, tourism-oriented distillery once it reaches an agreement with the State Historic Preservation Office about archaeological work where it plans to add to buildings where slaves worked and lived before and during the Civil War.

Sam Rock, co-owner of Bluegrass Distillers, said he and the SHPO are "almost there" after staff from the office paid their first visit to the site recently. He said the difficulties with the office "sort of like, further emboldened us" to go ahead and start production of a rye whiskey with a Midway Distilling Co. label, the first batch of which was bottled Monday. He said it would probably be released next week.

Rock gave Steve Morgan of Midway credit for recruiting the company, which will relocate from Lexington. "I like to call it the Nantucket of Kentucky," he said. "We couldn't be more excited."

Vandegrift said the distillery would be the city's first since the 1950s. He said the industry has already returned to town, since 35,000 barrels if whisky are aging in or near the city.

Ga-ga ball pit (from Heather McColl via Midway Musings)
School equipment:
Mike McColl, representing WatchD.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students, which provides male role models at Northside Elementary), asked the council to help pay the $1,300 cost of an octagonal pit for ga-ga ball, a derivative of dodgeball, at the school. He said they want two, but are going after them one at a time.

Nance said the council's donation budget was "pretty much spoken for," but he and Vandegrift said the council-meeting discussion might help the group find other donors. Then Council Member Sara Hicks moved to donate $500 (later raising that to $750) if matched by other donors. Vandegrift suggested an alternative, that she withdraw the motion but state a willingness to make it again if donors come forward. Hicks agreed.

"Let's see if we can't find some people to come up with seven hundred fifty dollars," Vandegrift said. McColl said the best way to make a donation would probably be to call Midway Christian Church (846-4102), where his wife Heather is pastor.

Upcoming events:
On their way out of the meeting, MBA President Cortney Neikirk told McColl that the association would help his effort, and that she might be able to donate half the proceeds of the downtown chili cook-off scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 20, from noon to 2 p.m. (Pay $5 cash at City Hall for a spoon and a cup to sample more than 15 chilis made by contestants who will be on the sidewalks, then vote for your favorites.)

Vandegrift said in an email to the council and news media after the meeting that he had failed to mention that the city's downtown Christmas tree will be lit Friday, Nov. 26 at 6:30 p.m. "Our guys have made some special preparations and we’re excited about our biggest tree in years," he wrote.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Message from the mayor: Free coronavirus testing at old bank site Tuesday mornings, Thursday afternoons

By Grayson Vandegrift
Mayor, City of Midway

Thanks to the Woodford County Health Department and Ethos Labs, free PCR testing for the coronavirus will be available at the old bank site, 206 N. Gratz St., on Tuesdays from 8 to 10 a.m. and Thursdays from 3 to 5 p.m. The testing is now less invasive, using a lower nostril swab, and results can be expected around 24 hours later.

I’m very thankful to the health department for reaching out to us in hopes that we could provide a site, and we appreciate WesBanco for giving permission to use the site. This site will continue Covid-19 testing until further notice, and now means there is testing available in Woodford five days a week. Thanks very much.

Ouita Michel rebrands; her business is simply Holly Hill

Holly Hill's new logo has parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Midway's most famous business has rebranded itself by going back to its beginning.

Holly Hill is now the brand that covers the "Ouita Michel family of restaurants," the former name for the eclectic mix of eateries that Michel and her husband, Chris, built from Holly Hill Inn in Midway, starting in 2000.

Chef Ouita told her email list last week, "These past weeks and months, I have been asked countless times what I’ve learned from being in the restaurant business during the onset and duration of a pandemic that we are still navigating. I've gained so much that it's hard to put into words. At the top of the list though, are a deep appreciation of the place where I am and the people who surround me, and a desire to celebrate our rich food culture -- the culture that we bring collectively to our restaurants and the culture that thrives outside them.

"With that in mind, I'm excited to share with you the next path of our company: Holly Hill. On this new website and through this newsletter, we'll share with you the stories and recipes that create the community around us. We'll tell the stories of people, places, and ingredients coming together in large ways and small ways, one bite and one memory at a time. We'll celebrate the veteran chefs, the next generation, the farmers, the home cooks, the artists, and those who appreciate the uniqueness of our foodways. You'll also find a stream of curated artisanal goods like the ones you've come to love from us."

The new name and website come with a new logo, a frame with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. "Parsley symbolizes comfort and the cleansing away of bitterness; sage represents wisdom and the knowledge to do what’s right; rosemary is for remembrance, fidelity, and love; and thyme signifies strength and courage," Ouita wrote. "They seemed the perfect bouquet garni for our time, and in my head I can hear the song, a gift from an old song book on my mom’s piano."

Friday, November 5, 2021

Northside developers formally withdraw proposal, near deal with Northridge Estates; application expected soon

Alternate plan calls for 13 fully detached single-family homes on traditionally sized lots. 

Northside Homes LLC has formally withdrawn its application to rezone eight acres on Northside Drive to allow higher-density housing, and is "very close to reaching a deal" with the Northridge Estates Homeowners Association for a tract that will make possible a revised plan for traditional homes, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said today.

The alternate plan, first announced in August, calls for nine homes on Northside Drive and four on Old Towne Walk, part of Northridge Estates, partly using land that belongs to the association. The original plan was for 68 "townhomes" in groups of three or four, connected by breezeways, and ran into extensive opposition.

Vandegrift said he expects that developers Mike and Scott Bradley will soon submit their new plan to the Woodford County Planning Commission, which would hold a public hearing on an application to rezone the tracts to R-1B or R-1C. "I commend the Bradleys and the HOA in striking a compromise that everyone can live with," the mayor said.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

City starts annexing distillery site; payroll tax revenue up

Area to be annexed is in red hash marks; for a slightly larger version, click on it. For full size, right-click to download.
By Al Cross
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Media

The Midway City Council began annexing 66 acres that will home to a distillery, and heard that the city is connecting payroll taxes at a record clip, at its meeting Monday evening.

The council heard first reading of an ordinance annexing the West Leestown Road property of Bluegrass Distillers, which plans to build a tourism-oriented distillery there. It lies within the urban service boundary, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift noted.

Construction has been delayed while the company negotiates with the State Historic Preservation Office about the amount of archaeological digging needed before it can add porches with concrete floors to buildings that were occupied by enslaved persons until 1865. "We're about there, I think," co-owner Sam Rock told the council.

The $3.1 million project includes a $440,000 state loan for equipment, which will be made in the form of a community development block grant to the city. Payments on the loan will go to the Woodford County Economic Development Authority, which can use it for job recruitment and retention.

Vandegrift said the distillery project began in 2017 with his appointment of a John McDaniel, Steve and Julie Morgan and Dan Roller to a task force to recruit a distillery and/or brewery, and their efforts paid off. Second reading of the ordinance is scheduled for the next meeting, Nov. 15.

Tax revenue: Vandegrift reported that the city collected more than $420,000 in occupational taxes in the first quarter of the fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. That is almost half the $900,000 total estimated in the budget, and far more than the annual total of six years ago, before the boom at Midway Station.

"This is exceptional news, and very encouraging," Vandegrift said, adding that he looks forward to discussing with the council possible uses for the extra money. The budget already had a surplus of $900,000, even after property taxes were cut a few years ago. "I think there's room for a lot of ideas," the mayor said, adding later, "Our future is very bright, very bright."

Council Member Logan Nance drew a round of applause when he said previous mayors and councils should share in the credit for their work on Midway Station, which was a major financial burden.

Vandegrift announced that water and sewer customers are receiving a survey to see how many have sump pumps connected to the sewer system and would be willing to participate in a cost-sharing program to get them off it. Such connections are illegal, but the mayor said many people bought their homes not realizing they had such connections, and the city is not seeking to punish them.

In other business, the council:
  • Approved a revised city employee handbook, on which Vandegrift said City Clerk-Treasurer Cindy Foster did "a remarkably good job" over the course of a year. Council Member Stacy Thurman, the local librarian, said, "I've never seen a more thorough employee handbook."
  • Voted to spend $2,500 for a historical marker at the site of the African American school that was ransacked by a mob in 1868. Vandegrift said former council member John Holloway and others are working on the project. 
  • Gave the Midway Business Association street-closing permits for the visit of Santa Claus by train on Saturday, Nov. 27, and the Midway Music Festival on July 23, which Nance called "my favorite thing you did last year."
  • Heard Council Member Sara Hicks say that the city should explore installation of solar panels in City Hall and the buffer zone between Midway Station developments and Interstate 64. Noting the global climate conference this week, she said, "I would really hope that we could become a leader for a clean and safe planet for our children."
  • Heard Vandegrift say that a Woodford County County Veterans Commission is being formed by the county and the two cities to honor, remember and thank veterans and support them with any issues that they or their organizations face. He hinted strongly that Nance, an Army veteran of Afghanistan, would be Midway's honorary co-chair, and said the first meeting would be at 11 a.m. Nov. 11, the precise 103rd anniversary of the armistice that ended World War I.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

UK Equine Programs students hold second annual Week of Service to horse industry in Bluegrass

Equine majors Charles Churchill and Olivia Bryant
planted bulbs at African Cemetery No. 2 in Lexington.
By Holly Wiemers
University of Kentucky

The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment’s equine programs held their second annual Equine Week of Service Oct. 4-9.

Students in the equine leadership program, Wildcat Wranglers, created and implemented the Week of Service to give students a chance to give back to the equine industry, especially important during the isolation of the pandemic. Wranglers coordinated volunteers and promoted the event on social media.

“We had an amazing turnout during the week, with more than 250 shifts being filled and just over 500 hours of time given,” said Nick D’Amore, a senior equine major and Wildcat Wrangler who headed the group’s volunteer and outreach committee. “We couldn't be happier, given the success of the event last year, to be able to follow that up and be just as well received this year. It was very rewarding for everyone involved.”

The Week of Service helped seven Lexington-area equine organizations, including the African Cemetery No. 2, Kentucky Riding for Hope, the Kentucky Equine Adoption Center, the Kentucky Horse Park and Mounted Police, Our Mims Retirement Haven in Bourbon County, and Old Friends retirement farm for Thoroughbreds in Scott County, near Midway.

“My favorite part about the UK Equine Week of Service is seeing how the community comes together,” said Margaret Babiarz, an equine senior and head of the marketing and communications for the week.

Kristen Wilson, academic coordinator in UK Equine Programs and adviser to the Wildcat Wranglers, expressed hope that the event helped equine organizations in their day-to-day functions.

“The UK Equine Week of Service is a great opportunity for our students, faculty, staff and alumni to come together to give back to the local equine industry, and to get away from the classroom and network,” Wilson said.

James MacLeod, director of UK Equine Programs, said he is glad it has become an annual tradition.

“We can all be proud of everything the students have accomplished,” MacLeod said. “The broad participation and enthusiasm are wonderful, with both the host organizations and the volunteers living the commitment to be the change you wish to see in the world.”

To see recaps from the week, visit the UK Ag Equine Programs’ Instagram or Facebook pages or the website at https://equine.ca.uky.edu/. For a story on the programs' recent job fair, click here.