• John E. Soper III

Guest opinion: Development would be good for county

As chairman of Woodford Economic Development Authority, it will surprise no one that I'm in favor of the proposed Edgewood Farm development. However, it might be a surprise that a key statistic I found in the 2010 Comprehensive Plan is one of many justifications for approval of expanding the urban service boundary to accommodate the uses proposed for Edgewood Farm. Section II of the plan cites existing conditions and background research and I specifically refer to table 13 that details population by age group in Woodford County from 1960 to 2010. From 2000 to 2010, our population of folks 60 or over grew by 45 percent and our population of people ages 20 to 39 (millennials) shrank by 12.7 percent. Our retired population is growing; however, our wage earners are either leaving and not returning or bypassing us for communities deemed more desirable. The negative economic ramifications are immense from the prospect of higher personal taxes and a reduction of future services for those remaining. We simply can't have a prosperous community if our young people leave. As I expand on my reasons of support for Edgewood, I will attempt to include how that expansion might stem the tide on the flight of our millennials. The expansion of the urban services boundary is necessary to accommodate the construction of a new hospital by LifePoint Health. If LifePoint Health is going to invest upward of $35 million, then why would our community deny ourselves the opportunity to build the hospital where it will achieve the most success? The proposed location gives it both visibility and access to the markets it serves. A new, visible hospital will serve as a beacon to attract new patients, new doctors, new services, and new jobs (many most likely filled by millennials). The proposal by Woodford Forward to locate the hospital on the existing 70 acres of land zoned for retail stores on Edgewood Farms is hollow at best. It regulates the hospital to an inferior, low visibility location. It fails to recognize that land zoned for retail stores sells at much higher prices than land zoned for a hospital, thus forcing the developer to sacrifice expensive retail land to accommodate the hospital, which in turn diminishes the developer's ability to sell affordable land to the hospital. The proposal deprives the hospital of the adjacent retail development that will facilitate both the patient and employee experience. And finally, the location of a hospital near retail stores serves as an anchor, virtually eliminating the threat of retail stores abandoning their big box for a better location. LifePoint Health has allocated the capital to build a much needed new hospital; why would we stand in the way of new jobs and addition of $35 million of taxable property to our tax rolls? Is Woodford Forward saying the denial of expanding our urban service boundary a greater priority than the health and wellbeing of our citizens? As a millennial, would you see more opportunity in a community that embraced a new hospital or one that denied it because of an arbitrary line on a map? Versailles will have no available light industrial land if the property on Big Sink is acquired (currently under option and undergoing due diligence). With no land to market, Versailles will not be in position to pursue attractive opportunities for new jobs and new investment in our community. Included in the Edgewood Farm development are 118 acres proposed for light industry. The EDA and the owners of Edgewood are in discussions regarding their donation of 20 of the 118 acres to the EDA with an option to purchase and market the rest. This will immediately give us land to market and continue the momentum we have created both in Versailles and Midway. The 118 acres are adjacent to other industrial land and with railroad access it is the most obvious location for industrial growth. Versailles is blessed with well-managed, clean industries but it would be foolish to shut ourselves down and turn away from opportunities that may be presented in the future, especially if we strive to reverse the trend of millennials leaving our community. The proposed development plan for Edgewood Farm also includes residential land, some of which will be R-4, high density (available for apartment complexes). The developer of Edgewood has been is discussion with an entity that proposes to construct an upscale apartment complex with amenities that are often sought by millennials and found in neighboring communities but not Versailles. The balance of the residential development will most likely have few homes under $200,000 as the price range and amenities of today's starter home reflect current demographics. Millennials today often buy homes much later in life than previous generations and when they do, they start out in larger more expensive homes. Likewise, their first apartment after college is one with amenities that builders are quickly bringing to market because of demand. These same apartment complexes also serve as viable options with retirees seeking to downsize as well as new arrivals who want to live in a community prior to making a purchase decision. I must also address the much quoted availability of 1,377 acres of land currently inside the urban service boundary. This is simply a false narrative. I have examined the 1,377 acres cited and found less than 130 acres divided between two sites that would be available for the hospital; both are inferior to the proposed site. There is zero acreage available for light industry. The 1,377 acres primarily consist of land that is actively being farmed and not for sale and land that is zoned for residential but not platted thus not for sale. How can land that is not for sale be cited as available? I respect the concern over the expansion of the urban services boundary and I hope my arguments above set the precedent that such expansion should only occur when the greater good of the community is at stake, as I think is the case with the proposed development of Edgewood Farm. John E. Soper III is chairman of the Woodford Economic Development Authority.

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