• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Traugott, Soper discuss support for growth

A PUBLIC HEARING on a request to rezone approximately 405 acres on Lexington Road (known as the Edgewood Farm property) has been scheduled for Thursday, March 3, at 6:30 p.m. in the third-floor courtroom of the Woodford County Courthouse. Property developer CRM Companies wants to rezone the land at 1450 Lexington Road in order to bring new retail businesses, light industrial uses as well as high- and low-density housing to the site, located east of the Kroger Marketplace and west of Paynes Mill Road. CRM Companies has also asked for an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan to expand the urban service boundary to include a portion of the property outside the boundary. (Graphic provided by the Planning Commission)

Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott, who describes himself as pro-growth, cited several factors that drive his support for a proposal to bring a mixed-use development to the Edgewood Farm property on Lexington Road. He's especially excited about rezoning 118 acres for future industrial uses and including a parcel of land to build a modern hospital facility, which he said, "tickles me beyond belief." In describing his vision as mayor, Traugott said he wants the City of Versailles to take advantage of opportunities to grow and diversify its economy in order to give residents more shopping and dining options, without neglecting downtown Versailles or infill projects. Traugott, who has been mayor for nearly three years, said Versailles and Woodford County are not at risk of becoming a Nicholasville or Jessamine County. And he wants residents of the community to understand that a 400-acre project like the Edgewood Farm mixed-use development will not happen overnight. Instead, Traugott describes the Edgewood Farm plan as a long-term decision, which will meet the community's needs for awhile. "Opportunity knocks when it wants to knock. And it's knocking right now," said Traugott. "And we've got to take advantage of (opportunity) because there's going to come a time when there's nothing to take advantage of. ".When opportunity knocks, you don't say, 'come back next year' because they won't. They'll go next door and knock." During an interview in his office last Friday afternoon, Traugott and John Soper, chair of the Woodford County Economic Development Authority and a consultant for the City of Versailles, discussed an array of topics related to industrial and commercial development opportunities in Versailles and Woodford County. In his consulting role, Soper said he can assist leasing agents in their efforts to fill vacant storefronts in Versailles. But he can only do so much - depending on how much cooperation he receives from companies that own commercial properties. For example, Soper said he has offered his services to the leasing agent for the Lexington Road Plaza, seeking to fill the retail space formerly occupied by Kroger, and he never heard back from them. "That property's under control by Kroger's until March 2017," Soper explained. "The rent's being paid. The company that owns it is happy - property taxes are being paid." In those situations, Soper said, "You're just kind of at the mercy of the owner of the property." He said it's difficult for the EDA or other government entities to get involved with marketing a commercial property that's privately owned. To those who may wonder why commercial development does not occur on the former Woodford County Middle School property rather than on Lexington Road's Edgewood Farm, Traugott said, "We can't force somebody's (private) investment." However, the City of Versailles has begun exploring the feasibility of repurposing the vacant former WCMS building at the corner of Maple and Lexington streets into a new police station. "If it's not an option," said Traugott, "I think we have to do our due diligence to prove it's not an option. I think we owe it to the community to make an effort to preserve that building." He said cost estimates for the project will be discussed later this week, which will help determine whether or not repurposing of the old WCMS building into a police station can happen. "If that turns out to be a no-go," said Traugott, "then I think we look at the ground underneath it." The mayor said he's committed to building a new police station there or elsewhere in town. Government subsidies of over $2 million will allow AU Associates to transform the former Versailles Elementary School (most-recently the Community Education Center) into a 13-unit apartment building. "You couldn't do that without government help," said Traugott. If the City of Versailles had not spent tax dollars - recouped that money with interest - to raze the blighted commercial buildings in the Versailles Center on the U. S. 60 Bypass and Lexington Road, private business may not have acquired the property, Traugott said. Versailles Land Group was formed with the intent to purchase the Versailles Center property, but backed away from acquiring the former shopping center property until its dilapidated buildings were torn down, Soper said. He said an industrial company interested in coming to a site on Big Sink Pike may not have been interested if the blighted Versailles Center property had not been razed by the City of Versailles. Soper gives the City of Versailles a point person to meet with representatives of businesses or manufacturers interested in coming here as well as employers that are already here. "We're competing for companies to relocate here from other states," explained Soper. "Other states are competing for our companies as well. So we've got to be very conscious and be attentive" to the needs of companies that are already here. Soper cited expansion projects as an assurance that those companies are planning to stay in Versailles. "When they're investing in our community," he explained, "that's a very positive sign." Traugott said the tax revenue generated by new industry and expansions of existing industry are key elements to provide good services and undertake transformative projects without having to raise tax rates. Additionally, he said it's important to diversify its industrial base "as much as we can." Commercial developments, which bring stores, restaurants and other retail businesses to Versailles, do not generate as much tax revenue as industry. They do give residents more options and contribute to a higher quality of life, Traugott said. "We don't have any entertainment here," said Soper. "We have some great restaurants, but we could use more." He said amenities will help slow the tide of younger people who are choosing to leave the community to find them elsewhere. Before his recent retirement from Bank of Lexington, Soper said he couldn't give his full attention to industrial and commercial projects in Woodford County. Now, he said, "my whole mind is on economic development." He pointed out that there will be no land zoned for industrial uses inside the Versailles urban service area if and when the sale of the Big Sink Pike property happens. Because of that reality, Soper supports a proposal to rezone 118 acres for industrial uses on the rear portion of the Edgewood Farm mixed-use development. "They've proposed donating 20 acres (of industrial land) initially to the EDA so that we would have an equity position . (to) go out and market." He said an option to purchase agreement would give the EDA access to additional acreage to accommodate the needs of a larger industrial user. In the aftermath of negotiations that led to American Howa Kentucky (AHK) breaking ground on a new manufacturing facility in Midway Station earlier this month, Soper was pleased to hear a representative for AHK say the process to open a manufacturing plant here was "the easiest . they've done." He credited Midway Station's close proximity to I-64 and the Georgetown Toyota manufacturing facility as critical factors in AHK locating in Woodford County. Other companies with interest in coming here also look favorably on the county's centrally located transportation system, Soper said.

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