Lawsuits push back at USB size increase
For nearly four decades, attorney Hank Graddy IV has represented clients whose aim, he said, is to protect farmland and horse farms from inappropriate urban sprawl. His latest battle will be fought in Woodford Circuit Court. In early September, two lawsuits were filed by a group of horse farm owners and people living near the Edgewood Farm property on Lexington and Paynes Mill roads against the Versailles City Council, the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning Commission and the property owners, including Hardin Field IV, Virginia Field and Edgewood Farm LLC. "We believe the city acted illegally and we will ask the court to set aside this unprecedented departure from good planning in Woodford County," Graddy said of the first suit. A few days later, the two suits were merged into one. (Among the plaintiffs in the first suit are Ben and Jennifer Chandler, whose family owns The Sun.) It claims the rezoning was arbitrary, not based on substantial evidence, and violates the county's goals and objectives of the 2011 Comprehensive Plan, which designated the area to remain agricultural. It also alleges that the Planning Commission arbitrarily amended the Comprehensive Plan to expand the Urban Services Boundary (USB), which allowed the city council to rezone the property and annex it to be developed for urban uses. "We've done it during the sprawl boom, we held the line with the Urban Service Boundary, same thing during the housing bubble, and from this point forward. There's absolutely no need to expand the Urban Service Boundary. There is empty farmland, unused farmland, inside the Urban Service Boundary - this is simply an abdication of good planning by some leaders who have lost sight of what Woodford County's all about," Graddy said. Asked whether his clients might be blamed for delaying a new, better Bluegrass Community Hospital proposed for Edgewood, Graddy said they didn't oppose the 2014 effort to develop the Sellers property on Troy Pike (Ky. 33). "And they used the hospital as a justification for that location and, as I commented to the Planning Commission, if the Planning Commission is ready to approve development of either one of the Backer parcels (on Lexington Road), both of those are perfectly acceptable lands for a hospital relocation if it needs to be on (Lexington Road). So there are sites inside the USB, either zoned or ready for the hospital to start construction, or inside the USB already annexed and ready to be developed that are suitable for the hospital. This property is simply unsuitable and this is a terrible planning proposal," Graddy said. Citizens for Sustainable Community Growth (CSCG) is not a party to the suit, but, it could be argued, has already helped win two related battles. The group was formed in 2014 when Walmart was considering building a store on Troy Pike, and the company eventually decided not to build there. Last year, the Bevin Administration decided not to fund the proposed Northwest Versailles Mobility Corridor, which would have connected Falling Springs Boulevard to Frankfort Road at or near Midway Road. CSCB has a distribution list of about 120 and five board members, one of whom, Laura Dake, is running for a seat on the Versailles City Council. Dake doesn't accept Woodford Economic Development Authority Chairman John Soper's argument, "Private capital goes where private capital wants to go." Dake said except for the hospital, she knows of no other businesses that want to relocate to the Edgewood Farm area. "There is plenty of acreage already in the urban service boundary for development. There is room in the existing USB for the hospital; the hospital and the professional offices complex," Dake said. Dake said Versailles city leaders don't seem to have paid attention to the results of the public "strategic planning" sessions they paid the Kentucky League of Cities $10,000 to conduct in 2014. One of the conclusions drawn, Dake said, was, "Versailles is at a crossroads. In my opinion, years later, it appears to be at a tipping point. I think the group would agree that we either grow in a thoughtful, planned way or we sprawl, and look like many other towns that have chain stores and fast foods on their bypass and a dying downtown." Asked whether businesses should be able to decide where they want to relocate, Dake replied that she didn't want to sound like a socialist, adding, "I think that a city does have a right to grow carefully and thoughtfully and in a planned way. No one is saying that we don't want any growth. But what we want is sustainable, careful growth." Dake said the KLC report issued after the planning sessions mentioned incentives to help cities with infill (reusing land in an urban environment), revitalization and the beautification of public spaces. "I know infill is more expensive than just plowing under a farm, but there are incentives, there are tax breaks and things for cities and, I believe, businesses, to do just that," Dake said. Another group pressing for more controlled growth is Woodford Forward, a land-use advocacy organization on the same side of many issues as CSCG. Billy Van Pelt II, the group's chief executive officer, doesn't buy the argument that businesses should be allowed to go most anywhere they wish. "If we're letting the development side drive planning and zoning, then we've lost the overarching principles of the comp plan," Van Pelt said. The county's Comprehensive Plan should drive where development goes, not developers, Van Pelt said. Over the next few weeks and months, pro and slower-growth forces will collide in Woodford Circuit Court and in polling places, where Dake's work and public statements may help - or hurt - her chance of becoming a member of the Versailles City Council. Dake said she moved to Versailles nearly 25 years ago and has come to love the area's beautiful scenery, sense of history, good schools, and small-town feel. "Those are the kind of things that draw people to this place and make us love it so much. And we really don't want Versailles to look like any other place you could go to . where everything is on the bypass and there's nothing in the urban core," Dake said.