Soper: Edgewood lawsuit delaying new high school
Monday’s meeting of the Woodford Economic Development Authority (EDA) featured a debate between the EDA chair and a candidate for mayor of Versailles about the future of Bluegrass Community Hospital.
During the “old business” portion of the meeting, EDA Chair John Soper said a decision on the 2016 Edgewood lawsuit could be made on Oct. 10 in Woodford Circuit Court. The suit was filed by a group of horse farm owners and people living near the Edgewood Farm property off Lexington Road against the Versailles City Council, the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning Commission and the property owners, including Hardin Field IV and Virginia Field and Edgewood Farm LLC. The suit claims the rezoning was arbitrary, not based on substantial evidence, and violates the county’s goals and objectives of the 2011 Comprehensive Plan, which said the area should remain agricultural. It also alleges the Planning Commission arbitrarily amended the Comprehensive Plan to expand the city’s Urban Services Boundary, which allowed the city council to rezone the property, which it annexed, to be developed for urban uses.
Soper said he’d spoken with the attorney for the property owner and developer and hoped that the hearing would settle the matter. He said he believed the judge would rule in favor of the property owners, which would clear the way for a possible land sale and new location for the hospital.
“I did some math this morning. Not only is that lawsuit standing in the way of a new hospital, which LifePoint (the company that owns the hospital) is still committed to building a $35 million hospital if they can get that piece of land, but it’s standing in the way of a new high school. I mean, there’s no other way to put it,” Soper said.
Soper said a hospital and other businesses would make the property worth at least $250 million, and the property taxes generated there would allow the new high school to be built much sooner. He called Oct. 10 “a very important day for this community” and said he hoped if the plaintiffs lose the case, they won’t file appeals that could drag it out for years.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, Lisa Johnson took issue with Soper’s math and reasoning. She said somebody needs to talk to LifePoint officials about whether they still want to build a new hospital here.
“And there are already 70 acres inside the Urban Services Boundary, not including Edgewood, that if that hospital would like to build, there are 70 acres they can build on,” Johnson said. “The … tax figures that Mr. Soper pointed out is opinion only.”
Soper said the 70 acres Johnson mentioned are zoned retail.
“You’re either asking the developer or hospital to buy retail-zoned land versus P-1 (professional office building) land. And there could be as much of a difference as $400,000 an acre there, which makes the economic model unrealistic for either side of the equation,” Soper said.
“One’s got to go one way, or one’s got to go the other way, and whether or not that will happen puts the project at risk.”
Soper added, “It is what it is. That lawsuit’s standing in the way of progress.”
Johnson responded, “Hospitals are not building right now. It’s not a profitable model. Possibly what Woodford County could use is a state-of-the-art emergency facility to help stabilize individuals here in the community, which they can do in their current property… To think that the hospital is still considering building a $35 million facility really needs to be confirmed.”
The Sun spoke with hospital CEO Tommy Haggard the following day. He said the cost projections for the project were run three years ago and would need to be run again before LifePoint could commit to building a new hospital.
“I think there’s still a possibility of that occurring. What the percentage is, I couldn’t say at this time. We’re still exploring that opportunity,” Haggard said. “I do know that LifePoint is very interested in the community, and they’ve shown that and continue to do so.”
In a Tuesday morning email to the Sun, Johnson wrote, “I am not opposed to a new hospital being built in Woodford County. My question was to clarify and correct Mr. Soper’s inflammatory accusation that ‘the lawsuit is standing in the way of a $35 million hospital.’” Midway Station
Members unanimously supported a zone change for 137.61 acres of the Homer Freeny Jr. property next to Midway Station from agricultural to light industrial. Soper said the EDA has an option on the property and will work with the state to find buyers.
Midway’s new representative to the EDA, Michael Michalisin, attended his first meeting. His background is in finance, investing and horses, and he moved to the area four years ago. Michalisin said he was amazed when he was able to get a new driver’s license in seven minutes, and that he’d told friends that in New York, where he previously worked, it would have taken seven days.