Emotions ran high among opposing parties May 11 when the Georgetown-Scott County Planning Commission approved a proposal for development on a portion of Pope McLean's 500-acre Crestwood Farm near Georgetown, Ky. The proposal narrowly passed in a 4-3 vote.
The proposal calls for 31 houses on 59 acres with one house on a permanent 95-acre agricultural offset (with road construction, a total of 160 acres). The matter was first heard by the commission April 12, after which a decision was put on hold until last week.
Commissioners Jimmy Richardson, Mike Bradley, John Lacy, and Melissa Gregory voted to approve the application, which now goes to the Fiscal Court. Robert Hopkins, Ralph Tackett, and Greg Hampton voted against the plan. Janet Holland recused herself from discussion on the issue because of a potential bias.
"Nothing has changed--we're just securing our property rights," said Pope McLean, Jr., adding that his family had no immediate plans for developing the farmland. "We're just preserving the rights we have associated with the land--the property rights that existed when we purchased it."
After a heated three-hour debate, nearly 50 Scott County residents and Bruce Smith, an attorney representing some of the opponents, realized their defeat. The group had raised several arguments against the development, including that it would harm the environment, diminish the value of surrounding horse farms, and increase traffic volume and collisions.
Smith said there were deficiencies in the submission and questioned the validity of regulations regarding cluster development.
In addition, Sara Smith of Smith Management Group, a Lexington environmental engineering firm hired to study the proposal, concluded the property had many environmentally sensitive areas, such as sinkholes and possible wetlands.
"It appeared that the Planning and Zoning Committee and their staff really had their minds made up before the meeting," said Chris Newton, owner of Antebellum Farm, which is located behind Crestwood. "There is strong evidence that the number of houses and lots currently approved for development and built in Scott County that have not been occupied or sold is tremendous. It far outweighs the demand. This is a zoning change that is short-sided for our community and the horse industry, and it does little to benefit anybody but the McLeans."
Crestwood is located near the Fayette/Scott County line. Southern Scott County adjoins with Fayette County, which recently made the decision to maintain its Urban Services Area, where urban development is permitted.
Though Crestwood is in an agriculture area, zoning in that area permits cluster zoning that concentrates houses on a smaller number of acres so the majority of land stays undeveloped.
"I'm not surprised (the proposal) was approved because it's totally compliant," said McLean.
Commission member Rhonda Cromer said some aspects of the applicant's proposal, such as those regarding environmental concerns, will need to be addressed before building begins.
"It seems (the commission) set a low hurdle for a preliminary approval--to allow the applicants to meet all the other things they weren't able to meet later," said Newton. "I was disappointed that some of the other major horse farms like Summer Wind and Hill 'n' Dale failed to get up and make a presentation (at the meeting)."
The proposal is considered part of a "conceptual master plan" to eventually develop the 500-acre farm; however McLean thought the phrase to be misleading.
"We would have to go back and resubmit (another proposal), and it wouldn't be developing all 500 acres--it would be preserving 300 acres with a permanent agricultural easement," he said.
If resubmitted and approved, the property could eventually be developed into 99 one to two-acre lots.
Bruce Lankford, an attorney who represented the McLeans, said the family has a right to develop the land. He said issues with cluster development are a separate issue from the Crestwood Farm development application.