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[Versailles] Largest rezoning request ever is ... denied!

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VERSAILLES - In a move certain to be appealed, Woodford Fiscal Court last night denied the rezoning for one of the largest residential developments ever proposed for the county.

On a 6-2 vote, the court rejected a proposal for 902 residential units on the Willmott Farm, also known locally as "the Backer property."

The 231-acre site extends from U.S. 60 east of Versailles to the Blue Grass Parkway. It is now zoned for agriculture, but owners John W. Backer and Backer Farm LLC, along with co-applicant Beazer Homes Investments, sought to rezone it for mixed residential and commercial uses.

That included 562 single-family homes, 240 townhouses, 100 apartments and 90,000 square feet of retail and office space.

[see the URL for the remainder.]

SLC: The main reasoning was that there was too much vacant, undeveloped land closer to town. More specifically, the condemned development along US 60 near the US 60 Bypass intersection. The land in question that was to be rezoned was also prime agricultural land.

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This is regarding the condemned mixed-use project that was once prime agricultural land.

Property causes problems in Versailles: Land once zoned for shopping center called blighted, then rezoned

By Greg Kocher, Lexington Herald-Leader, September 22, 2007

A saga continues in Versailles. A "blighted" property on U.S. Route 60 in Versailles was originally destined to become a mixed-use development but it never came to fruition. The land was recently rezoned, and now there is the possibility of litigation.

On September 4, the Versailles City Council voted 5-1 to rezone the 23-acre lot from commercial zoning for shopping centers to A-1 Agricultural. And on Tuesday (September 18), the council gave first reading to a rezoning ordinance with the apparent intent to force property owner Rubloff Versailles into doing something with the property and the neighboring blighted Versailles Center strip mall. A majority of the council members believes that Rubloff won't do anything with the land.

Rubloff has owned the property since 2001 after purchasing it for $3.5 million and had once planned to turn it and the adjacent Versailles Center into a model shopping center with a grocery store, movie theater, bowling alley, hotel, retail stores, offices and apartments. It would be considered a "new urbanism" development. The city approved a 2001 rezoning of the property from A-1 Agricultural to commercial under new design standards that were written with Rubloff's participation and support. Streets and sidewalks were laid out, and utilities were buried in anticipation, all at a cost of $2.5 million.

But the property has languished since 2002. Rubloff had planned for Winn-Dixie to be the lead tenant, but in April 2004, the company announced that it would sell or close 156 supermarkets, including all of its Kentucky stores. And in May 2005, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. And to make matters worse, a restriction in the deed prohibits a Wal-Mart, Sam's Club or any other store operated by Wal-Mart from locating on that site. The restriction was put in place by the request of K-Mart, which relocated from Versailles Center in the 1990s to a nearby shopping center. The restriction doesn't expire until 2018.

In 2006, the Versailles City Council designated the 23-acre lot and Versailles Center as blighted. The definition of blighted is "vacant or unimproved lot or parcel of ground in a predominantly built-up neighborhood." The tall weeds have become a dumping ground for old appliances, discarded tires and paint cans.

On September 4, 2007, the city council voted to downzone the property to agricultural, which went against the recommendation of the planning commission. The commission said in a 8-1 vote in June that the city had failed to produce evidence that the zone change was needed. The city council stated that in the 6 1/2 years that Rubloff has owned the property, he has "failed to move forward with developing a regional commerce center" and that it has "become a blighted eyesore."

An attorney who represents Rubloff told the planning commission in June that there was not a time limit in which Rubloff had to turn the property into a shopping center.

By rezoning the 23-acre property to agriculture, the city violated the city-county zoning ordinance, which sets a 30-acre minimum for agricultural tracts in Woodford County. There are also no prime soils left on the site as they were stripped away when the property was graded. It was also against the comprehensive plan, which doesn't recommend agriculture for the property.

The city sought the zoning because that was what it was used prior to Rubloff's purchase, and land east of the property is used strictly for farming purposes. The city, however, has no intention to purchase the property or condemn it.

Downsizing the property results in a reduction in property taxes received by the city and county. The city will lose $1,881 in annual revenue, while the county loses more than $26,800.

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I know many forces come into play in these kinds of deals (ie..Lexington Mall, etc), but it is truly a shame a piece of property like this will just sit for who knows how many more years. I do not really think the city's attempt to rezone the property will do any good. Seems like there should have been some kind of clause saying the property had to be developed within so many years or the city reserved the right to purchase the property back from the developer. I doubt the city would lose out on a deal like that, because they could turn around and sell it to another developer. I am not an expert in these matters, but this is ridiculous.

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