Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Julia R. Ewan Property development potential

The Julia R. Ewan property is situated neatly within the Fairway subdivision near downtown Lexington.  The school was put up for auction by Fayette County Public Schools earlier this year, and was purchased by a resident of the neighborhood.

In my opinion, it is a beautiful school building in a beautiful neighborhood.  That's not an objective fact, nor is it material in any discussion about it's redevelopment.  However, the neighborhood will no doubt be very interested in protecting their interests as it pertains to that site, as they should.  If the school across the street from my house ever was auctioned, I'd be all over the plans to redevelop. 

I believe there is a right way and a wrong way to be involved in a development planned for your neighborhood.  Typically, neighbors, being the irrational types they are, of course will fear the following possibilities:
  • Those people moving in
  • Property value decline
  • Titty bars
  • any other uncertainty
More appropriately, the neighborhood should focus on what they DO want on the site:
  • No change whatsoever
  • and, um...yeah...that's pretty much the list
I kid, I kid.  Though more often than not, the public comes across as fearing any sort of change rather than putting forth ideas for what would enhance their neighborhood and let the developer make a profit. 

My neighborhood, should Julius Marks ever redevelop is subject to entirely different constraints than Julia R. Ewan school.  Marks is adjacent to a large city park and townhouses/condos, duplexes and apartments already.  Ewan borders only single family residential.  However, they are similar in that they are both roughly 4 acre sites, zoned R-1C, or single family residential.

Both the similarities and differences are hugely important factors in how the sites might develop.  The single biggest factors that opponents to development often ignore, is

  • 'What is the worst thing the owner can do with the property RIGHT NOW?'
  • and 'Can we live with that if we oppose his requested zone change?'
The second point is the one MOST forgotten.  Right now, at this very moment, the owner of Julia R. Ewan school could rent a bulldozer and demolish the school, file a plat to subdivide the lot into as many as 21 single family lots, and start building snout houses.  That would require NO notification to neighbors, and a public hearing on the plan would be largely administrative unless the owner asked for some sort of waiver to the subdivision regulations.

If you live in the fairway neighborhood, and you cannot accept that as a possibility, then you are in NO position to play hardball on his plans.  You need to get behind a proposal you can live with, and be engaged in trying to improve it incrementally.

If on the other hand, the property was zoned A-U still, there would be no viable development options and the neighborhood would hold considerable sway over his requests for a zone change, a public hearing that does require notification and has a legal burden to meet in order to be granted.

So, let's say the neighborhood most wants the school building to remain.  The existing zoning is not appropriate for an adaptive reuse of the building.  No single family would purchase and renovate a school building that size to live in alone!  Therefore, the neighborhood MUST support a proposed rezoning to something that would enable the keeping of that building.

I believe that a request for P-1, Professional Office, would be the highest and best use of the property, and still enable the keeping of the building.  P-1 allows for office and residential mixed-use.  The owner could easily renovate the ground floor for offices and the upper levels for residential condos.

Let's go back to the school across the street from me.  The same worst-case scenario still applies.  Could I live with that?  Yeah, I could, begrudgingly. However, Marks lacks the 4-sided street frontage that Ewan has, that enables more single family lots.  To utilize all 4 acres for single family would require much greater costs in building additional public street frontage.  Single family snout houses are possible, but you can bet that any developer would be seeking a zone change.  My guess is they would ask for R-3 for additional apartments would be their preference.  And my neighborhood would go nuts, for all the reasons I listed above.

I don't have a problem with additional apartments, though I would prefer to see a better commercial/residential mixed use plan that utilizes the park, including something that had apartments.  Losing the school would be a blow to the neighborhood.  It would be less vibrant and the crowd of people passing every day would diminish.  A unique commercial development that integrated the park would be an asset.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Site Meter