|NEWS & VIEWS
$plendor in the Grass?
Scotty Baesler has more on his plate these days than just ousting Ernie Fletcher from the Sixth Congressional District.
Baesler is urging the Lexington-Fayette County Urban Government to convert about 150 rural acres to light industrial use near the intersection of I-75 and Athens-Boonesboro Road.
You don't have to be in Lexington more than 10 minutes to see a fleet of vehicles carrying on the bumper sticker war of "Growth is Good" and "Growth Destroys Bluegrass Forever."
Does Baesler's push for development put him in the crossfire of this debate over preservation vs. development? And in an election year, no less? He says "no."
The acreage would add to the land designated as the "Blue Sky Rural Activity Center" that already features industry, hotels and office space, Baesler said.
"This is not out in the country," Baesler said. [It's located past the I-75 Athens-Boonesboro interchange.]
"This is an employment center with 1,800 jobs and a $37 million payroll. When you go out there at night, it's lit up like a city."
Baesler noted the land he wants to incorporate into the Blue Sky center already has roads and other infrastructure that make it ideal for light industrial use.
Baesler's proposal also calls for protective covenants that will regulate the type of industry locating on the property. It also calls for trees and other vegetation to screen and buffer the area.
New acreage turned into light industry would mean more quality jobs that Lexington sorely needs, Baesler said.
Of course, Baesler readily acknowledges, the move would also benefit him personally since he owns a good chunk of the land in question and it would be a lot easier to sell the property for industry rather than residential development.
But city officials have expressed reservations.
The request would have to be weighed against Lexington's famously strict rules on development designed to preserve horse farms, agriculture and the county's rural character.
"The attitude for the last 20 years is not to expand [rural activity centers]," said Bob Joice, the city's long-range planning manager.
Joice said the last comprehensive plan includes language explicitly calling for limiting rural activity centers to their existing boundaries.
When there was a change to the Blue Sky center in 1996, it actually made the area smaller. Joice said seven acres were added near the Athens-Boonesboro Road, but 10 acres were subtracted across the street.
"There was a net loss of three acres," Joice said.
But that was then.
The comprehensive plan is currently in the process of being updated and designated land uses are up in the air. Baesler has been attending update meetings to make his pitch for expanding the Blue Sky center, and has opened fire with a barrage of figures.
Referring to a study prepared in support of expanding the Blue Sky center, Baesler noted the superior wages of manufacturing jobs compared to those in the service and wholesale/retail sectors.
Manufacturing salaries in Fayette County are 45 percent higher than service sector wages and 103 percent larger than those in wholesale and retail, Baesler reported.
Yet, Baesler continued, only 12 percent of Fayette County's jobs are in manufacturing. The service industry (at 29 percent) and wholesale and retail (at 26 percent) are the leading occupations.
Baesler cited the city's own figures showing just three acres a year from 1989 to 1995 have been developed and put into use for industry, warehouses, or research park-type operations.
"What do we want our employment base to be?" Baesler asked rhetorically at an April 11 meeting for the comprehensive plan update.
But Joice said the figure showing an annual utilization rate of three acres can be misread. "That's a net figure," Joice said, explaining some land is utilized just as other acres are left vacant.
For example, the closing of Reynolds Tobacco left about 125 acres vacant as other land went into use, Joice said. And other tobacco warehouses were vacated during the same time, he added.
Joice said there are over 3,000 vacant industrial acres available for new development.
One of Baesler's complaints, however, is that some of those industrial lots are small and not all of them are in as ideal a location as his, which are near the interstate.
Baesler's request involves a land-use designation and so it will be addressed in the fall by the planning commission.
Bob Drakeford, Lexington's economic development director, said city officials are obviously concerned with providing for healthy industrial development. But he said there is value to preserving the rural lands and the horse farms that make Lexington world-famous as well.
Alex De Grand can be reached at 225-4889 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Following up on sex, lies & politics
An attorney representing employees of the Franklin County jail who were sexually abused by the jailer welcomed a state Supreme Court's ruling last month as "great news" for his clients.
Randy Smith praised the ruling that prevents state government from using "sovereign immunity" as protection from civil rights lawsuits brought by its own employees.
Smith represents five former jail employees who successfully sued Franklin County government in 1997 for failing to protect them from Jailer Hunter Hay. Hay was convicted of 11 counts of rape and other sexual abuse charges in 1995.
The employees were awarded more than $5 million, but the county appealed, claiming sovereign immunity protection.
Franklin County Attorney Jim Boyd was unavailable for comment on the county's reaction. -ADG
It's the Parking, Stupid!