Lexington Considers A Standard For Downtown Buildings

Nov 13, 2013

Hoping to improve the appearance of downtown buildings, Lexington city leaders are considering a set of design standards.  The idea is to give the inner most downtown core a look that’s attractive to new businesses, new residents and out-of-town visitors.  Plus, Council member Steve Kay says such rules and regulations could protect Lexington’s history.

“New buildings to address the context of their surroundings, historic buildings to be appropriately renovated, the context of historic structures and streetscapes to be protected,” said Kay.

Besides a new building’s appearance and structure, the standards also govern amenities like lighting, awnings, and signage.   Planning Director Chris King predicts these new requirements will generate well-designed projects. 

Still, before any new building standards can be applied, people must be found who are willing to build downtown.  Attorney Bill Lear has represented numerous Lexington developers.  Lear observes currently there is not a long line of people interested in such ventures.  In addition to rules and restrictions, he says investors need incentives.

“If we’re gonna have another layer of regulation or restrictions or whatever you want to call it, it needs to be coupled with real incentives.  Some of us have been preaching that with regard to downtown development for years now and they have yet to materialize,” said Lear.

Council member Julian Beard, who once served as the city’s economic development director, thinks there’s relatively little interest in a set of design standards.  And member Shevawn Akers worries such rules would be counter-productive...especially among home builders.

“If we want to encourage more people to live downtown, we need to have more options outside of $300,000 condos.  By requiring more and more design requirements is only going to raise the cost of living and occupying a business downtown than we would like to encourage,” added Akers.

The Fayette Alliance is a coalition of citizens working for sustainable growth.  Director Knox Van Nagell believes the report needs refinement.   Van Nagell says it’s ‘like setting the rules of tennis and not giving the players the racquets or the net to actually play the game.”

The report also calls for the creation of a design board which would review renovations and proposed projects.  Vice Mayor Linda Gorton believes the panel should include outsiders.

“I think there should be some discussion around whether the board should include a citizen who does not live downtown, who does not work downtown, and is not a design planning, historic preservation, or architecture person, a plain old citizen,” said Gorton.

So, the design standards could go back before Lexington’s council committee next month, with a full vote in early 2014.  It must also go before the Planning Commission.  Planning Director Chris King says the earliest new downtown construction standards could be in place would probably be next summer.