Newtown Pike Project Changes Neighborhood, Lives

Jan 21, 2014

(Part 1 of 2) - One of Lexington’s poorest neighborhoods is waiting for a newly developed neighborhood.   Many homes were demolished to make room for a new road way…in return residents were promised better housing and a restored community.  However, tired of waiting, many residents have moved on.

A section of the Newtown Pike extension
Credit Stu Johnson

The idea first surfaced decades ago; to extend Newtown Pike into the heart of downtown Lexington.  After years of discussion, then planning, and finally bulldozing, construction is underway in the Davis Bottom neighborhood. 

Over the years, Hazel Lambert has had many homes in that low-income community, wedged between South Broadway and Versailles road. “What I really like about the Bottom, where the trailers is now, there used to be a park there right.  And we didn’t get to go no place and we would go down there and they had ballgames in the summertime.  We could go down there and see ballgames and stuff like that you know,” said Lambert. When the road extension came through, Lambert’s residence was demolished.  Like many of her neighbors, she was relocated into trailers in a nearby field, once home to those ball fields. 

The road will also displace Nathaniel United Methodist Mission. Pastor David McFarland is director of the mission. “Not withstanding all the things Nathaniel’s done in the neighborhood all these years, it has first and foremost been a spiritual center and I like that’s been largely overlooked in this project. The project has focused more on the tangible things, classes for this and classes for that and they have missed the point that having a spiritual center is really what’s been important to this neighborhood,” said McFarland.

Nathaniel Mission has offered a variety of services to its neighbors, including medical, dental, and veterinary care.   The mission closes this spring and will resume business near the intersection of Versailles Road and Angliana Drive.  David McFarland, who’s the mission’s senior pastor and director, senses something has changed.  Initially, planners promised to preserve the neighborhood…now McFarland worries they’ve inadvertently changed the feel of the community. “Even the second step of ten steps, you have to add up two and two and you write the answer a five, you can do everything right from there on, but you always wind up with the wrong answer.  And I think that’s what exactly is going on here,” added McFarland. Instead of bringing its former residents back home to Davis Bottom, McFarland worries they’ll be unintentionally displaced by wealthier homeowners.
Stuart Goodpastor of the State Transportation Department, who helped plan the Newtown Pike Extension Project, says, despite the construction, they’ve tried to preserve the community by keeping residents near one another. “Rather than just take them and relocate them somewhere else, we provided a way where they could stay together in that historic community and that they could have affordable housing that would be protected from here on out,” said Goodpastor.

While new homes are being built, some Davis Bottom residents continue to be housed in trailers.  Then, when they return, their rents and mortgage payments will remain unchanged for several years.  But progress has been slow and some residents have left the neighborhood, in search of better housing. Goodpastor admits the pace of the project has frustrated some residents who have chosen to move out…but not everyone. 

Long time resident Hazel Lambert still waits…ready to move from a trailer to a new home someday. “Well I knew right there and then, that is what I should do cause we was talking about how high rent was and stuff, you know.  So, I decided, I will just start saving my money like I’m paying rent you know and so I’ve been saving it ever since,” said Lambert.

Much of the new housing is being built with support through what’s known as a community land trust.  It will provide land for new homes and assist with financing.  In part two of our series, we examine how the land trust may also change the Davis Bottom neighborhood.     

NOTE: This is a two-part story.  Part 2 airs Wednesday January 22 at 7:33 am and 5:45 pm.