Fiscal court approves to zone change amendment for proposed housing development

Published 5:04 pm Monday, January 30, 2023

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Jessamine County residents will soon see local farmland turned into a vast neighborhood with at least 46 lots despite opposition from neighbors

On Tuesday, at the Jessamine County Courthouse, The fiscal court heard and approved the first reading of an ordinance for zone map amendment of 65 of the 70 acres at a farm located at 6035 Ashgrove Rd. from an A-1 (agricultural) zone to an R-1 (single-family residential) zone.

New Jessamine County resident Oprah Hicks owns the farm, and fter moving from Lexington’s Copperfield Subdivision, Hicks decided to reach out to developer Tom Kelley to draw up a plan for the farm similar to the Clays Crossing Subdivision in Nicholasville.

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Developer Kelley, a retired IBM Development Engineer Manager, partnered with Jason and Josh Banks at Banks Engineering and designed “THE GROVE.”

Housing is allowed in A-1 zones, according to the Nicholasville Zoning Ordinance.

But the ordinance has guidelines for each zone, which is why Oprah had to request a zone change to develop a 46-home neighborhood. This is not the first time that Hicks has requested a zone change, and the issue has had a contentious past.

Oprah Hicks has requested this one change in the past

Before Hicks requested a zone change for 65 acres of her farm, she requested a zone change for 32.5 acres for 29 lots in 2021. According to Hicks’ attorney, David Russell Marshall, the planning commission recommended denial of this zone change.

According to the planning commission’s director, Jeremy Young, Orpah Hicks requested a zone map amendment again in April 2022.

Included with Hicks’ request was a Finding of Fact which the planning commission requires with each application. These findings highlight the property owner’s justifications for requesting a zone change. Specifically, Hicks took goals from the Wilmore, Nicholasville, and Jessamine County comprehensive plans and attempted to prove how the new neighborhood would follow the goals and objectives of the comprehensive plan.

A comprehensive plan highlights a community’s goals for future development. It involves transportation, jobs, environment, housing, and community infrastructure. Kentucky state law mandates each municipality to update its comprehensive plan every five years.

Findings of Fact for Orpah Hicks’ zone change request

Marshall claims Hicks’ request is in line with the following four comprehensive plan topics: residential development, transportation, community facilities and environment. You can find the comprehensive plan at The goals the following Findings of Facts references are on pages 12-15.

Of all of Hicks’ justifications, here are some of the main points: “There is compelling need for the requested Zone Map Amendment in that there is a growing residential population in the southern Fayette County and northern Jessamine County areas.”

“As depicted in the current Jessamine County Official Zoning Map, the adjoining properties in the area are zoned A-1. However, the surrounding properties are being used for mixed-density residential uses.” Marshall then lists the high-density Tates Creek Mobile Home park and a nearby residential subdivision with lots too small for A-1 and states, “The existing A-1 zoning classification of the property is inappropriate, and the proposed R-1 Zone is more appropriate for the development and use of the property.”

Marshall wrote that significant economic, physical and social changes in the area were not considered in the comprehensive plan and have since altered the character of the area. She says the new middle school and housing along Mackey Road justify the zone change amendment.

The planning  commission’s findings of fact and recommendation for denial of requested zone change

After a public hearing for the request on April 12, 2022, the planning commission decided to recommend the fiscal court deny the requested zone map amendment. The planning commission provided Findings of Fact and Conclusions to support its denial.

The following are some of the planning commission’s justifications:

• “Although the “Residential Development” section of the comprehensive plan states as an objective to ‘{e}ncourage the development of mixed-density and mixed-use neighborhoods,’ this development fails to embrace cluster development, and it sets a precedent that may encourage future developers to forego those desirable planning tools as well.”

• “Beyond simply not using suggested development options, the development also diminishes the area’s rural character and natural aesthetics, converting an apparently working agricultural operation and adding to the already-growing residential density in its quadrant.”

• “The applicant failed to provide evidence of conforming to “Transportation” Goal B: ‘Provide for an adequate, efficient and safe transportation system that supports and encourages alternate routes and modes of transportation.’ Nothing refuted public comment regarding the danger of Ashgrove Road or explained how the proposed development would not increase this danger.”

• “Inappropriate zoning was not demonstrated: The property’s size leaves it viable for continued agricultural use.”

Finally, the commission writes that a “compelling need” for a zone change was not shown.

Neighbors are unified against this zone change amendment request

Chad Laythem, a Jessamine County resident and his wife moved to a property adjacent to the farm in mid-December. He said they wanted to enjoy the benefits of a less congested area.

There is no formal organization of neighbors who live around the property. Still, Laythem said they do generally call themselves “Ashgrove Road Neighbors.”

According to Laythem and a group of neighbors at the last Fiscal Court meeting, Jessamine Countians who live on Ashgrove Road and Mackey Pike generally oppose this development- but not entirely.

“The most important thing we want to make clear is we don’t object to residential development of the parcel,” Laythem said. “Just not 46 on 65 acres.” He explained the 5-acre minimum rule for housing lots in A-1 zones. “What we do have deep concerns about is the plan to put 46 houses on this parcel.”

The Ashgrove Rd. neighborhood and Laythem’s concerns for the possible zone map amendment are plentiful.

The property lies adjacent to East Hickman Creek.

“Adding 46 houses with septic systems near the creek raises questions about the environmental impact as Hickman Creek makes its way through the middle of Jessamine County to the Kentucky River,” Laythem said.

Laythem said that many houses built in the area would “make for a sizeable increase of traffic on Ashgrove Road and nearby Mackey Pike, neither of which are all that well suited for even the amount they currently carry. He added that a single entry into the neighborhood near a 90-degree turn would worsen an existing problem spot.

“This isn’t a small number of homeowners saying, ‘Not in my backyard,’ Laythem said. “If this parcel is rezoned, it’s only a matter of time before adjoining parcels are rezoned as well, and suddenly Jessamine County just becomes south Lexington – with all the attendant concerns.”

The fiscal court’s decision

After a two and a half hour hearing, the Fiscal Court came to a conclusion.

The fiscal court did not vote to hold a brand new hearing, but did allow for an argument-style hearing, a different type than what Planning Director Young anticipated. Orpah’s attorney and the Ashgrove neighborhood representative would each give their arguments to the court, but could only use information that was established in the Findings of Fact.

Marshall gave his argument, using the same evidence from his Findings of Fact from the original zone change application.

He argued that the zone change and future development proved three points that would justify his case: the zone change complies with the comprehensive plan, the current zoning is inappropriate based on surrounding zones, and that the comprehensive plan did not anticipate the social and economic growth of the area.

Sharon Huron-Miller, a landscape architect who lives in the Ashgrove neighborhood, was voted as the neighborhood representative. She used the environmental facts from Hicks’ and Marshall’s findings of fact in her argument.

After both parties spoke, the fiscal court approved Hicks’ zone change. The fiscal court will hear a second reading on this approval in its next meeting at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 2.

Ashgrove neighbors stood just outside of the courtroom for 10 minutes after the decision was announced.

One neighbor of Ashgrove Rd., Danielle Haller, said she’s seen many accidents, and has had to help many people getting into collisions near her home.

She said that Hicks and the development team are “not honest people.” She continued, saying that after the April 2022 hearing, Hicks was fined. “They were dumping and loading dirt for two years after they were declined [in 2022]. They were bringing dirt in to fill the bottom of her property so they can build more houses. More money, more plots.” Haller said.

Huron-Miller said she’s very concerned.

“I’ve watched so much development on our road- lived there 31 years. I’ve watched drainage issue crop up from the apartment complex on Nicholasville Rd. And the solution was to put a sign, ‘water over the road,” and the flood plain is compromised.” Huron-Miller said.

Floodplains, sinkholes and ravines are rife in topography of this farm, according to Huron-Miller.