Lexington Road high rises still 'too damn big' for neighbors — and they plan to fight it

Nearly a year after Louisville developer Kevin Cogan's massive mixed-use development at Lexington Road and Grinstead Drive drew jeers from neighbors offended by its size, traffic impact and noise pollution, developers again convened a group Tuesday night to discuss revisions.

But little has changed in the $200 million plan, at least not from the neighbors' perspective

"It's just too damn big," said one resident during the design charrette held Tuesday at the Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana building on Lexington Road.

This sentiment was shared by many in the room who feel the complex — with its three high-rise apartment, condo and hotel towers — could cause irreparable damage to the adjoining neighborhoods and lessen the appeal of Cherokee Park.

Louisville land use and zoning attorney Bill Bardenwerper led the discussion on behalf of Cogan's Jefferson Development Group. He presented revisions to the design plan along with new traffic studies and streetscape features aimed at making the properties walkable with wide sidewalks, bike paths, landscaping and trees, Uber and Lyft stops and outdoor dining.

Size and density remains

The design plan itself has not dramatically changed.

The project would have three towers — 28, 33 and 34 stories tall — full of apartments, condos and hotel rooms. The proposal includes 743 apartment and condo units, a 252-unit hotel, 168,000 square feet of office space and 46,000 square feet of retail.

The project also features 40,000 square feet of conference and event space and nearly 1,700 parking spaces in a garage that would be wrapped behind residential units, obscuring it from outside view, Bardenwerper said. No surface parking lots are included in the plan.

The concept outlined by Jefferson Development Group and its partners show the high-rises would be connected to a six-story podium building that would have a rooftop plaza with green space.

Most of the retail would be at street level, and Bardenwerper said Jefferson Development Group would limit the type of land uses that could be housed there. Permitted uses would include sit-down restaurants, coffee shops, a small grocery and pharmacy, wine shops, bike shops, fashion retail businesses, pet groomers, dry cleaners and a salon or fitness center.

But this assurance did little to calm the crowd, with some saying they'd prefer fast food restaurants, car washes and gas stations to Cogan's plans.

"He's trying to destroy the neighborhood," one opponent said after the revised renderings were shown to the crowd.

Several people who spoke said Cogan and his firm need to listen to the neighbors in Irish Hill, Cherokee Triangle, Crescent Hill and the Lexington Road preservation area who feel it is out of character for the area and unpleasant to the eye.

Traffic, entry points streetscape addressed

The charrette also served to update the surrounding neighborhoods on potential traffic impacts and how Jefferson Development Group would look to deal with increases in traffic.

The 3.3 acres of property, which is fully owned and controlled by Jefferson Development. is a hodgepodge of small businesses, including upscale steakhouse Le Moo, Parkside Bikes, Fante's Coffee and Nu Yale Cleaners. The properties now have about 18 entry and exit points off Lexington, Grinstead and Etley, Bardenwerper said.

Under the proposed plan, the number of primary entrances would be taken down to three, with full access off Etley Avenue and right-in, right-out entry and exit points off both Lexington Road and Grinstead Drive.

The plans also call for the installation of a traffic signal at Etley Avenue and Lexington Road and double left turn lanes on eastbound Lexington Road at the intersection with Grinstead Drive.

These improvements are expected to create a more orderly traffic flow, said Diane Zimmerman of Prospect-based Traffic Engineering LLC, which conducted the traffic study.

Zimmerman projects that at the peak morning hour between 7:15 and 8:15 a.m., about 724 vehicles would enter and exit the facility. The development, she said, would increase area traffic by about 9 percent during the peak morning hour and 7 percent during the peak evening hour.

Many openly laughed or scoffed at the notion, telling Zimmerman they feel she is vastly underestimating the impact and potential spikes in traffic, as well as the morning and evening delays that will be created along the three streets surrounding the project.

Bardenwerper said the development team stands by the numbers because the project will be designed to have people entering and exiting at different times of day with the mix of office, residential and retail uses.

Zimmerman said the traffic study will change in the coming weeks as she will run numbers to account for the possibility of a small grocery store.

What's next?

Another design charrette will be held tonight at the same location, then Bardenwerper anticipates the plans will be formally filed with Louisville Metro Government by mid-September.

From there, the project will have to move through the planning and zoning process to be rezoned from a strict commercial district to a planned development district.

That likely will take months, and some of those in attendance said they plan to organize a legal challenge to the development, which could lead to a lawsuit if the neighborhoods are willing to take it that far.

Cogan has been battling lawsuits to build another proposed condo high-rise, Willow Grande, for years in the Cherokee Triangle, and that project is still tangled up in court.

But even if a lawsuit never surfaces and approval is granted by the city, Bardenwerper said, it would take more than a year to draft construction plans and the earliest opening date would be at 2021.

"You can probably build it quicker than you can plan it," he said.

Bardenwerper also compared it with other controversial developments in town, including the Omni Louisville Hotel and the KFC Yum Center. He even went so far as to say some detractors might live at the new development or eat in its restaurants if it is built.

A few in attendance supported the plan, saying it is a great use for the site and a way for Louisville to think big and better compete with peer cities that are growing faster and taking more risks with their real estate development.

But opponents dismissed the comments as blind support for Cogan, repeatedly saying this project belongs in a downtown. not near Cherokee Park.

Marty Finley covers economic development, commercial and residential real estate, government and sports business.

Louisville Business First


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