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'I always said the park is never going to be finished': Changes to Waterfront Park zoning move forward

Tuesday, Metro Council's Planning and Zoning Committee advanced an ordinance to expand permitted land uses in the district surrounding Waterfront Park.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Tuesday, Metro Council's Planning and Zoning Committee advanced an ordinance to make land use more flexible in the district around Waterfront Park.

The W-2 Waterfront District stretches from the I-65 bridges, along River Road, towards Beargrass Creek. 

Waterfront Park officials want to rezone the area to allow a wider variety of businesses and developments to open. 

“Waterfront Park has become an attraction not just for locals but for people regionally and outside the region," Waterfront Park President Deborah Bilitski said

At the Planning and Zoning meeting Tuesday, Bilitski said park officials have worked to lease one building on River Road for a couple of years. She said that gave them an idea of what developments might be successful in the area.

If approved, the ordinance would allow for about a dozen new land uses, including antique shops, museums, breweries and distilleries and many more amenities Bilitski said would be attractive to visitors.

Committee members asked why the area included in Waterfront Park's planned westward expansion wasn't included. Bilitski said that district already has more lenient zoning regulations allowing these types of businesses. 

She also addressed concerns about the progress of a restaurant planned for a building inside Waterfront Park. 

Bilitski said supply chain issues were causing delays, but the project was still moving forward. 

The committee voted to advance the ordinance to the full Metro Council, with six members voting yes and one not present. 

When development began 30 years ago, David Karem, director emeritus for the park, said the goal was providing a common green space for the community. 

“The original vision was to reconnect the city with the river," Karem said. 

Karem said over the years, public interest drove a need for more development around the park, pointing to the Botanical Gardens and Lynn Family Stadium as proof.

“The public has an interest for more than just a wonderful green space, but how to use the wonderful green space," he said. 

According to the ordinance, Waterfront Park hosts more than 150 events and 2.2 million visitors annually. 

Karem said additional developments in the surrounding neighborhoods could drive more interaction with the green space. 

“I always said the park is never going to be finished and the area around the park is never going to be finished," he said. 

After Tuesday's meeting, Councilwoman Madonna Flood (D-24), who chairs the committee, voiced her support for the ordinance. 

“It further develops the entire edge of the city and brings more business and more attraction for younger adults," Flood said. “I think there are probably people that are just waiting for something to change and be a part of the bigger picture.”

Flood said codes are meant to be updated, to match the growing needs of the city. 

After passing the committee Tuesday, the proposal will still need to be voted on by the full Metro Council. 

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