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LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- A local landmarks commission is still deciding whether part of a historic site can be turned into a parking lot. Sullivan University officials and members of a historic foundation both want to allow the change.
Officials say if it would work in today's world, they wouldn't change a thing. When asked if allowing the partial transformation for a parking lot was a last resort, Butch Shaw of the Historic Homes Foundation said "It's pretty close, we really need this to happen."
The site has been around since 1816 and was most known for its hemp production.
Per the Historic Home Foundation website:
"Slave research at Farmington continues with an archaeological dig. The dig, in the area where slave cabins may once have stood, has uncovered many artifacts from the mid-1800s that were possibly slave possessions. Of particular note is a pierced coin marked with an "X", a sign frequently used by enslaved African Americans. Although this research is still in the preliminary stages, it should provide clues to the lives of enslaved African Americans at Farmington. Similar digs at other historic properties have yielded information about slave activities, diet and religion. Most written documentation does not include the slaves' point of view, but the artifacts found at Farmington may help to illuminate their experience."
Around five dozen African-American slaves maintained the Farmington House Plantation. Some say they are concerned the history and culture of the slaves could be "paved over." Farmington Officials say to stay afloat to share the history with future generations, the option to create a partial parking lot is the best one they have so far.
The first hurdle officials face with the project proposal is to get permission from Metro Louisville's Individual Landmarks Architectural Review Committee, IL-ARC, for a certificate of appropriateness which needs to be issued for a local landmark to undergo any sort of changes.
Those giving permission say changing historic properties is a tough subject to rule on. Bob Vice, IL-ARC Committee Chairman said they committee wanted to weigh all of the components before making a decision.
"It is going to have an impact on the site and you want to make sure you give the applicant all the time they need to develop their presentation," said Vice. "It is going to take some time to go through that, ask some questions, make sure we understand, look to see if there are alternatives."
Vice said it could be approved, approved with conditions or not be given approval at all. Because the site was designated as a "local landmark," approval is needed from the committee to move forward.
Six members make up the IL-ARC committee, including Vice, Daniel Preston, Jay Stottman, Edie Bingham, Jim Mims and Herb Shulhafer. Shulhafer was at the meeting representing the Historic Homes Foundation, so the other five members made up the quorum to allow for a decision to be made.
Farmington and Sullivan University officials told the five members of the landmark committee why a remaining portion of the plantation that has been around since 1816 should be made into a parking lot.
Among others, the main concerns raised at the meeting for the Farmington House Plantation were safety, accessibility and above all, preservation and sustainability. Shaw said he believed this last resort move could be beneficial for both parties and knew whatever plans were executed; the preservation of the site would be the primary focus.
Farmington officials discussed the many different concerns which were brought to light regarding the potential change, which would make it safer and more accessible.
One idea mentioned was to widen a lane to allow access for fire, EMS and tour buses to come through. Officials said they have been told by certain fire officials that the accessibility into the landmark is a concern and it would not be easy for them to be reached in time of crisis. They also made mention of problems with break-ins and vandalism which could be potentially solved with the addition of streetlights which are included in the plan.
SU officials said their 24-hour security officials would also be doing check-ups to try to protect the property from any future damage. This approval would be the first of a few hurdles to be completed in order for the project to take place. Pending the approval, the next step would be for the applicants to go before the Board of Zoning Adjustment, BOZA, for aa conditional use permit because Farmington's property is zoned R-5, or "single family residential."
The parking lot would be used by SU students Monday through Thursday from 7:30 am to 2:30 pm. The rest of the time, Farmington would have access to the parking grounds. The project could cost Sullivan University around $1.5 million when it is all said and done. President Glenn Sullivan said they planned to purchase the property and not lease it. Sullivan University attorney Grover Potts said the plan is to purchase the land for $60,000/acre for 5 acres and then contribute more money over the next half decade.
"In addition to the purchase price, Sullivan has agreed to provide 55 thousand dollars a year in contribution in unrestricted funds to Farmington," said Potts.
Potts said this is to help the non-profit through the budget crisis.
"It will allow it to continue to operate until they can generate other funds from additional programs."
Shaw said the events which would take place at the venue would make money to sustain it over time. Board members said the biggest event at the venue is the Derby breakfast which houses around 800 people. They said issues have arisen in the past when attempting to accommodate a large amount of people.
"If people don't have a good experience, they won't come back," said Herb Shulhafer of the Historic Homes Foundation board.
Shulhafer said without any organization to parking patterns in the past, the green lot had not been able to adequately accommodate large groups of people in an organized fashion. Around a half-dozen neighbors came in to voice their concerns about potential increased traffic, drainage issues and potential historical loss.
Curtis Morrison of Neighborhood Planning and Preservation voiced his concern of when the proposal from Farmington officials was presented in January of 2012.
Sullivan said they were approached by Farmington officials then with the idea that both parties could benefit from the idea.
The proposal to the Landmarks Commission listed S. Butch Shaw as the applicant, and Historic Homes Foundation, Inc. as Farmington's owner. Guthrie Zaring was listed as the President of the organization in January of 2012.
Zaring is married to Lisa Sullivan Zaring, an SU Board of Directors member and sister to current SU President, Glenn Sullivan.
"There's a lack of ethical oversight that sours the whole plan," Morrison said.
According to the Historic Homes Foundation website, Abraham Lincoln visited the landmark back in 1841 for three weeks. Some who submitted comments via mail which were read aloud at the meeting were concerned the site where the famous president visited could be compromised if covered in asphalt.
Questions and concerns could not all fit into the two hour meeting, so it will be continued at 11:30 am on Monday, Feb. 11.