SUNDAY EDITION | Costly Floyds Fork plan ignored as Parklands open

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In the summer of 2008, David Kaelin attended a series of meetings on the future of land along the Floyds Fork creek, which flows about two miles from his eastern Jefferson County farm. 

Kaelin, who raises hay on nearly 60 acres on Tucker Station Road, had been concerned that a new parks project taking shape nearby could incite uncontrolled homebuilding and commercial development in one of the county’s last remaining rural areas.

“Here on a creek where you still have a lot of vacant land left, you know you ought to be out in front of trying to ward off those future problems,” he said.

The project, now known as the Parklands of Floyds Fork, plans to open its final section later this month. But building four parks between Shelbyville Road and Bardstown Road hadn’t yet begun in 2008, when Metro government hired Philadelphia consultants Wallace, Roberts & Todd to study the Floyds Fork area.

Called a “framework for the future,” the study looked at 73 square miles in an area bisected by Floyds Fork and dotted with homes, farms, steep slopes and karst terrain. Ultimately, it recommended striking a balance between preserving some areas and identifying others for varying types of development.

But nearly eight years later, the plan is gathering dust. The Louisville Metro Planning Commission and Metro Council didn’t approve it – and those involved in the original effort disagree on the reasons it stalled.

As a result, there’s no unified vision for the land around the 3,500-acre parks project nearing completion in an area homebuilders say is ripe for new subdivisions.

The study “would have been an excellent start,” said Kaelin, who also serves as chairman of the Jefferson County Soil & Water Conservation District.

There still is time to address development around Floyds Fork, as well as sewer and transportation issues, as the city updates its comprehensive land-use plan called Cornerstone 2020 in the coming years, said Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, chief of Louisville Forward, Metro government’s economic development agency.

That includes, she said, “definitely” adding a Floyds Fork plan into the updated Cornerstone 2020.

“Even if we had a plan on the shelf from 2008 or 2010, I don’t know that it would be 100 percent relevant today and frankly it probably deserves updating,” she said. “In a nutshell, we are not too late to the game to make sure we get this right.”

47,000 acres studied

After years of assembling land along the Floyds Fork corridor, officials broke ground on the Parklands in August 2010. The nonprofit, Louisville-based 21st Century Parks oversees the project and has led its fundraising and development.

Three parks have opened since then, adding miles of sports fields, open green space, trails and paddling access. The final park, Broad Run Park, is scheduled to open April 15 north of Bardstown Road in southeastern Jefferson County.

In all, the Parklands takes in sprawling meadows, vast lawns, tumbling forests and rugged sections of Floyds Fork – all part of a design created by Wallace, Roberts & Todd. While the firm’s master plan was underway, the city hired it for a different plan: the 2008 Floyds Fork area study.

Charles Cash, who was then the city’s planning director, said it cost more than $100,000 -- the “most expensive” plan undertaken during his tenure. At 47,000 acres, he said, the plan looked at an area roughly the size of the old City of Louisville.

“Its potential impact was both significant and far reaching, I think,” he said

Cash said the plan would have shaped land-use policy, encouraging clusters of so-called town centers. In fact, it encouraged three such centers, but only one in the Floyds Fork corridor deemed to be a “core conservation” area.

Cash said he pushed for the plan to be adopted up until the time he retired from former Mayor Jerry Abramson’s administration in 2010.

“I would say there was largely consensus about the ideas in it,” he said, adding that the plan’s lack of follow-through represents “a loss” for the community.

But Wiederwohl, Fischer’s top economic development official, said there wasn’t agreement about the role of the town centers and other parts of the plan.

“It lacked consensus,” she said. “There were a lot of people at the table, and there was not consensus.”

Steve Porter, an attorney for the Fisherville Area Neighborhood Association, accuses developers of killing the plan over concerns that it would have created policies limiting large-scale development.

“The almost-final version of that study did not meet the approval of the homebuilders’ association, and so it got nixed. It was a political thing,” he said.

“Did we derail it? I mean, I don’t remember it that way,” said Chuck Kavanaugh, executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Greater Louisville.

He said property owners and others opposed some of the recommendations put forth in the plan.

“There wasn’t much consensus on the plan, let me tell you,” he said.

Recommendations unheeded

Completed in March 2010, the study made a number of recommendations and suggested two concrete steps to happen by early 2011.

It urged the planning commission to appoint two committees: One would look at compact, mixed-use development in the Floyds Fork area, while the other would make “specific recommendations regarding resources for sustainable development” in the corridor.

Porter said those committees never got appointed. Donnie Blake, the planning commission chairman, said he doesn’t recall the panels being convened.

The 2008 plan is “something I just became more aware of,” Blake said.

Meanwhile, other recommendations are moving forward even though the plan stalled.

The study targeted a neighborhood center, with small commercial buildings surrounded by housing, in an area near Taylorsville Road and Taylorsville Lake Road. That’s not far from a ramp paddlers use to launch canoes and kayaks into Floyds Fork.

In January, a developer proposed a “conservation subdivision” called Covington By The Park off Taylorsville Lake Road. It calls for nearly 1,400 single-family homes on 448 acres, including in an area near the creek that currently allows sparse development.

“By creating a large residential settlement with a retail/commercial center to service the needs of future residents not only will existing local residents be better serviced but the new development will help create a more sustainable environment, promoting a more walkable and self-dependent community with less dependency on distant automobile travel,” according to the application.

The planning commission has stopped reviewing conservation subdivisions in Jefferson County while it looks into whether regulations approved in 2008 achieve their goal of saving green space. The move affects Covington by the Park and three other projects yet to be approved.  

RELATED: Planning commission halts ‘conservation subdivisions,’ reviews regulations

Porter, who is on a task force reviewing the conservation subdivision regulations, said he also has begun pushing for the 2008 study to be revived.

“The big picture is, what do you do about that whole end of the county?” he said. “How do you preserve the rural nature and still allow development?”

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