Lexington, KY - It took a tie-breaking vote for the Courthouse Area Design Review Board to swing approval for the latest design of the CentrePointe block in downtown Lexington.
Two of the board’s design professionals, architect Graham Pohl and UK architectural professor Martin Summers, voted to block the new designs proposed for the long awaited and much maligned project in the center of downtown.
The design review board, which has say over construction design in a close proximity to Lexington’s historic courthouse, had a different makeup from the board’s August meeting in which designs for CentrePointe were narrowly approved pending alterations to an apartment building on the block.
That meeting saw one ‘no’ vote from the Mayor’s Chief Development Officer, Kevin Atkins, and an abstention from Pohl. This time around Pohl opted to vote because he said the previous incarnation led by Lexington’s EOP Architects supplanted a design he had previously done for the block. The design up for approval today was based on EOP’s drawings but led by Atlanta-based CMMI, which Pohl said made it OK for him to vote because it did not directly replace something he had worked on.
Atkins, the mayoral aide and LFUCG’s representative to the design review board, spoke for four minutes about his dislike for the design of the project before saying he would vote to approve the design.
“If you look at the guidelines themselves, while it’s not iconic, and it’s not aspirational, the guidelines don’t give us a lot of flexibility,” he said to Business Lexington after the meeting. “So strictly looking at the guidelines, I just felt like that was the vote.”
When asked if he was worried a ‘no’ vote from him could kill the project because signed leases for tenants of the block’s proposed office building were dependant upon approval, Atkins said he had not consulted with others on the board about how they might vote.
“The vote was factored on my feelings and not what the other members might do,” he said.
Atkins was joined in voting ‘yes’ by the board’s banking representative, Billie J. Dollins of Community Trust Bank, and eventually by the board’s interim chair Luther Andal who cast the tie breaking vote.
Developer Dudley Webb said he was “excited” and has plans in the works to hold a ceremonial groundbreaking in late October for the complex which includes a 100 unit apartment building, a hotel, a 10-story office building and a two story restaurant and bar building. He said construction would actually begin in the first week of the November.
Despite the vote that narrowly ended up in his favor, Webb expressed displeasure for the process set up by the design review board. “We tried to listen and we tried to make the changes. It’s been a frustrating exercise, and the project is better, but at some point we’ve got to decide this is about as good as we’re going to get it and be able to afford to do here,” he said after the vote.
Before the group cast their votes, Webb let out some of his frustrations at the lectern in council chambers, where the meeting was held.
“With all due respect, it’s an impossible task to do a project like this here. We’ve done everything you’ve asked us to do, we met with staff, we met with leadership of the board… and they liked what was presented,” he said to the board following criticism from Pohl, Summers and Atkins.
“These are normal exercises that happen in the course of real estate development,” Webb said of changes between the last two proposals. “This is not something that everybody in the community can vote on or a popularity contest, necessarily. This is a private development. It’s on private property. I just don’t know how we win.”
Webb left the door open for more changes to the design because construction on the buildings would have to wait for the completion of the three-story, 700 space, underground parking garage that will act as the foundation of the proposed buildings.
“If people have good, constructive comments, we can make these changes,” he said.
The meeting also saw the approval for the redesign of a building that now houses Taste of Thai on the corner of Main Street and Limestone.