The neighborhood may soon be headed to historic district status, but not all residents want it
To protest the potential H-1 overlay in a section of Ashland Park, some homeowners have posted signs such as this in their yards.
Its homes were built in the early part of the 20th century. The neighborhood was named after the estate of Senator Henry Clay, whose descendants sold off part of it for residential development. Lexington’s Ashland Park was developed by the The Olmsted Brothers, a Massachusetts architectural company. The brothers were the sons of prominent landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, a co-designer of New York City’s famed Central Park.
This charming neighborhood boasts many architectural styles including American Foursquare, American Craftsman, Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Preservation of these unique properties is a key to this neighborhood; few would disagree with this. However, some residents want to take that idea a step further and have been advocating for an H-1 overlay, or historic zoning, on part of the Ashland Park neighborhood. H-1 zoning is designed to protect and preserve structures and sites of historic, cultural and architectural importance in Lexington and Fayette County.
The area under consideration for H-1 is bounded by properties on South Hanover Avenue and Desha Road on the northwest and southeast and Richmond Road and Fontaine Road on the northeast and southwest, according to the designation report issued by the Lexington Division of Historic Preservation.
“This is one of the most historic areas in the city, perhaps the most historic,” said Tony Chamblin, former president of the Ashland Park Neighborhood Association and a current board member. “The whole neighborhood has been on the National Register of Historic Places. (Approval) seems logical to me – a slam dunk for anyone interested in maintaining the historical legacy of that neighborhood.”
If approved, this part of Ashland Park would become the city’s 15th historic district.
Earlier this year, the Ashland Park Neighborhood Association board voted 13-0 in favor of making an application for the H-1 designation. Numerous meetings were held to discuss the issue. The Lexington Planning Commission sent out postcard surveys to all residents living in the impact zone. Of those residents that returned surveys, about 75 percent favored the new designation. On Oct. 24, the Planning Commission voted 7-4 in favor of the designation. The issue now goes to the Urban County Council, which has 90 days after the commission’s decision to make a final vote.
Chamblin and others believe the historic designation would safely preserve the neighborhood’s special place in the history of Lexington.
“It prevents somebody who lives in a neighborhood (like this) from tearing down their house and putting up a structure that is not at all in keeping with the architectural integrity of the neighborhood or putting up a high-rise apartment building, or whatever they are allowed to do under the current zoning laws,” Chamblin said.
But not everyone is happy about the road to H-1 designation, such as Gayle and James Wilkes. The couple owns a home on Hanover Avenue that has been in James’ family for more than 60 years. “We love Ashland Park. It has always been something near and dear to our families, but I am opposed to the imposition of these regulations,” Gayle explained.
“I think the H-1 overlay vehicle has been used effectively in declining neighborhoods. Some were basically recovered and their property values increased. But we don’t have a neighborhood in decline in Ashland Park. People pay a premium to live in this area and love the unique and historic character. We are not dealing with a problem, per se, in this neighborhood, as in some others,” she concluded.
Gayle said that people who bought property in the area were not expecting to live under what she calls “onerous regulations.” She compares the issue with someone who buys a new car and plans to drive it out west on vacation only to find that laws prohibit them from driving the car out of Kentucky.
“I would be in favor of other means of preservation,” she said. “The principal is good, but it should not be imposed on current residents.”
Gayle cites the potential high cost to homeowners in historic areas. She recalls one resident spending $28,000 to fix box gutters on his old home. Box gutters are often made of wood and lined with metal. “It can hurt people who want to maintain their house.”
As for the 75 percent approval rating that supporters say they garnered, Gayle says half of the affected area did not approve the concept. She says proponents have been very active in setting up meetings and encouraging residents to return to the Planning Commission surveys with favorable responses.
All of Ashland Park is located in the city’s 5th Council district, represented by Councilmember Bill Farmer, Jr. Because Farmer is a resident of the area that is under consideration for the H-1 overlay, he will recuse himself from voting.
Farmer says that there is “healthy dissent in the neighborhood and sometimes these are very tough decisions; setting the boundaries for this can be tough decision-making.”
Farmer predicts the Urban County Council will vote on the Ashland Park H-1 overlay issue sometime in mid-to-late January.