Author Archives: Van Meter Pettit

Water Quality Fee a must to start fixing Lexington neglected waterways.

4.5.09

Friends,

Please make contact with your council person to support the Water Quality Fee up for a vote by LFUCG council this Thursday. What we have heard from people who have spent decades on this issue is that, while not perfect, this fee is a good faith start toward addressing a long-neglected problem. Hats off to the many at LFUCG who have worked very hard with little time and scant resources to get this going. We would encourage everyone to take the perspective of this being a work in progress that will need continuous citizen input. There is money in the proposed scope of work that will be dedicated to greenways, so this gets us started in a positive direction. It is our hope that what began as a response to an EPA lawsuit will develop into a long term effort to redefine Lexington’s relationship with our urban waterways. More about that later.

Thanks,

Van Meter Pettit, AIA
Town Branch Trail, Inc.

Town Branch Trail Spring Update

Dear Friends, 4.28.09

With horses racing and spring in the air, we are delighted to report that trail construction is at the post and ready to run. We would like to share with you the project milestones reached over the last quarter:

• The first 1.8 miles of trail will be complete this spring, connecting Masterson Station Park with Alexandria Drive. This first section has been built with $750,000 raised from two Transportation Enhancement grants and state road funds. Land donations from Dennis Anderson totaled over $800,000. Stay tuned for a dedication event this summer.

• A 5-mile design and feasibility study underway will lay out the alignment of the next section of the trail running from Alexandria Drive to the Newtown Pike Extension (NPE) at the rear of Rupp Arena. LFUCG is funding this work.

• A one-mile McConnell Springs Nature Park trail running to Town Branch Creek at New Circle Road is funded and ready for design. This will be constructed with a $650,000 Transportation Enhancement grant awarded in 2007. LFUCG has submitted grants to fund a pedestrian crossing on Old Frankfort Pike for this segment.

• Town Branch Trail, Inc. and the Lexington Distillery District have built a strategic partnership on a 25-acre $85 million TIF project along Manchester Street. When this project is realized, TIF financing will restore a large section of the Town Branch Creek and build a section of the trail. This collaborative investment will make Town Branch Trail a vital urban segment of the state’s Bourbon Trail.

• Town Branch Art Bridge! Working with state and city engineers and other stakeholders, TBT collaborated on a design for a unique bridge for Newtown Pike Extension (NPE) over Town Branch Creek, where the trail will connect with Newtown Pike, Downtown, and the Distillery District. It is designed to become a city landmark that can accommodate art installations in the future. Many thanks to the NPE project team.

• Town Branch Trail, Inc. and R J Corman Railroad have met repeatedly over the last year to discuss the following issues:

-15-mile rail-with-trail from Town Branch to Versailles (on the Mayor’s stimulus wish list and currently in feasibility study)

-Possible railroad passenger service from behind Rupp Arena to Midway and Frankfort. Although this is only a long-term goal at this point, can you imagine how great it would be to bike to Midway or Frankfort for lunch or dinner and ride a vintage train back?

-Preliminary trail design to study a below-grade crossing of the existing rail line in order to avoid any impact on railway service.

• NEW•TOWN•BRANCH: We continue to advocate for a dramatic redesign of the rear of Rupp Arena as Downtown Lexington’s new front door and a critical link to connect Newtown Pike Extension, Town Branch Trail, potential passenger rail service, and the Distillery District with the Lexington Center and Downtown.

• Networking and friend-raising Downtown: We are continually networking with organizations like Commerce Lexington, Downtown Lexington Corporation, Downtown Development Authority, Fayette Alliance, the Legacy Center and Blue Grass Community Foundation, among many others. Downtown is where TBT takes root and where a culturally and economically vibrant Lexington will become competitive on a national level. Highlights: working with the Legacy Projects (Trail and Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden), supporting 2-way street conversions and streetscape design.

• One Quarter for Creeks! We have closely followed the EPA consent decree process and believe Lexington has opportunity hidden inside of an EPA lawsuit. Rather than seeing it as a punishment to be minimally addressed, we see it as a 50-year opportunity to set our environmental goals for our children and grandchildren. The sanitary and storm fees are designed to satisfy EPA minimum requirements. Little or no creek restoration is included in the scope of work even though our creeks are our greatest unrealized assets! No one will move to Lexington to look at our sewers, but they will move here if we have beautiful creeks with trails! Our motto of “one quarter for creeks” (25% for creeks) is meant to reframe the debate and scope of work as a vision for Lexington’s future.

• The Environmental Education Project is nearing completion! A three-part DVD and KERA curriculum to teach local middle-school students about our local watershed. Look for news in the Fall.

• Getting the word out! To spare your recycle bins we have cut back on newsletters, preferring to use the internet and our local papers to better connect with the greater community in a clear and cost effective way. We have contributed multiple editorials to the Herald-Leader, Business Lexington, and Ace Magazine. We keep adding material to our website www.townbranch.org and we are now a group on www.facebook.com, which is proving to be a brilliant networking and information-sharing system. Please log on, join up, and stay connected!

With sincere thanks for your continued support,

Van Meter Pettit, AIA

“Less talk, more action downtown, Lexington city council is told” 11.26.09

“Less talk, more action downtown, Lexington city council is told”

Lexington Herald-Leader www.kentucky.com
11.26.09

By Beverly Fortune – bfortune@herald-leader.com

A vibrant downtown with a wide array of cultural activities, festivals, bars and restaurants is no longer simply a social amenity, but an important economic development issue for Lexington, the Urban County Council was told on Tuesday.

The Downtown Lexington Corp. brought individuals from business, entertainment and hospitality venues to tell the council that developing a thriving downtown is essential for the entire community’s economic prosperity
And the time to act is now.

“We’ve studied the issue to death,” said Van Meter Pettit, who has spearheaded development of the Town Branch Trail. “Compared to other cities around the country, we’re a day late and a dollar short.”
Tom Martin, chairman of the Downtown Entertainment Task Force, said, “We’re at a point where we want to see less talk and more walk.”

Specifically, Martin said, people want to see aggressive recruiting of “entrepreneurial activities downtown.”

Lexmark and Toyota, two of the area’s largest employers, teamed up recently to study how to recruit and keep racial minority talent in their organizations.

The companies recognize that “diversity is fundamental to our long-term success,” said Linda Hollenbaek, vice president of customer services at Lexmark.

The task force talked to young minority professionals in the two organizations. “No one, not a single one mentioned racial issues,” she said, but rather “over and over” talked of the need for more entertainment and cultural programs, live music and festivals, plus more affordable downtown housing.

“They also looked for more and better sources of information about where to eat and hear live music,” Hollenbaek said.

A primary recruiting tool for attracting young professionals to Lexington for all businesses, not just Lexmark and Toyota, is a vibrant downtown. “We need to make Lexington a more exciting city,” she said.

Several individuals told council members that downtown had been “studied to death,” in the words of one.

“We don’t need any more studies. What we need is to get our foot off the brake” and make things happen, said Eric Patrick Marrs, a downtown supporter. Creating an exciting downtown had become for Lexington an economic survival issue, he said.

Council member Jay McChord concurred. “People are tired of talk. What they want to see is action and implementation.” He said 77 percent of young professionals today first find a city where they want to live, “then they find a job.”

One step the council could take immediately to improve downtown, McChord said, is to overhaul the outdated sign ordinance to allow signs to be mounted perpendicular to the side of buildings for better visibility.

Mayor Jim Newberry said a new sign ordinance was expected to be unveiled in the spring.

Another road block that could be eliminated would be to streamline the process businesses have to navigate to get their many permits, said Ann McBrayer, a board member of CommerceLexington.

Pettit observed that private developers have invested $200 million in downtown, “but where is the public investment?” he asked.

The city must put up the money for improvements, Pettit said. “Any company that does not invest in its infrastructure will no longer compete.”

Editorial supports cleaning up Lexington’s Creeks

The context of this discussion is the EPA consent decree and the city’s response. We need to meet better than minimum standards if we want to let or dogs, let alone children near our urban creeks.

Wading too long in dirty water
Lexington Herald-Leader editorial
www.kentucky.com

Sunday, Apr. 12, 2009

One of the most engaging, enduring images of summertime is children playing in water. This newspaper has run countless photos of kids splashing in streams, glorying in the sudden white water produced by a summer storm.

What we usually don’t tell you, what most people don’t know, what those children certainly can’t know is that in Fayette County that water is probably so dirty it’s dangerous, and especially after those storms.

On another page, there’s likely to be a photo of a homeowner wading in filthy water in a flooded basement. On the worst days, there are stories about people who were swept away to their deaths by raging waters.

That, in a nutshell, is why the Urban County Council should approve the Water Quality Management Fee that will be brought before it on Tuesday.

That’s the message of those red lines on the map accompanying this editorial. Those are streams that, in the arcane language of environmental bureaucrats, don’t support their designated uses — including human contact. The larger map shows where, and it is almost everywhere, flooding and sewer overflows were reported after heavy rains in September 2006.

This water — that runs behind back yards, across roads, through parks and farms in our community — is dangerous to humans and other animals. On horse farms, they build fences to keep valuable animals away from that water.

You won’t see that in the glossy brochures produced to lure new investment here. The city Web page doesn’t feature it along with scenic photos of our beautiful landscape. It probably didn’t come up when we made our bid for the World Equestrian Games, and it’s highly unlikely that Lexmark, Toyota or the University of Kentucky mention it to top prospects. We really doubt anyone pointed it out to Coach John Calipari.

It’s our dirty little secret. Except it’s not little and it’s not secret.
We’ve known about it for a long time; so has the Kentucky Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet, which does the field work to produce the ratings on the streams map (there are a lot more streams and creeks and they’re probably dirty, too, but just aren’t rated).

Finally, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency knows about it, which is why we must have a fee whether we like it or not. The EPA sued Lexington in 2006 over violations of the Clean Water Act. The settlement we’ve reached requires us to, literally, clean up our act.
Why is our water so dirty? Simply, because we allow too much dirt, trash, toxins and human and animal waste to wash into it.

This happens because developers strip and grade land without doing enough to prevent mud from washing away in the first rain; because too many businesses and individuals dispose of chemicals, oils and other wastes by dumping them into the storm sewers or onto the ground; because so many thousands of acres of land that could absorb, clean and slow down water are covered with buildings and parking lots, so that when it rains everything on or near the surface washes rapidly into our creeks and streams.

And that’s just the dirty part. There’s also the danger when storm water rages so hard that basements flood, streets become impassable and sometimes, as happened just two and a half years ago, people are swept to their deaths.

A task force of the council has worked hard and publicly to consider the steps we need to take to fix all this and what it will cost. Objections to the $4.32-a-month fee seem to fall into one big category: the timing is bad.

True enough, these are hard times. It’s also true that the agreement with the EPA isn’t signed yet so, technically, we could sit on our hands for a while. There are a lot of good reasons why this argument doesn’t fly, but the most important is that this work has to be done, not just because the federal government is forcing us, but for the safety of our community.

Politically, there’s never a good time for a new or increased fee. Even if the council approves this one, it will take at least until January of next year to work out the logistics to begin collecting the fee. The economy may be on an upswing by then; if not the council can choose to reconsider.

But for now, delay is not acceptable.

We’ve sat on our hands for a generation. Council members tempted to wait a little longer should visit one of the red-lined streams, take off their shoes and let the water run over their bare feet. If they dare.

Invest now for safe, clean waterways

Lexington Herald-Leader www.kentucky.com
Guest editorial
Tuesday, Apr. 14, 2009

by Van Meter Pettit

While most Lexingtonians are trying to make ends meet, our government has been sorting out a lawsuit filed against us by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Lexington is being sued because many of the creeks in Fayette County are regularly overloaded by pollution in violation of the Clean Water Act.

This comes from underdeveloped or ill-maintained sewer and storm water infrastructure. Urban flash-flooding caused by too much paving and too little water retention has made a bad situation far worse.

Lest some scoff that this is just government meddling, you might want to talk to the families with sewage rising in their basements, the horse farmer who spent $40,000 in one year hauling off garbage, or family and friends of the grown women who drowned in a culvert while trying to cross a city street.

We have neglected a vital, but little seen, public investment for a very long time. The fees and the work to be done are not a punishment; they are about deferred investment. If we do this right, we will have cleaner water flowing into the Kentucky River upstream from where we will soon draw our tap water.

Our dilemma is that since we are in a financial crisis, we are proposing a storm-water fee as frugally and expediently as possible, before all the facts are gathered and without adequate public input. By shooting for minimum cost at the front end we may blow a big opportunity that won’t resurface for decades.

The proposed storm-water ordinance addresses the management of rainwater. It directly impacts our urban waterways (the point of the lawsuit). Water quality has everything to do with how we use our urban environment. It is a complex issue that requires substantial citizen input.

The Storm Water Task Force was open to the public, but its proceedings were a closed loop of prearranged conditions. For example, the proposed ordinance set the fee at an arbitrary monthly rate of $4.16 and then made the staff and task force members back into what could be accomplished with this fixed funding (with considerable friction it has just jumped to $4.32 monthly or $51.84 annually).
Despite the last-minute rate adjustment, basic issues that affect water quality are only marginally included and, given the funding, may not be affordable.

For example, even though the EPA sued Lexington over water quality in our creeks, there will be little or no money available for stream restoration or landscape buffering along our floodplains.
Here’s where we are missing a big opportunity.

Lexington is one of few cities nationally where the rural landscape is our urban identity. A strong relationship with the environment is not just a nice thing to have, it is a necessity if you want people to believe you are who you say you are. And it is critical if we want to compete with Austin, Boulder, Madison, Portland or the like in attracting a talented work force.

Lexington is also one of very few cities of any size that does not sit on or near a big body of water. Since our creeks are the epicenter of the lawsuit, it seems pretty well justified to invest in our waterways directly, making them safe, clean and publicly accessible.

Landscape buffers along creeks are critical to improving water quality by slowing runoff and filtering out pollution.

Modern storm water standards call for a 30 foot vegetative buffer on each side of a creek. If we refocus our priorities so that 25 percent of the storm water funds are used to restore our creek corridors, we could directly address the water quality problem and give Lexington the scenic waterways it lacks and the recreational trails that are consistently identified as a top priority.

“One quarter for creeks” is a slogan meant to refocus Lexington on the crux of the lawsuit. This mayor and council have been exemplary supporters of trails. If we can connect the dots and restore our creeks with 25 cents on the dollar of storm-water funding, we can reclaim our urban creek corridors.

If we will see this lawsuit as an opportunity and not just a crisis, we can create a positive lasting legacy that all Lexingtonians can enjoy.

Van Meter Pettit is a licensed architect and president of Town Branch Trail, Inc.