Church on mall site glaring failure of planning

Our friend Tim Joice has written a strong commentary about the LexMall church

Lexington must demand better of local government leaders

By Tim Joice

As a born-and-raised Lexingtonian, and now 25 years old, I recall the time when Lexington Mall gave something to this city. It provided retail closer to downtown, a job source and represented the main entrance to the city. It was significantly more than the aging structure and massive amount of unused pavement it is today.

The recent news that Southland Christian Church is in line to purchase the property was disheartening, to say the least. I am a cradle Catholic, and live my faith every day, so this is not an issue of religious bias.

The reality here is that the use of that entire site as a church removes all the potential that the many bright minds have envisioned for the site. Furthermore, the church itself, outside of the religious services, provides very little to the city and community around it. The church is tax-exempt, so the city loses tax revenue. Once Southland Christian completes its makeover of the property and buildings, the only time it will look truly different from its current state (meaning not vacant) is during services. This is limited to a couple days a week. Otherwise, it will remain a big building and a big empty parking lot (with more parking to boot) the rest of the week — still not a desirable gateway into the center of Lexington.

Finally, the church is based on the unlimited-resources model of the last several decades. As a city, we must get beyond the auto-centric model.

Over the last decade or so, the University of Kentucky Landscape Architecture Department has used the site multiple times as a design studio project. Although these design projects were simply learning exercises for students, they were always partially realistic for the potential of the site. The visions often involved a redevelopment of the site to include mixed uses such as office, retail and residential.

Ideally, this site would operate as a transit-oriented development and form a substantial commitment by the city to a more sustainable transportation future for Lexington. To further the sustainable, or “green,” elements of this vision, many have also included elements like green roofs, urban gardens, affordable housing and other ideas in the design of the property.

The students envisioned a site where the uses actually contributed to the city of Lexington — financially through taxes, to the community around the site as a walkable destination/employment base and to the environmental health of the city through green infrastructure and urban gardens. The list goes on and on.

Clearly, the issue here was not a lack of a vision for this site. The issue, rather, is that a clear lack of visionary planning and leadership exists within the Urban County Government. This starts at the top with Mayor Jim Newberry and extends fully into the Division of Planning. Newberry’s approach to planning and development issues is laissez faire — whatever happens, happens (CentrePointe).

Second, the Division of Planning, which “helps create plans for future land use, farmland preservation, conservation, development activities and development patterns” has wholly failed in its mission. A mega-church satellite campus that is entirely automobile and oil-dependent and that fails to provide anything other than faith-based benefits to Lexington, represents a complete breakdown.

This city is full of bright individuals who should demand more of their leaders in government, and demand that these leaders have a vision and plan for a sustainable 21st century Lexington — not a replication of the last century.

Tim Joice recently received a masters in landscape architecture from Pennsylvania State University.

Read more:



Filed under Uncategorized

7 responses to “Church on mall site glaring failure of planning

  1. I may have been a little too strong, against the planning division….probably just lost any hope of a job there.

  2. Tim, If you are going to argue the merits of planning and land use and its relationship with zoning , i would suggest that you borrow a copy of KRS100 from your father and study up.

    Comprehensive plans do not affect zoning in any way when they are adopted. They strictly guide the legislative body in which land uses are allowed in which zones.

    I do agree that this is the wrong use for this use for this property and will urge the church be allowed to fail in developing it. As long as the current owner and the church organization are blind to the paradigm shift going on in modern culture, then the failure in planning will fall on them. The land use designation, as shown on the last 6 comprehensive plans will allow a mixed use re-development of this property

    • Thanks, I’ve never read all the way through KRS100, but I’m familiar with it. I did look through it earlier today though, by chance.

      When you say comp. plans don’t affect zoning, once adopted, but that they do guide which land uses are allowed in which zones, then they do affect zoning, and vice versa.

      That said, my quarrel is that the zone can be changed, and should be changed, to something more appropriate, so that the allowable land uses of that property change. I know I did not articulate that quite clearly in the article. It probably would have helped to use another 500 words or so, but I kept it short and to the point.

      Thanks for the response!

      • The zone does not need to be changed. It is appropriate for the mixed use development that needs to go there. Unfortunately a church, large or small, may also go there. The ambiguity of a comprehensive plan land use map is that several zones may accommodate the desired use yet still blur the lines a bit by allowing others

        The process of extracting ourselves from an auto-centric culture cannot be dictated by a central planning agency but I also believe that that agency should not enable a furthering of the car culture which we should be leaving behind.

  3. Danny

    Here’s a front page, 1500 word article on the topic that’s in the most recent issue of North of Center (which hit the stands, and the internet, last Wednesday).

    So nice to be noticed on Lexington’s local web/news aggregators…

    • Thanks Danny, very good article! I must say, much more thoroughly written than mine–I wish I had used 1500 words to better substantiate some of my thoughts and ideas.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s