The Big News

On July 16, 2020 Lexington’s Planning Commission approved our request for a zone change from R-2 to R-5 at 333, 329, and 325 Blackburn Avenue, which followed the City’s Planning Staff recommendation. We are filing under a 2nd Tier Medium Density Place Type according to PlaceBuilder with the intention to build a 36-unit apartment building to complement our community, The Flats at 345. This approval allows us to go to City Council next month for final approval before beginning construction this fall.

Deep Dive

The R-5 zoning is the densest residential zone, but includes several limiting factors, such as yard-to-height ratios, setback distances, and open space requirements, which limits infill development sizing while allowing high unit counts per acre for development in rural areas. Infill development, vital to protecting the urban service boundary and city growth, comes with a different set of challenges to standard new development projects. These challenges include smaller lot sizes, changing neighborhoods, and construction logistics. All of these factors play into the City’s decision to approve or disprove a project.

Neighborhood Composition

This neighborhood is very diverse in zoning, composition, and use type. Within 1,000 feet of the site there is R-1E Single Family Residential, R-2 Two-Family Residential, R-4 High Density Apartment, R-5 High Rise Apartment, I-1 Industrial, B-1 Neighborhood Business, and A-U Agricultural Urban.

  • On Blackburn Avenue, there is a warehouse, The Flats at 345, a church, 5 owner-occupied houses, and 3 rental houses.
  • On Henry Street, the road behind our site, there is a grain silo, office space, warehouses, a baseball school, and a junkyard.
  • On Third Street, there are warehouses, a brewery, single family residences, and several multi-family residences.
  • On Fourth Street, there is Providence Montessori, Transylvania University’s athletic fields, BCTC, and warehouses.

Details about the Development

Proposed Blackburn Development Project Details:

  • 36 apartments (24 one-bedroom apartments and 12 studio apartments)
  • Reciprocal parking agreement with The Flats at 345
    • Parking Lot Spots – 30
    • Spots created in expanded street (open to public) – 4
    • Total parking spots – 34

Existing Development Details:

  • 72 apartments (108 beds)
  • Reciprocal parking agreement with Blackburn Development
    • Parking lot spots – 103
    • Spots created in expanded street (open to public) – 13
    • Total parking spots – 120

Combined Operational Details:

  • Units – 108
  • Bedrooms – 144
  • Available Parking spots – 150

That’s good to know, but what does it have to do with, and what is, PlaceBuilder?

Part of the 2018 Comprehensive Plan, the city’s Planning Staff designed PlaceBuilder to guide individuals through a zone change and outline how the city would like developments that require a zone change to look, function, and fit within the fabric of Lexington. At its core, it’s a process that emphasizes multimodal pedestrian connectivity and neighborhood engagement. With its proximity to the Legacy Trail and Town Branch Commons trail, along with additional bike racks and connections to public sidewalks, our development is designed with the goals of this process in mind.

We believe engagement with all property owners in the neighborhood is vital. We sent the required 500’ notification to surrounding property owners, met with people living on Blackburn Avenue in September of 2019 to discuss this project, again (virtually) in early April, and in early July before going to Planning Commission. Between these meetings, we provided updates on our progress via email and on our website. We also engaged the property owners of the businesses operating and located in the immediate vicinity to introduce our project and receive feedback.

After listening to neighborhood feedback we made the following changes:

  1. Worked with the city to gain approval on the installation of 2 speed humps to be installed by the city at our expense.
  2. Installed a stop sign at The Flats at 345 to encourage residents to cautiously exit the community.
  3. Eliminated 2 parking spots from the street expansion to use narrow street as a traffic calming measure.
  4. Reduced our setback variance request from 10’ to 14′, matching the neighboring residence at 321 Blackburn, instead of the complementary development at 345 Blackburn.
  5. Reduced building length along adjacent single family home by 12’.
  6. Changed exterior design from the originally proposed design to break up street facing façade.
  7. Committed to designing exterior lighting to avoid increasing light pollution to surrounding properties.

Points in Progress

While we have made several changes according to our neighbors, there remains a split in feedback between the property owners living in the neighborhood and property owners working in the neighborhood. We have received support from property owners working in the area, but property owners living in the area still had concerns. Some of these issues include the design/style of the building, size of the building compared to the houses on Blackburn Avenue, loss of green space, and the addition of 36 units to the neighborhood.

Design/Style of the building – The building design is contemporary, considering the ability to be reasonably built given the cost of construction and compliance with building codes. It does not mimic the design the single family detached dwellings built in the early 20th century that form a portion of Blackburn Avenue. However, it does align with the style of multi-family buildings being built today and is similarly designed to the existing multi-family development that is part of the neighborhood composition.

Size of the Building – The massing of this building is larger than the single-family houses but is not the largest building by square footage or height in the area. Our building height helps transition into the neighborhood by dropping to 3 stories. The Flats at 345 is 4 stories. Blackburn Development is 3 stories with a total height 3.5 feet below the neighboring 2.5 story residence. The remaining 2 properties on this side of the street are 1.5 stories and 2 stories. Across Blackburn there are three 1.5-story houses that will face the façade of this building, currently 2 empty grassy lots and a vacant, unlivable 2-story house. We believe our building will be more attractive than the side of the warehouse and will contribute to the mixed-use neighborhood.

Loss of Green Space for those living on Blackburn – Our development will utilize the 2 vacant lots and the lot where 325 Blackburn currently stands. Many in the area use the lots use to play with children or pets. However, these privately-owned lots were never meant to serve as public green space. If we are to keep the urban service boundary, we must utilize this type of land. Future residents living at our development will enjoy approximately 6,000 square feet of enhanced, green outdoor amenity space in addition to the ~3,800 square feet of outdoor amenity space provided at The Flats at 345. We also plan to use permeable pavers for any hard surface in the amenity space to avoid creating more impervious area.

Addition of 36 units to the neighborhood – In short, we have faith in this neighborhood’s growth and people’s desire to live downtown. Several property owners in the area are considering projects, and some have already started working through the City’s process (Thistle Station PLN-MJDP-20-00023, for example). Transylvania University and BCTC are growing, Jefferson Street is evolving and attracting people, and the Legacy Trail and Town Branch Commons Trail are both nearby. This is a changing neighborhood and we believe the change improves the overall composition.

Final Note

We are looking forward to continuing our work with property owners in the neighborhood to work towards a solution that fits within this diverse area. Some topics we may agree on, some we won’t, and that’s okay. At the end of the day, we believe in this city and want to see it change for the better. We are driven to help Lexington meet its growing housing demand while protecting the urban service boundary by undertaking thoughtful infill projects.

Additional infill projects include studios180 and the early stages of developments in downtown and in the Hamburg area. You can find updates at www.cowgilldevelopment.com or by reaching out to development@cowgill.com.