Planning Commission finds middle ground on Old Louisville zoning changes

Some believe zoning changes will help draw businesses to Old Louisville. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Some believe zoning changes will help draw businesses to Old Louisville. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

After listening to more than five hours of comments from Old Louisville residents and business owners, the Metro Planning Commission seems to have found a happy medium among the proposed zoning changes in one of the city’s most historic neighborhoods.

“The neighborhood came out and spoke about what they believe should happen in this neighborhood. I would hope everyone involved is pleased,” said Howard Rosenberg, a resident and chairman of the Old Louisville Neighborhood Council.

Changing zoning standards in the the Old Louisville-Limerick Traditional Neighborhood Zoning District split stakeholders, including business owners and residents. The TNZD is a designation that allows the city to set special regulations regarding anything from signs to building use in the two neighborhoods.

Metro Planning and Design Services staff recommended the following changes in advance of Monday night’s Planning Commission meeting:

  • Allow live-work spaces in predominately residential areas.
  • Expand the neighborhood transition center, which acts as a buffer between the commercial center at Oak and Fourth streets and residences. The staff proposed rezoning 53 properties and allowing businesses to open in some current single-family and multi-family residences.
  • Alter sign regulations, including expanding where monument signs can be erected, increasing the size of signs attached to the sides of buildings, allowing marquee signs and other changes.
  • Zone all properties in the commercial center and neighborhood transition center C-2, permitting all but a handful of uses, including no car lots or car rental agencies.

For the most part, residents and business owners agreed with the latter recommendation, believing it will attract new retail to Old Louisville by allowing businesses that previously weren’t permitted.

The Oak Street corridor should be as popular as Frankfort Avenue or Bardstown Road, speakers said. It also needs businesses to serve the hundreds of city employees moving into the Edison Center and the employees at data company Genscape, which recently moved to Old Louisville.

“Oak Street should be flourishing, but it is not,” said Barry Alberts, managing partner at CityVisions Associates, which consulted for the Old Louisville Neighborhood Council.

No one could pinpoint exactly why it’s not, however.

Property owner Kim Mowder said she’s struggled to bring businesses into her property at 103 W. Oak St. despite speaking to 80 potential tenants. One qualified tenant said the neighborhood wasn’t walkable enough, she said, and another claimed city employees discouraged them from opening a business in Old Louisville, citing cumbersome restrictions.

Speakers in favor of the planning staff’s recommendations fought hard for the C-2 zoning change but did not feel strongly about expanding the neighborhood transition center. A neighborhood leader said that recommendation came from planning staff, not from conversations with residents and business owners.

But it’s that recommendation that caused problems for a number of Old Louisville stakeholders. Speakers who stood up in opposition of planning staff’s proposed changes presented a petition signed by 250 Old Louisville residents stating that the expansion of the neighborhood transition center would harm the character of the neighborhood.

Stephanie Bowman got choked up as she asked the Planning Commission to vote down the expansion; her home is among the properties that staff recommended be rezoned commercial.

Bowman said she was concerned that a neighbor would move and a tavern or other business would move in.

“It is completely unrealistic to live next to a business,” Bowman said, adding that the homes in Old Louisville are extremely close together. “Do not force me to move from the home and community that I love.”

Other speakers questioned why the city wanted to grow the neighborhood transition center when building owners were struggling to find tenants for existing commercial spaces.

“How did this Pandora’s box open?” said John Sistarenik, an Old Louisville resident and former chairman of the Old Louisville Neighborhood Council. “Why extend these boundaries when there is so much vacant space now.”

After hearing the opposition make its case, commissioners said expanding the boundaries may be a good move in the future, but it didn’t seem like the right move now.

“Let’s try to get some good things happening on the existing boundaries. Typically, market forces tell us what should be happening,” said Planning Commission member David Tomes.

The Planning Commission unanimously agreed to recommend to Louisville Metro Council that the city change the zoning in the commercial center and neighborhood transition center to C-2, but it only expanded the boundaries of the neighborhood transition center by two properties — 1235 and 1237 S. Seventh St.

The commission also voted to allow live-work spaces in the commercial center and neighborhood transition center, but it is still prohibited in residential properties.

City regulations regarding live-work spaces are less restrictive than a similar rule currently in place for home offices on a residential property. For example, the rule allows for only one non-resident employee but wouldn’t permit a larger company or retail store, which is allowed in live-work spaces.