A massive new development proposed at Lexington Road and Grinstead Drive has such an ultra urban look – incorporating two, 35- to 40-story residential towers and a hotel tower on top of offices – that it could make downtown seem a lot closer.
The aim is not just to develop the relatively small, 3.3-acre triangular site near Interstate 64 but to create “something spectacular” and give people more urban-type options for living closer to the city core, said attorney Bill Bardenwerper, who represents the Jefferson Development Co., which is planning the project.
As tastes shift away from far-flung suburban living, young people especially “are looking for different things … and want an entire environment” that serves their needs, Bardenwerper said. In the past, “our vision kind of stopped at three stories.”
The project also would have retail space around the edges and eight levels of parking in the interior, topped by a green, courtyard type roof with trees and other greenery, according to Rob Donhoff, the architect for the plans, who compares the concept to ones used in developments in Boston and Chicago.
The recently remodeled Le Moo restaurant building, formerly KT’s at the site, would go, and the restaurant could be incorporated into a new space, possibly along with some other current businesses at the site.
Kevin Cogan, who controls Jefferson Development, has indicated that over the long term his company may invest up to $200 million at the site.
But it would be a drastic change in an area that currently has a hodge-podge of mostly small, one story commercial structures, including a gas station, in the midst of several historic neighborhoods and in between two especially historic sites – Cave Hill Cemetery and Olmsted-designed Cherokee Park.
Although the current site has come to be viewed as something of an eyesore, the proposed new project is regarded by some as out of character with the surroundings. There’s also concern about traffic, ingress and egress, drainage and overloading the sewer system near Beargrass Creek.
The Metropolitan Sewer District is planning a large, underground water storage basin across Lexington Road from the triangle site next to the creek to help keep sewage in the combined system from spilling out during big storms, where Jim Porter’s Tavern recently was demolished. Bardenwerper said the triangle plans are preliminary and can be modified.
Bardenwerper and Donhoff spoke about the plans along with other Jefferson Development officials and consultants Tuesday evening at a public event at Louisville Collegiate School off Grinstead in the Cherokee Triangle. It was the first of three public gatherings to obtain input on the plans, geared for people in the Triangle and the other two neighborhoods that converge at the site – Irish Hill and Crescent Hill.
The other two meetings will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at Collegiate, Grinstead and Ray Avenue. Jefferson Development is the same company that is mired in legal challenges over its plans for the tall Willow Grande condo tower not far away on Willow Avenue in the Triangle.
John Pacyga, a resident of Clifton, which also borders the site, said at Tuesday’s meeting that he views the area at Lexington and Grinstead as a “gateway to Louisville,” just past the Cochran Hill tunnels on Interstate 64 and that the area could become “very interesting” with new, urban-style development.
“It brings downtown a little bit closer,” he said. “It doesn’t seem so far away.”
But he wanted renderings that showed traveling connections from the site to downtown and the park and suggested that only right turns be allowed in and out of the site.
Some people, though, considered the buildings on the renderings to look dated, comparing them to the 800 Building downtown from the 1960s at Fourth and York Streets. Lisa Dettlinger from Irish Hill also indicated the overall development would clash with the park atmosphere: “I don’t want to necessarily be in the middle of Cherokee Park and see that,” she said. “I don’t feel like I’m in the park.”
Lisa Santos, another Irish Hill leader, said the amount of development at the site is “way more than I thought it was going to be” and urged sensitivity to the creek environment.
“It looks like six blocks,” said John Hawkins, who’s on the Irish Hill Neighborhood Association board. He asked for renderings that better depict the scale and scope of the development in relation to the general area and also noted that new plans are in the works for Lexington Road that could affect the development scheme.
Donhoff talked of “vertical events” and “multiple-scaled events” at the site and said there could also be one underground level of parking. He said these were “first stab efforts” at a site that’s designed to be “urban suburban.”
The targeted triangle, which is bounded by Etley Avenue on the west, is now scattered with low level buildings that also include Nu Yale dry cleaners, a car wash, Park Side Bikes, Leis Auto Sales, Pure Barre workout studio and a vacant brick building that was a hair salon. Cogan has owned the brick building for about 20 years and started acquiring the other property four or five years ago, said Erica Hodge, Jefferson Development’s president.
He held onto the first property because he had a vision to “better that area” and show “what Louisville could be,” she said.
Although officials said the storm water at the site would be captured before it went to Beargrass Creek, John Swintosky with Metro Parks questioned whether the sewer system could handle more than 1,000 new toilet discharges from the apartments and hotel rooms. He talked about a sewer blowout farther into the park during a big storm a number of years ago and how estate owners in past times gave some of their land for the park so it wouldn’t be developed.
Jefferson Development plans to apply for a zoning change from C-2 commercial to an unusual Planned Development District category, which offers much more flexibility in design standards and allows a developer to essentially build their own regulations, with community input, said metro public planner Julia Williams at Tuesday’s meeting.
The intent is to “create new development that is livable, diverse and sustainable” and “promote efficient and economic uses of land,” according to the city’s land development code. It’s only been tried in a few other instances, including in the SoBro area south of Broadway downtown and for planned developments out Taylorsville Road, Watterson Trail and Hwy. 22/Brownsboro Road.
Bardenwerper, a longtime zoning and development specialist, said the dramatic new nature of the proposal could appeal to more than young people. “My next home is not going to be in the suburbs,” he said. “Been there, done that.”