The Future of South Floyds Fork

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Picture this: It’s a Sunday morning. Today, you’re attending a birthday party for your grandchild. Your child and their spouse have moved into their new home after a long and tried home search in Jefferson County. For years, they wondered whether they’d be able to afford a new home in their hometown near their friends and family, or if they were going to be making longer trips to the city from outside of the Louisville Metro. Thankfully, this home checks all the boxes. It’s within their budget, for one, and has ample space for a growing family as well as a private yard for the dog to play in. The neighborhood is quiet, but not too far from the busy streets of Louisville, and it has main road access for the weekday commutes to work and school. The plan this Sunday morning is to help finalize decorations for the birthday party and, prior to the guests’ arrival, take a quick family hike on one of the trails in the Parklands, stopping to bask in the beauty of the breathtaking land your family’s new home sits on. Your family excitedly recounts visits to several parks and green spaces: dog parks for busy days, canoeing and fishing to combat the heat of Kentucky summers and fields for your grandchild to practice bicycle kicks and homerun swings. This can be the future of the South Floyds Fork area, with the help of the dedicated and passionate members of the BIA.

Louisville Metro government is in the process of developing an area plan, known as the South Floyds Fork Vision, which aims to provide a guideline for growth and development in the South Floyds Fork area in southeast Jefferson County. “The idea behind this plan is to create a comprehensive guideline on how this area of the county should be developed in a way that allows for the growth needs of our city as well as makes the best use of the geography and topography of the area,” said Billy Doelker, land development committee chairman and BIA past president, “to provide an overall plan and document that’s consistent, so there’s a consistent approval process going forward.” Surrounded by highly trafficked roadways such as Bardstown and Shelbyville roads and the Gene Snyder Freeway, this region remains one of the last undeveloped areas available in the county and is among nearly two dozen planning districts identified in the Louisville Metro’s 2040 comprehensive plan. The land is composed of more than 38,000 acres. “South Floyds Fork is compellingly scenic, with rolling hills, lush vegetation and creeks,” the South Floyds Fork Vision plan states. “It is primarily rural in character, with agriculture, parks and acreage homes defining much of the area.” And with Louisville’s and Jefferson County’s continued growth projections, for many prospective residents it sounds like a lovely place to live.

The political reality is that environmentalists and conservationists, in addition to existing landowners, homeowners and community members in the region, are challenging the idea of development itself, and that’s one of the many hurdles prompting the need for the BIA’s continued involvement.

South Floyds Fork Vision
The plan, as it stands today, poses several challenges for the building industry, and its impact is far reaching. Members of the South Floyds Fork Advisory Committee, which is comprised of a group of community members, building industry representatives and
government officials, oversee the revisions and public forums surrounding the vision plan. Those associated with the BIA are urging members to get involved in community discussions because the plan affects not only the industry overall but also the general public’s ability to buy starter homes or rent apartments and townhomes in the Jefferson County area. “If the developer is not able to develop that property [and] sell those lots to the builder, the builder’s not able then to work with their regular subcontractors. It doesn’t add new products on the market that the realtors can show to their clients — it has an industrywide impact on us,” said Juva Barber, executive vice president of the BIA and member of the South Floyds Fork Advisory Committee. “What happens in this area impacts everybody in this industry overall, and we have to be focused on how this proposal makes its way through the process to make sure that what we come up with in the end allows us to develop and build houses for Louisville’s future homeowners.”

Although the discussion concerning the region itself is nothing new, this vision plan has been in the works for more than a year and still is not finalized. The Louisville Metro government has been working to determine how this land could be developed for many years, and the conversation continues with the South Floyds Fork Vision. If approved, this plan could potentially impact members well into the future. “This is a huge issue that will affect our industry for 20 years, at least. This isn’t something that’s going to affect us for a year or two, this is the future of a lot of our careers,” Doelker said. “I think it’s something that we have to keep focused on and stay engaged [in] as we see it through. I would encourage anyone … if you haven’t been involved to get involved.”

Ultimately, the finalization of a plan that mutually benefits the South Floyds Fork natural resource preservation and watershed as well as the building industry will bode well for the community and sustain growth within the industry and beyond. “The building association, that’s not just developers and engineers and their lawyers, it’s home builders and roofers and framers and electricians and plumbers,” said Bill Bardenwerper, attorney and South Floyds Fork Advisory Committee member. “So, there are lots of reasons that we want to continue to have growth in our community and collect the taxes for fixing problems and also capture the job growth in our own community.” Much of the focus of the building industry’s concerns revolves around restrictions relating to tree canopy requirements, the conservation form district and low-impact subdivision.

Tree Canopy Restrictions
Developing on land with such dense natural resources, which are backed by environmentalists seeking protection of those natural systems, is not an easy task, and many of the issues surround defining what the tree canopy restrictions will be. Think of neighborhoods in the Louisville Metro: the Highlands, the St. Matthews area, Crescent Hill, Audubon Park — each of these neighborhoods is surrounded by trees dating back hundreds of years. And when Frederick Law Olmsted developed Louisville’s major park system — including its celebrated Shawnee, Iroquois and Cherokee parks — he did so with that conservation in mind. Furthermore, according to the Vision Plan, trees have a positive impact on the economy. But as Louisville’s community grows, so must the number of housing units available. “The development process involves — as much as we hate it — tree removal. The development process involves the installation of utilities. It involves heavy equipment, so that becomes the challenge,” said Jim Mims, vice president of development of Elite Homes and former director of Develop Louisville. “In an area that has its share of environmental limitations, whether they be flood plains or steep slopes or habitats, that’s the challenge we’re all confronted with — [to] reasonably and responsibly develop areas within the Floyds Fork study area.”

The plan states that as of 2012, the tree canopy currently covers about 53 percent of the South Floyds Fork watershed. “Private developments and public projects should preserve trees wherever possible and mitigate unavoidable losses, with priority for on-site mitigation,” the South Floyds Fork Vision plan reported. “Current property owners could be incentivized to participate in costshare programs to plant trees, especially along stream corridors.”

In terms of the association, tree canopy requirements still remain a conversation to negotiate if the vision plan is to be approved. “There are tree canopy requirements that need to be addressed,” Barber said. “We feel they should reference the tree canopy requirements set forth in the land development code.”

Defining the Conservation Form District
The conservation form district, and the regulations surrounding it, is a topic that must be defined with a push from association members. Concerns stirring among developers are due to the new form district, its contents and its requirements.

The conservation form district was part of the Louisville Metro 2040 comprehensive plan effort, and it’s arguably the most important policy document the government has related to the development of real estate, Mims explained. It touches upon a wide variety of development issues, whether they be land use, the environment, mobility, facilities, etc.

“I believe [it’s] the first venture into the definition [of ] conservation focus, so one thing we need to define is what the conservation form district is, what it says [and] what are going to be the requirements,” Mims said. “In the case of Floyds Fork, there is a huge interest as to what are the boundaries of the form district.”

As members continue to flock to open forum meetings, they should keep in mind the following questions Mims posed: Will recommendations become new regulations, and how will that occur? How will the new conservation form district be adopted? Will it be an area wanting change in the form district?

Proposed New Low-Impact Subdivision Regulation
Low-impact subdivision requirements, in the case of the Floyds Fork study area, is another topic of concern for builders. What is supposed to be “another tool in the toolbox” for developers to use is causing an influx of uncertainties regarding how this land will be used and regulated.

The topography in the Floyds Fork area is challenging in and of itself. Flood plains, steep slopes and Floyds Fork and its tributaries all make for an already constrained building area. According to discussions, the constrained land would not be included in the open space requirement in this new regulation, which requires 50 percent of the development to be open space. “Essentially, you have to have 50 percent green space, plus any of that additional land that would be steep slopes or flood plains. You’re essentially having greater than 50 percent of your land that you can’t develop,” said Annie Fultz Dutton, vice president of government affairs. “That makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to make the numbers work to put together a development using the low-impact subdivision.”

BIA Call to Action
If the BIA and its members’ involvement can help get a plan approved that not only ensures the success of the building industry but also the success of the general public, this will have been a victory.

Keep in mind that if the types of development are limited, the overall marketplace is affected. It is important that the building industry be able to build and develop the wide variety of housing types that it has been able to throughout the rest of Jefferson County. When regulations impact the overall building and development cost of the property, the amount of land to be used is limited, and the zoning regulations are too strict, then it affects the overall end price of that home. “It’s a very important part of the county — it’s an area where you have one of the largest public park systems being developed in the area, so it’s not a surprise that a lot of people want to live out there,” Mims said. “You have this beautiful park system, there’s a good amount of employment strung out along the Snyder Freeway, a lot of nearby business parks, whether it be Jeffersontown or the Old Henry corridor or Eastpoint, so it’s not like it’s away from the downtown area or employment. That’s what makes this area attractive.”

And if the majority of prospective homebuyers are attracted to an area surrounded by parks and natural amenities, the industry will continue to fight for the general public. “We want to make sure that we provide an opportunity for our community to have access to the Parklands and enjoy the Parklands, and move out there and raise their families, if that’s what they want to do — and that should be at all price ranges,” Barber said. “…Growing communities accommodate growth.”

Make a dream come true for your — or your friends’ or family’s — children to build a home; for new Kentucky residents to enjoy both urban and rural areas in the same breath; for dogs (or cats) to run; and for family-friendly amenities to be accessible just by opening the front door.

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