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City officials expected to pass ordinance expanding Waterfront Park business options

Waterfront Park, which opened in 1999, is a popular destination in Louisville.
Waterfront Park, which opened in 1999, is a popular destination in Louisville.

Louisville Metro Council is poised to pass an ordinance Thursday evening that would allow new kinds of businesses to operate in and around Waterfront Park.

The measure affects land east of Interstate 65, covering much of the popular park, as well as land across River Road. The area forms the W-2 Waterfront District, one of three waterfront zoning districts designated by the city’s Land Development Code.

The ordinance passed the city’s Planning and Zoning Committee unanimously last week. It currently sits on Metro Council’s consent calendar and is expected to pass unanimously.

The Waterfront Development Corporation, a quasi-governmental agency that oversees park operations, asked the city’s Planning and Design Services office to draft an amended version of the zoning guidelines for the area.

Public parks, restaurants and hotels are among the developments currently allowed in the zone. The legislation also permits stores and services like bakeries, museums and banquet halls, as well as breweries and distilleries no larger than 15,000 square feet.

Deborah Bilitski is the president and executive director of the Waterfront Development Corporation. She said the zoning district was established back in 1989 before Waterfront Park existed, and that changes to modernize the code are needed.

“The character of the area around what is now Waterfront Park, including Waterfront Park, was vastly different than it is today,” Bilitski said.

“It was very industrial, wasn't a very attractive area, wasn't an area where visitors came probably ever, and the development of Waterfront Park has really been a major catalyst for change in the surrounding area.”

The ordinance prohibits automobile service stations and excludes nightclubs, bars and adult businesses from being built on the waterfront.

The majority of land that comprises the zoning district sits on a floodplain. The Ohio River has flooded eight times since 2011 according to the National Weather Service.

Chris French is a planning and design supervisor in the city’s Planning and Design office. He said there wasn’t any discussion about whether the flooding risk would influence a business’s decision to locate next to the river.

“It hasn't come up as an issue, and the zoning code doesn't really get into a lot of floodplain issues. There is a floodplain ordinance that [the Metropolitan Sewer District] manages, but that's outside of the zoning code,” he said.

The city is separately preparing to expand Waterfront Park west to the Portland neighborhood. An ongoing project plans to add 22 acres and is expected to break ground later this year.

The Waterfront Development Corporation works with Louisville Public Media to produce the WFPK Waterfront Wednesday concert series.

Jacob is LPM's Business and Development Reporter. Email Jacob at jmunoz@lpm.org.

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