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Louisville lawmakers advance ordinance updating development rules around Floyds Fork

Close up of a waterway surrounded by lush vegetation
Jacob Munoz
Long Run Creek is one of Floyds Fork's tributaries. Louisville lawmakers are considering updates to development rules around the waterways in east and southeast Jefferson County.

City planners have spent more than a year working on new development guidelines around the Floyds Fork waterway. Louisville Metro Council members could soon vote on those changes.

Stretching around 60 miles, Floyds Fork is one of Louisville’s signature waterways and anchors a popular parks system in east and southeast Jefferson County.

Some environmental advocates and residents who live near the creek are concerned about how climate change and nearby development are in combination impacting its health. They point to issues such as rising rainfall levels causing increased surface runoff and worse erosion.

Louisville Metro Council members asked city planners two years ago to review the development regulations in an area around Floyds Fork. They’re meant to steer how construction is handled on the watershed.

On Tuesday, members of the council’s Planning and Zoning Committee advanced an ordinance to codify planners’ updates into zoning law.

Council Member Anthony Piagentini, a Republican representing District 19, which includes part of Floyds Fork, offered several successful amendments at the committee meeting. One change was to clarify that residents can plant trees in the waterside buffer zones that are meant to block development.

He said his changes were based on community feedback and took into account multiple considerations, like property rights and environmental protections.

“We’re walking a very tight rope on different interests,” Piagentini said.

The full Metro Council could vote on approving the revisions as early as next Thursday.

City planners used a public process lasting more than a year to gather feedback from residents, environmentalists and development community members. The ordinance includes changing “should” to “shall” in many sections to turn recommendations into requirements and details how waivers to rules can be obtained. For example, the new rules require developers of major subdivisions to plant and care for ground cover plants on properties for sale.

Other revisions include:

  • Increasing required tree canopy preservation on development sites
  • Reducing the amount of impervious surface allowed to be built on the floodplain
  • Increasing buffer zones next to protected waterways

Another change would allow development on properties located on floodplains near protected waterways. That would apply if the larger floodplain includes a smaller conveyance zone, where development would be prohibited.

Bare trees reflected in a waterway
Jacob Munoz
LPM News
Floyds Fork spans around 60 miles and crosses into Louisville, where it's an attraction at several sites, including Broad Run Park, seen here in December 2023.

Brian Davis, interim director of Louisville’s Office of Planning, said city staff achieved a “balance” of what different parties wanted through incorporating public feedback.

“We made some changes going one way or the other, kind of away from the middle on some other things,” Davis said. “But ultimately, we got to the point where, again, we have the interests of the entire community in mind.”

Davis also said the ordinance would not be affected by a new state law putting a one-year freeze on residential zoning changes in Louisville.

Lucas Frazier is a resident who lives next to Floyds Fork and has been a vocal advocate for increased environmental protections. He said he appreciates the changes to the ordinance, including the requirement to protect more adult trees. He thinks more people are taking notice of the creek.

He also said that one of his main goals was to further reduce the amount of impervious surface allowed in the watershed, as even low percentages can cause harm to sensitive streams by preventing water from being absorbed by the ground.

While the ordinance reduces the maximum impervious surface coverage to 40% for sites in the area, and 30% for sites in the floodplain, it doesn’t go as far as Frazier wants.

“It's very high. But it's moving in the right direction. And so it's like, OK, that's why compromise works,” Frazier said.

Steve Henry, a former lieutenant governor of Kentucky, is the founder and president of the Future Fund Land Trust, which he said currently holds around 5,000 acres of land around Floyds Fork for preservation.

He said the proposed changes don’t support current best practices for the environment, and don’t honor the goal of the original development regulations that he helped shape as a former Jefferson County commissioner.

“We pride ourselves on park space and green space and healthy living,” Henry said. “And everything we're doing right now, it goes in the opposite direction of every one of those initiatives.”

In particular, Henry said he’s frustrated by how much the proposed rules allow for building of impervious surfaces and removal of mature trees. He also believes the floodplain boundary is outdated and should be expanded, which would bring increased development restrictions to more areas.

Juva Barber is the executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Greater Louisville. She said that she and other members of the local development community supported protecting Floyds Fork’s buffer zone, but were against further restrictions.

“What we wanted to make sure of, was that there wasn't an expansion of what people were trying to regulate here,” Barber said.

She added that they also wanted to prevent new review processes initiated by the Office of Planning that they believed would replicate other agencies’ work. She said longer wait times for projects like affordable housing make them more expensive.

Barber also said that she hopes changing “should” to “shall” in the zoning laws will prevent misunderstandings between the city and developers.

This story has been updated to clarify a reference to the proposed rules.

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

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