The Lexington council voted Tuesday to allow a private club at a former art gallery on Main Street despite Bell Court neighbors’ objections.
After a more than four-hour hearing, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council voted 12-1 to remove conditional zoning restrictions for the former Cross Gate Gallery, 509 E. Main St., which would allow for a members-only club at that location.
In October, the Urban County Planning Commission voted 6-2 to remove those conditional zoning restrictions.
The plans call for a restaurant and beverage service, lounge and small event areas, gallery spaces and a commercial kitchen. Members will pay an initiation fee in addition to monthly or annual dues, according to material submitted to the city.
Nick Nicholson, a lawyer for the developers of the club, said a conditional zoning restriction was placed on the property at the corner of Main Street and Forest Avenue in 1990. That restriction limited retail sales to “antiques, fabrics, furnishings, fixtures, glassware, and china, gifts antiques, and books; and dwelling units.”
Those restrictions were placed on the property at the time it was changed to a B-1 zone in 1990.
“These uses are not economically viable,” Nicholson said of the restrictions.
Nicholson said the group has different parking agreements with other nearby property owners. Ride shares will only drop off on property not on Forest Avenue. There will be no outside speakers, he said.
Even with the changes, “it will be the most restricted property in this area,” Nicholson said.
Nicholson said it will not be a “party club.”
Private club members will also have parking tags so the club can track if someone is parked in the Bell Court area. The by-laws for the private club include fines for people who park in illegal areas, he said.
The members of 509 E. Main LTD include Tyler Bromagen, Field Ladd, William Ryan and Brian Babbage.
The group bought the property for $2.6 million in June 2022, according to Fayette County Property Value Administrator.
Field Ladd is the son of owner Greg Ladd Sr., who recently moved the former Cross Gate Gallery to another location on Old Vine Street.
“This building is a bit of family legacy,” Field Ladd said, adding walk-in traffic has waned at Cross Gate Gallery. “It was not economically feasible just operating a gallery.”
Ladd said the private club is for people to meet other people they may not know.
Bromagen said the private club will not be elitist.
“We aim to build an inclusive membership community,” Bromagen said. The group has raised more than $1 million from investors.
“There was a concentrated effort to portray us in a bad light,” he said of the neighborhood’s efforts to shut down the private club.
City planning staff agreed with the removal of the zoning restrictions and the approval of the new private club. To remove a conditional use restriction, the council has to find there was a substantial changes — including economic changes.
Brick-and-mortar retail sales have been in decline in recent years due to the internet. The restrictions on what types of businesses can be located at the property are no longer germane, city planning staff said Tuesday.
The changes to the conditional zoning will allow 21 different uses, including private clubs.
Traffic, accidents and noise
Residents of the Bell Court neighborhood, which borders the property, cited traffic, accidents and noise as objections to the private club.
Many who opposed the approval of the private club wore t-shirts saying: “Our community is not your commodity.”
Jessica Winters, a lawyer for the neighbors, said Bell Court sought a historic district designation in 1990. The former gallery “is the only B-1 property in the Bell Court Historic overlay,” Winters said. Eliminating the conditional use restrictions would put the historic neighborhood at risk.
There has been no material change in the character of the neighborhood, Winters said. The mix of uses along Main Street has not changed since 1990.
There are other design and antique stores in Lexington that continue to thrive, Winters said.
“A lot of national trends were shared but were not specific to the Lexington market,” said Darshak Patel, a professor at the University of Kentucky, of the developer’s argument that brick-and-mortar retail sales are struggling. Patel said to prove there was a major economic change, a local analysis should have been conducted.
Patel also questioned if a private club would be economically viable.
Nicholson countered Patel did not run a local economic viability study. Nicholson also pointed out Patel did not read letters from local retailers who spoke to the decline in antiques and art sales due to the internet. Winters countered it was up to the developers to prove there was a change, not the Bell Court neighborhood.
Winters said the original deed also restricted the property to no commercial uses.
Daniel Crum, a senior planner, said deed restrictions are private between buyer and sellers. Conditional use restrictions are part of the public zoning ordinances.
Marcy Deaton, who lives behind Cross Gate, said the parking lot is narrow. There’s no space for a vent for a commercial kitchen or commercial dumpsters.
Deaton said the neighborhood will be affected by traffic and noise.
“I am concerned about the increase in noise particularly on the weekends,” Deaton said. “Cross Gate closed at 5 p.m.”
Tracy Hawkins has restored three historic homes in the neighborhood. Over the past three decades, the neighborhood has improved thanks to the diligence and work of its residents.
“This is not sensitive to our neighborhood,” said Hawkins..
‘Economic conditions have changed’
Council members who voted in favor of the club said there has been a change in the retail sales, and the current restrictions on the property were no longer germane.
Councilwoman Tayna Fogle said many areas in Lexington have changed and sadly have disappeared. Many traditionally Black neighborhoods are now gone, swallowed up by the University of Kentucky, the development of Rupp Arena and other urban renewal projects, she said.
Councilman Preston Worley said 27 different uses are still not allowed including doctor’s offices, liquor stores and funeral homes.
“I think the economic conditions have changed,” Worley said.
Councilman Dave Sevigny agreed.
“It’s unfortunate they bought a building and did not get this restriction removed before (buying the property),” Sevigny said.
Councilwoman Hannah LeGris, who represents the Bell Court neighborhood, was the only council member to vote against removing the restrictions. LeGris said she wants viable businesses and neighborhoods but could not support removing the restrictions.
“I’m also concerned about unanswered questions,” LeGris said.