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SIMPSONVILLE – Only one more vote will be required for Horizon Group Properties to receive the zone change it had requested for a parcel just south of Interstate 64 where it is planning to construct an outlet mall.
Despite continued concerns from area residents, the Simpsonville City Commission on Tuesday night passed on first reading an ordinance that would make the required zoning change from agriculture to commercial for about 24 acres that last month had been OK’d by the Triple S Planning Commission.
With a crowd of between 25 and 50 observers on hand, commissioners accepted public comment on the matter following the introduction of the ordinance by City Attorney Hite Hays, and Mayor Steve Eden, City Administrator David Eaton and Commissioners Cary Vowels and Sharon Cummins answered questions for about 15 to 20 minutes from property owners who live in the vicinity of where Horizon wants to build the Outlet Shoppes of Louisville.
The ordinance will be considered for second reading and final approval at the commission’s scheduled meeting on Sept. 19. Eden said there would be no more public comment during that meeting.
The ordinance follows the transcript and findings of fact submitted by Triple S, and its acceptance would be the final step in allowing the entire corner west of Buck Creek Road and along Veechdale Road to be cleared for the mall project once it receives a final permit.
Horizon is still working with the Army Corps of Engineers on the plan to drain and fill a portion of a 6.5-acre lake and some adjacent wetlands.
Tom Rumptz, Horizon’s Senior Vice President who is overseeing the project, introduced the company’s plans and request and spoke of an average workforce of 1,200 people and as many as 1,500 more seasonally, projected revenue of $100 million annually and a sales tax base for the state of a projected $7 million annually. He said developers had chosen the location carefully.
“There is no other outlet mall in Kentucky,” he said. “We wanted to have access to Louisville, Lexington and Frankfort. There were no residential issues. That’s how we ended up on this site.”
He also said that the company would prefer to use local contractors and would be a steward of the community. “When we opened a mall in Oklahoma City, we raised fifty thousand dollars for a children’s hospital,” he said.
Rumptz was accompanied by project attorney Deborah Bilitski, with Wyatt, Tarrant & Combs in Louisville, who later reminded commissioners that they had the findings from Triple S, that the plan was within the definition of the county’s comprehensive plan, that the land use plans clearly were approved for an outlet mall and that the commission had every piece of information it needed to approve the zone change.
Most of the concerns about the 350,000-plus-square-foot mall dealt with traffic, environmental impact and whether the concept in-fact fit with the county’s comprehensive plan and land use plans.
Barb Shadley, who lives in the Veechdale Road area, asked several questions about how the zone change could be compliant with the comprehensive plan.
“Triple S Zoning apparently passed by a five-to-one vote that this request met the comprehensive plan,” Eden said.
He also said that the land had been zoned for commercial development for 52 years, long before adjacent residential developments had been built along Buck Creek and Veechdale roads. He cited a citizens committee that four years ago had adjusted the comprehensive plan to give the city control of what would be developed on the property.
“As far as land use goes, we are fine with that,” Eden said.
Ken Hudson, who lives on nearby Taylor Wood Road, which is south of the planned development, said that the commission had a responsibility to vote “in the best interest of the community.”
“I don’t have a vote on you,” he said. “I can’t affect what’s going on. You have to look at us on the other side of the interstate and make a decision that is in the best interest of the community.”
Resident Ron Pottinger asked about the city’s plans to beef up fire, police and ambulance services and to be able to handle heavy-traffic events such as Black Friday.
Eaton reminded everyone that other than police, the city has no control over those services.
“We have talked to the Simpsonville Fire Department, and the chief is aware of how things might change and said whatever training might be necessary they would get,” he said. “That’s the same for EMS. Fiscal court oversees that. We have no say in steps EMS takes.
“As for police, we have four police officers and already are planning for the future. We look at planning as an entire city, and each department will be required to have a two-year, a three-year and a five-year plan by next spring.”
Eden and the commissioners cited the fact that Triple S had done its thorough review and approved the plan and said specifically that it conforms to the comprehensive plan.
After the public comment, Cummins moved to accept the first reading, and Vowels seconded that motion. There is no formal vote required on a first reading.
The city’s action has no direct effect on a proposal by Paragon/Trio to build a competing outlet mall on the east side of Buck Creek Road. That plan will go before Triple S in October and, if approved, follow the same review process by Simpsonville.
With the commission appeared ready to give its approval, the waiver by the Army Corps is the only regulatory hurdle still facing Horizon.
Rumptz said he is hopeful of a decision soon by the Army Corps, that his group was working with the engineers on their request. Officials with the Army Corps said the process should be completed in two to three months.
If the permit is issued, Rumptz said he expects construction to begin next spring.
“We like to open around a holiday or back-to-school time,” he said. “I would hope that we might be ready to open around the time school starts in 2014.”