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Sullivan University moving forward with plan to use five acres at Farmington for parking lot

by Curtis Morrison

Farmingon is the green space on the right, with Sullivan University on the left.

(Editor’s note: This post was updated at 2 p.m. on January 31. The original post misstated the relationship between Lisa Sullivan Zaring and her brother, Glenn Sullivan, Sullivan University’s president.)

Louisville’s Sullivan University  plans to use five of the 18 acres remaining of the Farmington Historic Plantation for a proposed 300-space parking lot the two entities would share.

Sullivan officials want more parking for students and staff, while Farmington wants more revenue and event parking.

The proposed parking lot is one of the few remaining green spaces of comparable size within the Watterson Expressway that’s not already a park.

Farmington Historic Plantation is nestled just behind Sullivan College, northeast of the intersection of Bardstown Road and the Watterson Expressway.

Other components of the plan include widening of a fire lane so Farmington can be better protected by fire department, and a berm with plantings to minimize the impact of the proposed parking lot on the view from Farmington and neighboring homes in the City of Wellington.

The plan’s fate will be determined in February as it undergoes the scrutiny of two regulatory entities: the Landmarks Commission and the Board of Zoning Adjustment, or BOZA.

Farmington circa 1850

Farmington has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1972, so pushback from preservationists is likely.

This is an except from a statement from Farmington expert Bryan Bush, author of “Lincoln and the Speeds”:

I am appalled actually they are considering putting a parking lot on the historic Farmington grounds. If the property continues to be sold off, only the house will remain, and Louisville residents will lose the opportunity for the property to teach others what plantation life was like at Farmington.

Hurdle #1 – Individual Landmarks Architectural Review Committee

Because Farmington is listed as a local landmark, the proposed parking lot needs to be approved by Metro Louisville’s Individual Landmarks Architectural Review Committee (IL-ARC). The plan was on the agenda of the Jan. 23 meeting. The Landmark Commission’s staff recommended the Board approve a Certificate of Appropriateness for the plan with conditions. Due to a lack of a quorum, however, the Committee did not vote.

The item has been rescheduled to be considered Mon., Feb. 4 at noon, at 444 S. Fifth St. in conference room 101 of the city government building. Committee meetings are open to the public.

The six members of the IL-ARC committee include: Bob Vice, Chair, Daniel Preston, Jay Stottman, Edie Bingham, Jim Mims and Herb Shulhafer. Since Shulhafer is listed on the 2011 tax return of Historic Homes Foundation, Inc. as a board member and “Farmington Regent,” we expect he’ll be abstaining.

Landmarks Commission staff proposes the IL-ARC committee approve the proposal with the following conditions:

1. – That site work is documented in concert with any archaeological work, completed or undone.

2. – That developers coordinate with Staff Landscape Architect on vegetation, lighting and other Land Development Code issues, as part of any final plan submission.

3. – That the new parking lot is significantly reduced to retain the rolling, pastoral front yard area which is indicative of a formal plantation site.

4. – That imperious paving material is used instead of asphalt. Chosen paving material should be accessed for color blending with site, re-introduction of vegetation when not parked on, and irrigation.

5. – Care taken to adequately address lighting needed for parking lot, while at same time to dissuade light pollution to the historic site.

6. – That creative ways are used to address tree and landscaping which does not diminish important view sheds.

7. – That water retention basin proposed for southeast edge of side does not adversely affect Beargrass Creek which runs through the site. Also care taken to work with Metropolitan Sewer District to address sum drainage runoff from both proposed retention basin and State Highway Department right of way (Watterson Expressway sound wall / gutter collector.

8. – That proposal does not diminish interpretation of outbuildings associated with Plantation main house.

9. – That parking does not extend eastward of large barn.

10. – That security concerns for the house and grounds are evaluated form standpoint of lighting, vehicular access, and pedestrian access, during houses’ operation and time of closure.

11. – That Montrose Avenue entry / access point remains service use only.

12. – That pedestrian paths are maintained, which are separated from parking lot paths.

13. – That auto access roads which connect to private drive for plantations, are carefully studied and sensitively located.

14. – That raised traffic (planting) islands are not built as part of the parking lot development.

15. – That overall parking scenarios for Sullivan University are explored, including the future construction of parking garages.

Condition #1 may prove important. Relative to the lives of the original plantation owners, the Speed family, little is known about the African American slaves who lived there and who were responsible for making Farmington the successful hemp plantation for which it is was known.

According to Farmington’s website:

 Slave research at Farmington continues with an archaeological dig. The dig, in the area where slave cabins may once have stood, has uncovered many artifacts from the mid-1800s that were possibly slave possessions. Of particular note is a pierced coin marked with an “X”, a sign frequently used by enslaved African Americans. Although this research is still in the preliminary stages, it should provide clues to the lives of enslaved African Americans at Farmington. Similar digs at other historic properties have yielded information about slave activities, diet and religion. Most written documentation does not include the slaves’ point of view, but the artifacts found at Farmington may help to illuminate their experience.

Condition #4 may be a fail as written. “Imperious” means arrogant and domineering. Nothing against arrogant paving material. “Impervious” means not letting water through. The adjective the Landmarks’ staff was probably looking for is “pervious.” Cynthia Johnson, the Preservation Officer of the Historic Landmarks and Preservation Districts Commission assures Insider Louisville she’ll make the case manager aware of that error.

Condition #7 is slightly misleading, as Beargrass Creek does not run through the site. A stream leading into Beargrass runs through both Farmington and Sullivan. However, the entire area is in the watershed for Beargrass Creek.

Metro Councilman Brent Ackerson, whose 26th district includes Farmington, tells us he’s prohibited from commenting on planning and zoning issues, but his office does plans to have someone in attendance at the Feb. 4 Individual Landmarks Architectural Review Committee meeting.

 Hurdle #2 – Board of Zoning Adjustment

Farmington’s property is zoned R-5 (single family residential), so the proposed off-street parking would thus require a conditional use permit from Board of Zoning Adjustment (BOZA). “Sullivan University off-street parking” was listed on the agenda for Monday’s BOZA meeting, but Jon E. Crumbie, a planner with the Department of Codes and Regulations, explained to us in an email why it has been taken off the agenda:

The (BOZA) meeting was postponed because Landmarks needs to hear the case first and they did not have a quorum at their scheduled meeting last week. The next BOZA this case can go on will be February 18. New notices will be sent when the meeting is scheduled.

Hurdle #3 – Factors the community should be considering

Farmington, which hosts lots of weddings, currently refers party planners to contact Sullivan two weeks prior to an event rental if more parking is needed than what Farmington has to offer. As grant money has become more and more scarce, Farmington is already relying more on revenue from hosting events.

Sullivan University is a for-profit college, benefiting from explosive growth in part tied to an abundant availability of government-guaranteed student loans and a job market that’s more dismal than anyone wants to talk about. Sullivan’s day students who commute to the school by car can currently purchase parking permits for $28 per quarter. Night students pay $7 per night of class.

When the lot adjacent to Sullivan is full, students now park in what’s called West Campus Student Parking. Those shy about using the Bardstown Road crosswalk can take advantage of a shuttle that Sullivan says makes a round trip every ten minutes. (Parking information courtesy of Sullivan.)

Unlike students at the University of Louisville who ride TARC for free, Sullivan students must pay full fare to ride TARC. While the University of Louisville gives incentives for students to utilize public transit, Sullivan only encourages their students to use it.

(Reporter’s note: Our questions to Sullivan University spokesperson Thomas Whittinghill were met with this response Monday morning:

Thanks of your interest. I have a message out to Glenn Sullivan, he has been most involved with our longstanding partnership with Farmington, and has the most up-to-date info. The lot will be used by Sullivan and by Farmington, when it hosts larger events. What is your deadline?

We responded our deadline was Monday night, and did not hear back.)

Other possible issues:

The proposal to the Landmarks Commission listed S. Butch Shaw as the applicant, and Historic Homes Foundation, Inc. as Farmington’s owner. But according to Historic Homes’ 2011 tax return and the Kentucky Secretary of State, Shaw is the treasurer and Guthrie Zaring is the president.

Zaring is the husband of Lisa Sullivan Zaring, who is a member of Sullivan University’s board of directors.

Sullivan was founded by Zaring’s grandfather and great-grandfather in 1962. Her brother, Glenn Sullivan, is the current president.

Does Farmington really need money?

Intuitively, there’s little doubt any charity does not need money in this economy, but let’s look at the numbers.

Historic Homes Foundation, Inc. owns and operates not only Farmington, but also Whitehall and Edison House. According to their tax return, the non-profit ended its fiscal year on August 31, 2011 with $176, 589 in cash, $467,756 in publicly traded securities and $25,258 in other securities.

In that same return, Historic Homes reported $552,752 in revenue for the year. While that’s up $27,017 from their prior year, it’s down $100,000 to $300,000 from the prior four years.

Finally, if the deal goes through, the city will benefit … a tiny bit.

Per Jefferson County Property Valuation Administrator Tony Lindauer, there is a small advantage with the parking lot for the city – revenue.:

 Curtis, It appears Sullivan is trying to get a zoning change before they attempt to engage in a leasehold agreement with Farmington for parking. That parcel is presently zoned residential. If a zoning change occurs and a lease is executed, either Farmington or Sullivan would be subject to the taxes on that lease but not the land. Depends how the lease is written. It wouldn’t be much money but it’s still revenue.

Tony Lindauer

 

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