NuLuNuLu is on course to become the next Louisville neighborhood to be designated an Overlay Review Area, the part of the Metro Louisville zoning process that allows residents and business owners greater input on development and redevelopment.

At the NuLu Business Association meeting this morning, NBA members and city economic development officials discussed where the effort to create a committee stands, and what it could mean.

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“It’s really about design,” said Rebecca Matheny, executive director of the Louisville Downtown Development Corp., one of several downtown economic-development agencies. “It’s really about land use.”

The goal is to preserve the historic character of the arts, restaurant and retail district, an area with blocks of preserved 19th century and early 20th century buildings.

The effort started when executives at Family Dollar store, a Charlotte, N.C.-based national discount chain that tends to use bland, strip-mall designs, announced last December they intended to put a store at 300 Baxter Ave.

The parcel is on the former Hunt Tractor property on the east side of NuLu.

If the effort goes forward, NuLu – the portmanteau for the New Louisville area along East Market and East Main streets roughly from Hancock Street on the west to Baxter Avenue on the east – would get new exterior development and redevelopment rules that could exclude national chain retailers and other types of businesses through design and land-use restrictions.

For example, overlay principles and guidelines would – as written – ban drive-thrus, making it unlikely most bank branches, fast-food outlets and large coffee shops would find it financially feasible to enter the area.

The overlay principles and guidelines include parking requirements such as screening parking with vegetation, but not suburban-style parking variances requiring stores to have a certain number of parking spaces.

Overlay review guidelines would keep developers from tearing down an existing building to create parking, said Jeff Rawlins, an architect and NBA member.

Gill Holland, co-creator of the district along with investors including August Brown Holland, Tim Peters and William Mapother, was out of town. But Holland emailed IL that he “100 percent supports” the proposed overlay review area.

(You can read more details from the overlay area guidelines below.)

“We think it’s a strong document,” Matheny said.

The process of seeing the proposed overlay review area approved runs through the mayor’s office and the Metro Council, and will take three or four months, Matheny explained.

Under the Jefferson County land development code, the nine-person committee would be appointed by Mayor Greg Fischer. Overlay committee recommendations would go to Metro Planing and Design Services for a hearing, then ultimately to the Metro Council, which has the final vote on planing and zoning changes.

Louisville’s zoning process is “site-based and contextual,” Matheny said. That is, zoning regulations are written to preserve the character of the area.

Not included in the NuLu Overlay Review Area would be the Liberty Green/Edge housing areas on the south of NuLu, which have their own special zoning district, Matheny said.

The Home of the Innocents, the east side entry into NuLu at 1100 E. Market, also would be exempt. The rule changes would for the most part be grandfathered in, with little effect on existing businesses.

There are two other Overlay Review Areas, one in the Highlands along Bardstown Road, and the other for central downtown. The proposed NuLu regulations are modeled on the Bardstown Road overlay review.

Here are some of the highlights from the detailed, 14-page document:

Signage: Applicants would be required to reuse and reface existing “significant, historic or contributing signs.” Signs at Joe Ley Antiques, Decca, Muth’s Candy and Garage Bar would be considered “significant, historic or contributing signs.” Developers would also have to keep historic signs painted on buildings. Free-standing pole signs and signs with flashing text, animation and other graphics would not be allowed, and there would be rules regarding back-lit cabinet signs. Storefront signage also would be regulated. Existing nonconforming signage would be removed.

• Buildings: New buildings would be required to be “pedestrian friendly,” built to the edge of the sidewalk, and with large storefronts, canopies and entrances that face the street.

“Existing structures in the NuLu area are strongly encouraged to be sustainably renovated and reused.” Street-level glass is required to be clear, window tinting banned except for “special conditions” such as restaurant kitchens, storage space or restrooms.

•Public Art: Public art would be encouraged. “The consideration of public art should be included in every project’s written development plan.”

• Parking: As part of new developments, parking lots adjacent to public sidewalks would be required to use landscaping, trees, colonnades “or other construction to maintain the building line created by structures ….” Side parking lots exceeding 40 percent of the total linear lot frontage adjacent to right-of-ways would be required to provide 36-inch-high masonry, stone or concrete walls similar in design to the surrounding area “extending from the principal structure across the front of the parking area.”

Chain link fences are banned.

• Historic preservation guidelines: Any proposed changes to buildings constructed during the past 65 years would be reviewed. “The design of new or substantially remodeled structures which are adjacent to Contributing Historic Structures should be compatible with them and should incorporate similar design details, or reference when appropriate.”

No historic building could be torn down or altered unless the applicant could prove the rehabilitation of an existing building, or construction of a new building, “will have a greater positive impact on the area’s economic vitality and appearance,” or that keeping the building isn’t economically feasible.

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Terry Boyd
Terry Boyd has seven years experience as a business/finance journalist, and eight years a military reporter with European Stars and Stripes. As a banking and finance reporter at Business First, Boyd dealt directly with the most influential executives and financiers in Louisville.

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