More than 300 people showed up at the Planning Commission’s night hearing about the proposed Topgolf development. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Building hours at the Founders Union Building forced the Louisville Metro Planning Commission to delay further testimony and a possible vote on Topgolf’s planned three-story development at Oxmoor Center.

The Planning Commission was considering variances and waivers related to Topgolf’s lighting plan and the height of the proposed development. The commission will resume the hearing at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 15, at the Founders Union Building, 450 N. Whittington Parkway.

Topgolf’s plans call for a 62,103-square-foot entertainment center with 102 hitting bays where customers can enjoy drinks and food, while whacking golf balls into the practice range, listening to music and watching televisions in each bay. The company made some changes to the plan, including shifting the project 200 feet west, following criticism from nearby residents.

The company has not said how much the project would cost but that it would employ 500 people, including 125 full-time employees, in Louisville alone. It also has touted its $264.5 million in total economic output during a period of 10 years in the cities it operates in.

During Monday night’s public hearing, attorney Steve Porter, who represents the opposition, attempted to delegitimize parts of the staff report from Louisville Metro Planning & Design Services by pointing out that staff did not conduct their own independent review of potential impacts and based its findings on information provided by sound, lighting, traffic and other experts paid by Topgolf.

During the questioning, city planner Joel Dock said Planning & Design Services staff did not measure the distance between the proposed Topgolf and the closest nearby residence and did not have any additional information about lighting, including the number of light fixtures proposed, other than what was provided by Topgolf.

Attorney Clifford Ashburner, who represents Topgolf’s interests, spoke before the Planning Commission. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

A spokesman for Planning & Design Services said he does not remember any time, at least in the past few years, that the city has conducted independent studies regarding private development. Planning staff evaluates all of the information provided both for and against a proposed project.

Attorney Clifford Ashburner, who represents Topgolf, interjected during Porter’s time to argue that Porter was conducting “a sham examination” of Dock by making biased statements and tacking a question mark at the end.

Ashburner, others speaking in favor of the project and the experts Topgolf hired headed off expected negative comments from the city of Hurstbourne resident by showing photos, maps and other data that they argued proved that the Topgolf would not impact residential areas, and Hurstbourne in particular.

“We are not in a neighborhood. We are in a regional center,” Ashburner said during his testimony.

In a slideshow, Ashburner showed off photos from various locations, mostly within the city of Hurstbourne, in an effort to illustrate that most would not be able to see the development. The opposition, which believes the proposed Topgolf is too tall, conducted a similar test, according to resident Suzanne Hidgon, who said participants “were horrified” by the results.

Lighting expert Keith Pharis, owner of Pharis Engineering, said the planned, focused and downward-angled lighting represents a 25 percent reduction in total wattage compared to old forms of lighting that spread outward in all directions.

“You will be able to see there is a light over there,” he said, but it won’t be shining in your face.

“I am not alone in Hurstbourne”
Topgolf has 40 locations in the United States and United Kingdom. | Photo by Michael Baxter

Both strong opposition and support for the proposed development brought more than 300 people to the Founders Union Building at the University of Louisville’s Shelbyhurst campus.

Since Topgolf announced its plan to locate at Oxmoor Center shopping mall, those in opposition, which included the nearby city of Hurstbourne, have argued that the development will increase traffic, light pollution and noise and is too close to residences. While they’ve said they support Topgolf, they do not want it at Oxmoor Center.

“We are the David against the Goliath,” said one Hurstbourne resident who spoke against the project. “We are old, and we are young, and more importantly, we have the facts and research.”

Hidgon also referred to Topgolf as Goliath but in a different way. She called Topgolf locations “conspicuous,” “industrial,” “hulking” and “massive.”

She and others questioned the findings of Topgolf’s noise expert Mitchell Green. One resident played videos of people cheering and music at Topgolf locations, disputing Green’s assertion that Hurstbourne neighbors wouldn’t hear or would only hear a little noise from the Louisville site.

“Would you want these neighbors?” resident Julianne West said.

Ky. Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, also spoke out against Topgolf’s decision to locate at Oxmoor Center, stating that the traffic report wasn’t comprehensive enough and that she’s heard more opposition than support for the development.

Sen. Julie Raque Adams

Raque Adams referenced the city’s 20-year comprehensive plan Cornerstone 2020, noting that its planning and design guidelines allow for flexibility. “This application goes well beyond the bounds of asking for flexibility. It’s writing new code,” she said.

Mary Schneider-Masick, mayor of the city of Hurstbourne, said the city isn’t against responsible development or Topgolf.

“Topgolf is right for Louisville but definitely not right for this location,” she said, suggesting it consider developing at the fairgrounds.

In a tweet Monday night, Topgolf’s communications manager repeated previous comments from company officials: “Unfortunately if it’s not here, there isn’t another location we’d consider. We’ve researched them all and have been for two years.” When asked specifically about the fairgrounds, she tweeted: “We’ve evaluated every possible scenario. Oxmoor Center is our bull’s-eye!”

Meanwhile, those in favor have said that Topgolf is a high-end attraction that the city needs, that will bring new jobs to the community, attract and retain young professionals and be a new amenity for visitors.

Multiple people who identified themselves as residents of Hurstbourne told the commission that they believe the majority of the small city’s residents are actually in favor or don’t have a strong opinion about the Topgolf development. One estimated that only 10 percent to 15 percent of homes had opposition signs posted in their yard and encouraged commissioner to drive through the city.

“I cannot wait for this exciting development to break ground,” said Brian Forrest, a Hurstbourne resident and partner at Sun Properties and Hoagland Commercial Realtors. “I know I am not alone in Hurstbourne.”

Several speakers also referenced Walmart’s decision to drop a more than $30 million project at 18th Street and Broadway. The retail giant backed out of the project following a lawsuit filed by Porter on behalf of an opposition group.

“I am sick and tired of Louisville being passed by for so many reasons … people don’t even know why they are opposing,” said Pastor Milton Seymour, adding that it was “heartbreaking” to see the roughly 300 jobs Walmart promised leave the West End and it would be similar if Topgolf did not move forward.

Michael Tabor, a founding partner of TRIO Commercial Property Group, called Topgolf “the most sought-after retailer right now.”

“If this is not approved this would be a travesty for our city,” Tabor said, also referencing the Walmart project.

In an impassioned speech, Tyler Glick, a public relations and communications specialist, called out Porter specifically.

“I’ve had enough of what you’re doing in town. You kill jobs,” he said.

While many speakers repeated similar arguments, one offered up a unique reason for why he supported Topgolf: It offers a golfing option for lower-income residents who can’t afford golf clubs, golf course fees or costs associated with country clubs.

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Caitlin Bowling
Louisville native Caitlin Bowling has covered the local restaurant and retail scene since 2014. After graduating from the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Caitlin got her start at a newspaper in the mountains of North Carolina where she won multiple state awards for her reporting. Since returning to Louisville, she’s written for Business First and Insider Louisville, winning awards for health and business reporting and becoming a go-to source for business news. In addition to restaurants and retail business, Caitlin covers real estate, economic development and tourism. Email Caitlin at [email protected]