One by one, members of the Louisville Metro Planning Commission stated that they would vote to recommend the controversial Topgolf development at Oxmoor Center for approval by Metro Council.
Commissioner Marilyn Lewis said she was “looking for hard evidence” to refute studies and other information that Topgolf presented, but there was none, and commissioner Robert Peterson told his fellow commissioners and the crowd that he thinks the development will have “far less of an impact than what they (the opposition) are fearing.”
In a unanimous decision Thursday afternoon, the commission voted to recommend approval of the rezoning, variances and waiver for the proposed development in Louisville’s East End.
The decision came after about 40-minutes of deliberation Thursday, which followed two separate meetings that were part of an 11-hour public hearing. The meetings, held at the University of Louisville’s Shelbyhurst campus, brought hundreds of people out to speak in favor of or against the proposed Topgolf development at Oxmoor Center.
The project will now move on to the Louisville Metro Council’s Planning, Zoning & Annexation Committee. (See graphic below.) The earliest Topgolf could go before the committee is Nov. 13 and the full council on Nov. 29.
Topgolf, in partnership with Oxmoor Center, has proposed leveling the vacant Sears at the back of Oxmoor Center and erect a 62,103-square-foot entertainment center with 102 climate-controlled hitting bays, televisions and food and drink service. Three restaurant buildings are planned for that area as well and were previously approved.
Some residents have opposed the project because of plans to install netting attached to 170-foot poles. Complaints also have centered around lighting, traffic, noise and drunken driving. Those in favor of Topgolf say their fears are just that, fears, not fact.
Following the decision, Clifford Ashburner, the attorney representing Topgolf, said the attorney for the opposition group, Steve Porter, has made it clear that there isn’t room for compromise at the Oxmoor Center site.
When asked if Topgolf was willing to stick around and fight any potential lawsuit that Porter may file, challenging the decision — should Metro Council ultimately approve the project — Ashburner said, “We are several steps away from that. … It is just a decision that we will have to make at the time. My hope is still that people take a deep breath, and they look at the evidence, and they realize that things are not going to be as bad as they feared, and they don’t file suit.”
Tanner Micheli, director of real estate development for Topgolf, responded similarly to a question about a possible legal battle, saying the company would make a decision when and if the time comes. In the meantime, the project still has a pass through Metro Council.
Porter said he doesn’t believe that those opposed to Topgolf at Oxmoor Center are in the minority.
“I think that most of the people who were supporting Topgolf would have supported Topgolf if it had been at Old Henry, if it had been at the fairgrounds, if it had been anywhere else, they would have still supported Topgolf,” he said. “My clients support Topgolf for Louisville, make no mistake about that. They support Topgolf for Louisville” just not at Oxmoor Center.
He also told the media that the Planning Commission made “probably the biggest mistake I’ve ever seen” in his many years practicing, adding that he hopes Metro Council will correct that mistake. If Metro Council sides with the Planning Commission, Porter said the parties he represents, citizen group Louisville Neighbors for Responsible Growth, would consider filing a lawsuit in Jefferson County Circuit Court.
He argued that the development includes many violations of the land development code and comprehensive plan that the commission “overlooked,” including a requirement that development should not change the character of a neighborhood.
“This changes the character of that neighborhood … as I’ve described it before, it looks like Godzilla’s cage, and Godzilla’s cage does not belong next to a neighborhood,” Porter said. “There are many other locations where it could happen where it would not be next to a single-family neighborhood.”
Less than 24 hours before the Planning Commission meeting Thursday, the opposition offered up land from the Bullitt Farm trust as a suitable location. While the property is farther from the city of Hurstbourne residents, it would actually place Topgolf closer to residences than building at Oxmoor Center, as the property put forth is sandwiched between Interstate 264 and an apartment complex.
“There are a number of Topgolfs around the country that are next to apartment buildings, about six or seven of them,” Porter said.
When asked why it was appropriate next to apartments but not a subdivision, Porter said “the residents have the option of leaving if they don’t like it. Homeowners in a single-family subdivision who have lived there for 10, 20, 30 years, that option is not nearly as great, as viable as a renter – a lot of difference.”
Micheli said Topgolf has not received any proposals related to other sites but reiterated that the company is invested in the site at Oxmoor Center. Construction would take 11 to 12 months once Topgolf breaks ground; pending no legal hurdles and Metro Council’s approval, it could open 18 months after the council vote. He declined to provide a cost estimate.
Topgolf has previously stated that it would create 500 jobs.
Both the mayor and Greater Louisville Inc., the local Chamber of Commerce, have spoken in favor of Topgolf coming to Louisville. While the mayor has not officially weighed in on the location, GLI said in a statement that it supports the company developing at Oxmoor Center.
Following the Planning Commission vote, GLI emailed out the following statement from CEO Kent Oyler: “This is the right move to signal that Louisville is open for business and ready to welcome new and exciting ventures into our city that create jobs while attracting and retaining young professionals.”