LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) – An attorney representing several business and property owners near Palomar Centre sent a letter on Thursday to city and state officials, asking for crews to suspend work on relocating Lexingtons probation and parole office until the public has an opportunity to offer feedback on the plan.
The office is moving from its current location downtown on West Main Street to a building on Wellington Way, near Palomar Centre off Harrodsburg Road.
Neighbors, business owners, 10th District Councilwoman Amanda Bledsoe and state Rep. Stan Lee (R-Lexington) have raised questions about the proposed move. Several neighbors said they were concerned about their property values and a potential increase in crime.
They have specifically questioned how the move could be made without notifying neighbors, and some wonder about its proximity to a daycare, bus stop, restaurants, stores and homes.
We want to have a conversation about whether its appropriate in this neighborhood, and we want to have a conversation about whether there could have been some better options, and we think its important to have the publics input on that, said Jacob Walbourn, an attorney representing several business and property owners who live near the new office.
Walbourn sent a letter dated July 30 to Commissioner Derek Paulsen with Lexington-Fayette Planning, Preservation and Development, as well as another letter to Secretary J. Michael Brown with the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, asking for the work on the building to stop, because neighbors were not notified and public input was not sought in planning to relocate the office.
Neighbors remain unhappy about the new location, saying it is simply too close to their homes. Two dozen neighbors showed up to tell WKYTs Garrett Wymer that they do not want it there.
Its ridiculous! said Bo Lanter, who lives nearby. Youve got I dont know how many kids in this subdivision that always walk across to Orange Leaf and McDonalds and Walmart. Would you let your kids walk past a parole office?
Neighbors are also angry they were never notified of plans to put the office there.
I didnt know if they just expected us to wake up one morning and see a bunch of felons outside our door and just be happy about it, but were not, said Jeff Rager, who also lives nearby.
WKYT reached out to the city of Lexington for a response to receiving Walbourns letter. A spokesperson said it is a state issue, and concerns should be addressed to the state.
A spokesperson with Kentuckys Justice and Public Safety Cabinet did not return a request for response on Thursday afternoon.
In his letter to city and state officials, Walbourn writes, As you are certainly aware, KRS Chapter 100 imposed certain requirements on governmental entities with regards to zoning and land use law.
He asks for work at the new office location to stop unless and until there is compliance with the relevant statutes.
The public facility review is a statutorily mandated process that ensures that voice of the public is heard, Walbourn writes. It is vital that this process is complied with strictly, and we request your assistance in effecting such compliance.
Walbourn told WKYTs Garrett Wymer on Thursday that he hopes the parties involved will be able to meet by early next week to figure out how to move forward.
Were not looking to be combative, Walbourn said. Were willing to talk through this process and find agreeable solutions for everyone. We have tremendous respect for probation and parole. But we want to make sure all the correct formalities are observed, and the public has the opportunity to be heard.
Neighbors also pointed out Kentucky Department of Corrections own policy and procedures in stating they should have been notified out of courtesy.
According to Construction, Renovation and Expansion Guidelines in Policy No. 7.1, All new facilities shall be planned with close communication and participation from the community where such facility is planned to be located.
The language states explicitly that the policy applies to all institutions and Probation and Parole.
In an email to WKYT on Wednesday, when WKYT first reported the states plan to relocate the probation and parole office, Department of Corrections Public Information Officer Lisa Lamb said the department has been in the process of relocating the office for a number of years due to the deteriorating condition of the building, and because they have outgrown the current space.
“In 2010, the building was required to evacuate after the Fire Department and the Building Inspector’s office determined three steel support posts had fallen and appeared that there were additional beams that were failing. In addition to structural issues, in January 2015 the Probation and Parole Safety Officer requested an inspection from the LFUCG code enforcement to review the safety of the building due to roof leaks, bursting pipes, and electrical concerns. The Lexington Probation and Parole office has inhabited this space since 1985. In 2012, staff from the Planning and Utilization Branch conducted an inspection that revealed that agency employees were doubled up (or more) in a number of offices and other areas. The report also confirmed the initial space design and subsequent expansions/modifications of the lease have produced conditions where a total renovation of the property could be necessary to accommodate current staff levels in appropriate space. In addition, the present facility includes space on three floors which results in duplication of certain areas (reception areas, copy stations, etc.) that reduces the amount of space available for staff. This facility also does not provide dedicated parking, therefore a separate lease for parking is required. If at any point the parking lease is not renewed or the renewal calls for a cost increase, the nearest available parking is eight city blocks away,” Lamb wrote.
Lamb told WKYT that the property owner inquired early in the process about the proximity to the daycare facility located nearby. After seeking a legal opinion, Lamb said it was determined there are not any laws that govern the location of a probation and parole office.
Still, that doesnt make those who live in that area the least bit happy.
We are concerned about our property value, the safety of our property, and the safety of the people that live here,” said homeowner Matt Marlow.
The center, which falls in Lexingtons 10th District, is something that the councilwoman is also investigating.
My first thought was, why would you move something that is in such a centralized location out to the far south end of Lexington?” said Councilwoman Amanda Bledsoe.
Bledsoe says no one from the city was notified of the move.
Stan Lee, R-Lexington, says he wasn’t notified of the move either. Lee released the following statement:
“After receiving numerous calls from people living in the area, and also being contacted by Lexington Councilwoman Amanda Bledsoe, I reached out to the Department of Corrections who advised me that their agency was under no obligation to provide any type of notice to surrounding property owners, nor did they have to legally take into consideration the proximity of this center to school children or day care centers. I found that shocking.
While that may be the Department of Corrections’ policy, it is certainly not right when it comes to the placement of up to 3,000 parolees, which will no doubt include sex offenders, so close to a residential neighborhood, a daycare center and school children. I urge Governor Beshear, Secretary Michael Brown, and Commissioner LaDonna Thompson to take immediate action to address the concerns of everyone who will be impacted. If necessary, I plan on filing legislation in the 2016 session to address notification of people when something like a parole center is to be located near their subdivision,” said Lee.
Lamb says the Wellington Way location was selected after a lengthy process. She said state law requires them to request bids in order to acquire state property. She also said the Department has worked closely with the Division of Real Properties during this property acquisition.
Although another location was previously secured, that property owner notified Real Properties they no longer wished to enter into a lease agreement. Therefore, bids were again requested and the Wellington Way property near Palomar Center was the only bidder. The Wellington Way property has a greater amount of square footage as well has dedicated parking that is included in the property lease,” Lamb told WKYT.
Lamb says the new site is expected to open in late September or October.