Metro Council approves rezoning for controversial Okolona apartment complex

Metro Council approves rezoning for controversial Okolona apartment complex
The plan for Unity Place Apartments in Okolona.

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A new low-income housing complex in Okolona is moving forward after Metro Council approved rezoning the 17 acre property Thursday night.

In a 16 to 7 vote, it was decided that 8016 Shepherdsville Road will now be rezoned from single-family residential to multi-family residential to allow the complex.

'I bought this property to be secluded': Neighbors concerned about planned Okolona apartments

Unity Place Apartments was first proposed in 2016, but has received a lot of push back from surrounding neighbors and people in the subdivision right behind the property.

Barrister Commercial Group purchased the land from the UofL Foundation and has been working with the community to make sure some concerns are addressed.

Mike Brown, director of business development for Barrister, said it’s because they want to be “good neighbors” and they are “planning for the long haul."

There will be 24 buildings, each two to three stories high, that will have 260 low income housing units.

Some of the apartments will be used to house refugee families. Barrister Commercial has teamed up with Kentucky Refugee Ministries and Catholic Charities to place the families they work with and to offer services for refugee families.

Brown said the services will be available at the clubhouse in the complex, and that the goal is to help the families find permanent homes within two years.

Kenny Shields has lived next to the site for 14 years.

“That’s why I bought this property, to be secluded,” Shields said.

Shields said he’s been struggling with developers for years because his driveway is technically part of that property. Shields does not own his driveway, but said he has fought many legal battles to make sure the property owner couldn’t stop him from using it.

That was back when the UofL Foundation owned the property. Now, Shields is uncertain what a giant low-income housing complex will do so close to his 150-year-old home.

Shields said he feels like the recent developers have steam-rolled him and will not allow a fence to separate his property from the complex.

“Property values are going to go down, we’re going to have to fight traffic. There’s a wreck out here, sometimes two or three a day,” said Shields.

He believes low income housing will not only bring values down, but that crime will go up.

“I have 11 security cameras on the property and I plan to put a few more,” said Shields.

He said the low-income complex by the Jefferson Mall was a good location because of the proximity to businesses and walkability, but this location has too many challenges.

This property sits right along a narrow, heavily-trafficked portion of Shepherdsville Road. It also butts up against a subdivision, as well as Shields’ property.

The Planning Commission decided to allow the buildings to be within 50 feet of all other residential structures. It was also decided that all three-story buildings will be located in the interior of the design and only the two-story buildings will be near residential properties, to minimize invasion of privacy.

Brown also said there will be an abundance of landscaping and green space to separate the complex from existing homes.

As far as accessibility to transportation, a TARC Park and Ride location is also included in the development plan.

Barrister Commercial Group cited the need for 65,000 new affordable housing units in Louisville to meet existing and projected demands, in documents submitted to the Planning Commission.

They said right now, there are 20,000 families on Louisville’s Housing Authority wait-list.

“We always ought to be thinking about what we can do for people that need help. That’s what we’re here for,” Kriste Metcalf said.

Metcalf, who is a member of the Okolona Presbyterian Church, right across the street from the site, thinks affordable housing is a major need in the area and this site is perfect for it. But she does have the same traffic concerns as many others.

“There’s no sidewalks, it’s a narrow road, it’s a major transfer for people to get from the subdivisions to get to the Jefferson Mall,” said Metcalf.

The traffic for the complex will be routed on Shepherdsville road, to avoid people cutting through the subdivision behind it. However, that just puts more pressure on Shepherdsville Road.

Metcalf said if the surrounding roads were widened, and sidewalks and are lighting added, that it would be an improvement on the traffic situation.

During Metro Council’s discussion of the rezoning Thursday, there were a few binding elements Barrister has to include with the plans.

First, there has to be a 5-foot sidewalk along either the East or West side of Robbs Lane, between the proposed TARC Park and Ride and the existing sidewalk on Robbs Lane.

Second, there have to be turning lanes on Shepherdsville Road. Those, along with the sidewalk have to be complete before a certificate of occupancy is issued.

Third, there cannot be any changes to the number and height of buildings than what was already approved by the Planning Commission.

Lastly, there has to be on-site management that can contact emergency maintenance at all times. Brown said they'll be drawing up those sidewalk plans with Public Works in January. That's when they hope to have final construction drawings and start the bidding process as well.

Construction may start as early as next summer and will only take about a year.

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