Heavy machinery built a towering mountain of dirt near the corner of McClelland Circle and Lemons Mill Road in Georgetown.
It is the first step in what a Lexington developer says will be a decade-long project that will change the way some Scott Countians live, shop and interact with one another.
The site preparation got under way this fall for the first phase of Amerson Orchard, the latest project by developer Dennis Anderson of Anderson Communities. The final vision for the project will be community-within-a-community with a mixture of apartments, houses, shops and restaurants. In all, 486 new dwellings will be built on the site.
The template for the development is Anderson’s recently completed Townley Center, which is located on 54 acres on Leestown Road in Lexington.
The idea behind the Townley Center, and now Amerson Orchard, has changed the way Anderson’s company does business. And it’s a concept he believes could be revolutionary.
“I used to help people find homes,” he said. “We would ask them, ‘Where do you want to live?’ They would always say, ‘A two- to three-bedroom brick house on a big yard.’
However, those same people would often purchase homes which were a far cry from that ideal.
“We were asking the wrong question,” Anderson said. “We need to ask them, ‘What’s the neatest place you’ve lived?’
“When we started asking the right question, we found out it was about neighbors. It was about activities. It was about nature trails,” he continued. “So we figured out we need to build what people want, not what they think they want.”
So the mixed-use communities were born. In fact, Anderson even changed the name of his business from Anderson Development to Anderson Communities to reflect the new vision.
“We had been helping people buy houses, not build communities,” he said. “I think we’re the only ones that get it. I know that sounds a little bit arrogant, but it works. It works.”
The project currently under way will see the construction of more than 300 one- and two-bedroom apartments with a fitness center, swimming pool and clubhouse. He said the company hopes to begin leasing apartments “this next summer.”
Scott County’s growth was among the factors which made Anderson launch this project.
“The economic growth, the average salaries,” in Scott County played a role, Anderson said. “There is good wage growth there. People are making good money.
“We think it was underserved as far as rental opportunities go, so we feel like we’re meting a community need. That’s why we’re pushing the apartments out first.”
The next phase of the project will be along Pleasant View Drive, the community’s commercial center.
“We will have food, shops, coffee, nail salons, things of that nature,” he said.
And those shops will be connected to the housing structures via sidewalks to promote walkability within the community.
Pleasant View Drive will also extend from McCelland Circle at the current entrance to Lemons Mill Elementary School all the way back to Harmony Ridge subdivision.
“The road will allow Harmony Ridge residents to get directly to the bypass,” said Scott County Planning Office director Joe Kane. “It will eventually go all the way to Lisle Road, but right now, it’s just connecting to Harmony Ridge.”
Anderson’s company is also developing the nearby Sutton Place subdivision on Lemons Mill Road, Kane said.
Another entrance to Amerson Orchard will be constructed off Lemons Mill Road with developers agreeing to construct a turn lane on northbound Lemons Mill to avoid “stacking” as cars wait to turn into the development.
Extending Pleasant View Drive to Harmony Ridge and adding a turning lane on Lemons Mill should ultimately help alleviate traffic congestion as the area grows, Kane said.
There is also the possibility the state will add a traffic signal at the McClelland Circle entrance.
“It has to warrant a light before the state will approve one,” he said. “There will be a light there eventually. That’s something we would like to see.”
An additional road will be built around the perimeter of the property, allowing access to the school.
The businesses Anderson described are permitted within the mixed-zoning approved by city officials in 2010.
“They can’t be big-box stores,” Kane said. “The zone is community commercial. That zoning was created to promote more walkable type commercial development with sidewalks and smaller-scale buildings.”
Additionally, Anderson will construct a segment of what officials hope is a northern extension to Lexington’s Legacy Trail.
“He will construct it as he builds up the area,” Kane said. “It doesn’t connect to anything now, but the hope is to connect to Fayette County through the Horse Park. On the outside of the bypass is the route that was tentatively chosen. Then it will go over to the Elkhorn Creek and follow the creek to Cardome.
The trail, sidewalks and shops all play an integral role in building the “community” feel Anderson seeks.
“It’s more social [than other housing developments]” he said, “and we think that is part of what today’s homes are missing.
“You can meet your neighbors at the gym, you can meet them on the trail, you can meet them in your front yard. And being able to control your contact time is so important. You don’t have to go over and bang on the neighbor’s door not knowing how long you’ll stay or how long they want you to stay.”
There will be few changes made from the template created by the Townley Center, he said.
“I can’t think of anything where we said, ‘Dang, I wish we had done it another way,’” he said. “We do focus groups with the residents and I just talked to some neighbors the other day. They’re still happy. It’s been well received.”
There will be some minor alterations, however,
“We are making the apartments a little bit bigger,” he said. “We are putting more thought into kitchens and more thought into closets and how the storage is designed, and making the living rooms bigger,” he said.
The Townley Center template has been a successful one. The development, located at the corner of Leestown and New Circle roads, won then-Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry’s community of the year award, was a Lexington homebuilders’ project of the year, won a Kentucky Homebuilders design award and a Bluegrass Tomorrow Vision Award, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported.
It’s also “up for a national award,” Anderson said.
All the buildings will adhere to similar design and architectural standards, adding to the community feel, he said. Additionally, the entire development will likely be placed under the same landscaping contract. The residences will be maintenance-free from that standpoint, he said.
“Lawn care, snow removal, those things will be provided,” Anderson said. “You can go to Florida and no one will ever know you’re gone. Everything will be maintained.”
When the development was proposed, there was some pushback from within the community. The planning commission split 4-4 on whether to recommend the zone change be approved or denied. Then, the zone change passed with two votes in favor after three council members abstained for business/ethical reasons and two abstained due to a lack of recommendation from the planning commission.
Anderson is optimistic the development will be well received in the end.
“I don’t believe they have anything like it out there,” he said. “I think the residents of Scott County will embrace it.
“There are a whole lot of nice things going on.”
Jerry Boggs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.