GEORGETOWN — A trait of the Louisville metropolitan area that stands out to many natives is the significant growth the region has seen recently.
Hundreds of thousands of people have flocked to the Ohio River Valley in the past couple of decades, bringing with them subsequent urban and suburban development. The first communities to feel the effects of that swelling were those with borders that run along the river itself.
Now, the sprawl is reaching into the rural spaces of surrounding counties. On Monday, the Floyd County Plan Commission will hear two requests for the rezoning of properties that could become sizeable subdivisions.
One of the planned developments is set to bring 157 lots of housing to West Willis Road, a frontage road that runs along Interstate 64. The second request is seeking to build up 55 lots just across Highway 64, near the convergence of Tunnel Hill Road and Yenowine Lane.
Before becoming a Floyd County Commissioner, Billy Stewart was a member of the Georgetown Town Council. During that time, Stewart said he remembers being able to drive down Highway 64 without seeing another car. He and his fellow board members, however, knew growth was coming. The town was also struggling to keep up financially.
The solution they landed on was to build a wastewater treatment plant for the town, as it had previously sent all of its waste to New Albany. Such a move was meant to allow growth in the town, while also giving it more autonomy over its operations.
That wastewater treatment plant, however, ended up being a "double-edged sword," as Stewart puts it.
"It was to provide 20 years of growth for the Town of Georgetown," he said. "It wasn’t meant for the entirety of Floyd County. The problem is that that was our vision in 2008. Now, [the town's] vision is not the vision we had. Their vision is to be a regional wastewater treatment plant. They doubled the size to take care of other people outside of town.”
Both of the developments set to be taken up by the plan commission next week sit just outside of Georgetown's town limits, though they will still connect to its sewer lines. The two prospective subdivisions join two other planned neighborhoods butting against the town's borders — Knob HIll, which will contain 346 single-family residences and 208 apartments, and the 66-lot Henriott Meadows.
Added together, more than 800 units of residential property are currently in the works on a two-mile stretch of Highway 64. That congestion will be compounded once the Novapark Innovation & Technology Campus adds more than 400 jobs within those same boundaries.
"I’m not anti-growth," Stewart said. "I just want smart growth. Smart growth isn’t taking every piece of land we have and sticking houses on it. Put it where it needs to go. We wanted normal growth, not this rampant, out-of-control growth."
Such a significant boom in development and population in that concentrated of an area has caused a great deal of concern among current residents. Stewart, who recently traveled to Cincinnati, said the traffic leaving Georgetown via Highway 64 is worse than that of the much larger city he visited.
"It’s too many cars and too little road," he said. "The only solution is to limit growth or increase roads... Everybody is making a buck, but Joe Blow citizen is sitting in traffic. When will it end?”
Logan Eberle of the Lakeland Estates neighborhood, which sits next to the property set to be developed on West Willis Road, also raised concerns about the rapid expansion of the area. The property in discussion, he added, sits near the end of a no-outlet road, meaning many people may never know the rezoning is being requested.
Because of that, Eberle and his neighbors have taken it upon themselves to hand out flyers informing nearby residents of plans for the land.
“First off, the traffic in the morning has grown exponentially in a very short matter of time," Eberle said. "It’s just unbelievable in the morning. We know that our schools are already close to capacity."
Another point brought up by Eberle is that the effects of the nearby Knob Hill and Henriott developments is not yet known, as many of those structures haven't been built.
"We don’t even know the impact of those yet," he said. "The second point is that the only way to get to the [West Willis Road] neighborhood is a narrow, dead-end street. The population currently on that street is just a fraction of that one subdivision.”
Ellen Sherrell, Eberle's neighbor, said the traffic on Highway 64 isn't limited to Georgetown residents. Along with those living along the road, she said residents of Greenville often take back roads through Georgetown to access the interstate in order to bypass traffic on Highway 150.
Sherrell has two children that go to Georgetown Elementary School. A major concern for her is the impact the growth will have on local schools.
"Our [school] transportation department said our routes are getting full," she said. "They said we have hit the maximum occupancy. The longest routes were an hour and a half each way. Our schools are getting full quickly.”
More importantly, Sherrell said she doesn't understand how it's feasible to build such a significant amount of homes in an area with limited access.
“My biggest concern with this entire way is that road on West Willis is very busy," she said. "I can’t imagine how you can have 150 homes back there with no outlet. If there’s an emergency or anything, everyone would be stuck back there on that property. I can’t get past that, landlocking that many people on one narrow road.”
Eberle, Sherrell and their neighbors plan to attend Monday's plan commission meeting, which will take place at 2524 Corydon Pike, at the Pine View Government Center, at 6 p.m., to argue their cases.
According to Stewart, the rezoning effort isn't a requirement to build on the land. The current rural residential zoning would allow a subdivision to be built, though on a smaller scale, as the rezoning would allow homes to be built on smaller lots.
But if developers were to determine that not enough profit could be made from building a smaller-scale subdivision, plans could theoretically be scrapped.
“There’s a whole lot of projects that didn’t happen in Floyd County because the zoning didn’t change," Stewart said.
Once the requests are heard by the plan commission, recommendations will be made to the Floyd County Commissioners, who will have the final say. A new element recently added to the process to make more voices heard, Stewart added, is a subdivision control committee. The committee would act as a consulting board, he said, with members including engineers, builders, public officials and citizens.
"It added another layer before you can build any subdivision," Stewart said. "In the past, you didn’t have to get any input from law enforcement, schools or anybody. It helps put a brake pedal on rampant growth."