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Highland Way development approved for rezoning

A proposal to develop 13.5 acres near Highland Way and Nashville Road into apartments and some commercial businesses – a plan strongly opposed by nearby residents – has cleared perhaps its biggest hurdle.

The City-County Planning Commission of Warren County, meeting via Zoom teleconference Thursday, viewed the continuation of a hearing on the proposed development that began March 4 and then voted 6-1 to approve a rezoning request put forth by property owners Sam Potter Jr. and Jeff and Betsy Harned.

Only those commission members who attended the March 4 planning commission meeting that lasted past midnight and Thursday’s meeting could vote on the application to rezone property at 603 and 611 Highland Way and 2310 Nashville Road.

Commissioners Shannon Blackburn, Sandy Clark, Debbie Richey, Velma Runner, India Unseld and Christiaan Volkert voted to approve the rezoning from single-family residential to multi-family residential and general business. Mary Belle Ballance cast the lone dissenting vote.

The rezoning, which must now go to the Bowling Green City Commission for final approval, got the OK from the planning commission despite many Highland Way residents voicing concerns about the impact of such a development on a well-established neighborhood.

Many of those residents were represented by Owensboro attorney Frank Stainback. Others, like Kathryn Shadowen, spoke against the plan to put as many as 76 apartments on the 5.9-acre residential parcel and as much as 52,000 square feet of commercial development on the 7.6-acre tract adjoining Nashville Road.

“I’m concerned that putting apartments up will change the neighborhood,” Shadowen told the commissioners. “It will affect the quality of life and the property values. Most of the people living along Highland Way are opposed to this. You should take that into consideration.”

In the end, the concessions made by Potter and the Harneds and related by attorney Tad Pardue were enough to win approval.

Pardue presented a list of changes to the development plan conditions, including:

  • limiting the maximum height of structures in the general business zone to two stories instead of three.
  • adding packaged liquor stores as a prohibited use in the general business zone.
  • constructing an eight-foot wooden fence as a barrier along all property lines shared with property used for single-family residences.
  • limiting the maximum height of structures that are within 40 feet of single-family residential property to one story.
  • agreeing to a uniform color scheme for the buildings in the multi-family residential section.

Pardue said Potter – a Warren District Court judge – and the Harneds were not willing to commit to prohibiting fast-food restaurants and gas stations from the general business section, as requested by Stainback on behalf of his clients.

“We believe the changes we’ve made further solidify the compatibility of Judge Potter’s development,” Pardue said.

Stainback said he and his clients haven’t decided what steps to take now that the rezoning is headed to the city commission, but he hopes “we’ll have the opportunity to be heard in some way.”

“It may or may not be public knowledge that there is substantial opposition to this application,” Stainback said Friday. “It’s evident that the people living in that area wish to preserve their residential community.”

Latest area selected for city's improvement program

A fourth Bowling Green area – from the Barren River southwest toward downtown – is set to get an infusion of funding for a variety of improvement projects developed specifically for that area.

Bowling Green’s Neighborhood Improvements Program entails defining an area and gathering input on what projects are most needed in that area. The city then uses a combination of federal and local funds to make those improvements, typically over a two-year period.

The key to the program’s success is its “flexibility” to pick projects most needed in the specific area, according to city Neighborhood and Community Services Director Brent Childers.

“There is real value in being able to walk through a neighborhood and be able to move from idea to construction very rapidly,” Childers said.

Previous areas selected for the NIP were around Reservoir Hill, the city portion of Census Block 112 between Old Morgantown and Old Barren River roads and Normalview Drive to the city limits and a parcel of city land between University Boulevard and Morgantown and Old Morgantown roads.

Projects in these areas included new sidewalks, park improvements, street fixtures, home improvement grants and efforts toward producing more affordable housing.

Childers said it has been rewarding to be able to “mold the program from idea to reality,” adding that “small ideas” can turn into impactful projects.

One visible example of the NIP’s impact is the number of people seen utilizing the new sidewalks linking the areas around Lampkin and Pedigo parks to shopping and other destinations.

“These connections didn’t previously exist,” Childers said.

In the second NIP area, the city gave a $500,000 grant to Habitat for Humanity of Bowling Green-Warren County for infrastructure needed to build about 20 new homes in the Durbin Estates neighborhood as an effort to increase the stock of affordable housing in the city.

The latest area picked for the NIP is from Adams to Eighth Avenue and from U.S. 31-W By-Pass to the Barren River. It encompasses The Medical Center complex, Roland Bland and Circus Square parks, as well as the Shake Rag historic district.

NIP areas get about $560,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant funds with a match of about $200,000 from the city each year, for a total project cost of about $1.5 million per NIP over two years.

The city usually holds a public meeting in each NIP area to gather input, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city mailed a link to a survey to every property owner and resident. There have also been some individual stakeholder meetings and a public hearing held online. City staff from various departments also provide input.

Childers said the city will start collating feedback this week to formulate a specific plan for the area.

A unique and timely feature of the latest NIP area is that it dovetails with a separate city effort to revitalize the River Street corridor, which includes extensive renovations and projects on the other side of the Barren River from the new NIP area.

The new area also is adjacent to the core of downtown Bowling Green that has seen millions spent on a variety of improvement projects in recent years.

“When we looked at what area is next, we felt like it was the right timing,” Childers said.

City Manager Jeff Meisel said the Neighborhood Improvements Program “has helped in a variety of things.”

He said the flexibility of the program has allowed for projects that have improved safety, aesthetics and infrastructure.

He said areas that have gotten NIP investments have helped revitalize the city’s neighborhoods.

The statue of World War I hero Sgt. Alvin C. York stands on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol Tuesday, March 16, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. The claim in Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano's 2014 book about York, that a 1918 U.S. Army's signal corps photo was mislabeled and actually shows York with three German officers he captured, has been disputed by rival researchers. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

WKU task force reviewing public comments on naming issue

The Western Kentucky University task force that could recommend changing colleges and buildings on campus that bear historical slaveholders’ names is now reviewing the public’s feedback.

“We appreciate those who took time to share with us, and we are working through that information,” said Saundra Ardrey, a political science professor who’s co-chairing the task force, called the Naming and Symbols Task Force.

The extended deadline for submitting comments at the task force’s official website ended March 15. According to records obtained by the Daily News through an Open Records Act request, nearly 300 respondents weighed in on the issue.

The full document is attached to this story online at www.bgdailynews.com and is available to read and download.

Since it was convened in August at the behest of WKU President Timothy Caboni, the group has been working to develop a set of recommendations for campus administrators to consider.

According to its website, the task force’s job is to “audit the names used on buildings and other campus symbols to determine which may be connected to exclusion, segregation, racism or slavery” and to “create a set of guiding principles and a range of options for how we should address any issues raised.”

The group’s formation came after it was brought to light that the namesakes of WKU’s Potter College of Arts and Letters and its Ogden College of Science and Engineering historically held people as slaves and came from slaveholding families.

The comments indicate that the issue has divided WKU’s broader campus community, with faults forming between its faculty and staff and the university’s alumni, particularly those who said they attended WKU in the 1960s or 1970s.

Many alumni – though certainly not all of those who submitted comments on the topic – opposed changing the contentious campus names.

For example, one WKU graduate who was identified as a “second-generation alumni” wrote the following comment verbatim: “This is history and no matter what the people did at the time (which was perfectly legal) they still have history and were major parts of WKU being established. It is time to take a stand and quite [sic] trying to erase history for our future generations.”

Another commenter, who was identified as a “faculty/staff” member, wrote that leaving the name of the Ogden College unchanged is antithetical to the message that anyone, regardless of their background or immutable traits, can find success in the sciences.

“It is untenable. This is not a question of ‘erasing history’ or ‘judging the past with the eyes of the present.’ This is a question of what matters to us now, and how we chose to ACT to show the values we posit.”

WKU’s current student body also appears somewhat divided on the question, a reading of the comments suggests.

One current student wrote that: “I fully support the removal of these racist namesakes and would love to see our campus free of historically hateful and discriminatory monuments and representations.”

In contrast, another student expressed the opposite opinion, writing: “I believe that changing the name is no different than hiding our history or ignoring it.” The student urged the university to “promote diversity and inclusion through acts that actually hold weight, not some name change.”

Rape case at BG assisted living home goes to grand jury

The case involving a man accused of sexually assaulting another resident at an assisted living facility will be heard by a grand jury.

Raymond Keown, 87, of Bowling Green, appeared Friday over video conference for a preliminary hearing in his case.

Keown was arrested Feb. 23 on a charge of first-degree rape after staff at Morningside Assisted Living of Bowling Green called the Bowling Green Police Department to report an apparent sexual assault.

BGPD Detective Eric Stroud testified that police were called about 10 a.m. Feb. 23.

A Morningside staffer reported she heard a woman scream for help from her room, and the staffer found the woman partially seated in a recliner with her pants partially removed. Keown was standing in front of the recliner with his pants open, Stroud said.

The staffer reported seeing something on the floor near the two people that was later determined to be a sex toy. The woman was observed to be bleeding and what appeared to be blood was also found on the sex toy and on Keown’s hands, Stroud said.

Keown was interviewed by the BGPD in the presence of two relatives with power of attorney.

“(Keown) stated he was walking down the hallway and heard the woman yelling for help, and he went into the room and saw her in the same position as staff reported,” Stroud said.

The woman, who Stroud said was 90 years old and incapable of consent due to living with “a very severe case of dementia,” was treated for injuries, and police collected DNA samples from her and Keown for further forensic analysis.

“When we interviewed her at The Medical Center, she didn’t remember anything that happened,” Stroud said under questioning from Keown’s attorney, Alan Simpson.

Keown was arrested after his police interview and was lodged in the Warren County Regional Jail on the first-degree rape charge. He was released shortly afterward on a partially secured $10,000 bond.

Stroud testified that Morningside employees told police they helped the woman with her breakfast on the morning of the incident and then got her into a recliner, and she was last seen taking a nap about 8:30 a.m.

Talking to police, a staffer recalled seeing Keown walking down the hallway near the area of the woman’s room before the incident was reported, Stroud said.

Employees also reported that sex toys had previously been mailed to the facility for Keown, but the woman was not known to keep anything like that in her room, Stroud said.

Questioned by Simpson, Stroud said the woman gave her account of what happened immediately after Morningside employees intervened but had no memory of events a couple hours later at the hospital.

Warren District Judge John Brown found probable cause to send the case to a grand jury, although Simpson argued that the woman’s ability to testify at a possible trial may be in question because of her dementia.

“The alleged victim may not be capable of giving credible testimony,” Simpson said during the hearing. “I don’t know if she’s going to be a competent witness under the rules of criminal procedure.”