Metro Louisville

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced plans on Tuesday to put a temporary lot for abandoned and wrecked vehicles on city-owned property in Shively, but the proposal is already drawing criticism.

The 5.3-acre property at 3502 7th Street Road would hold vehicles set to be auctioned off and could help alleviate the city’s overburdened impound lot in the Butchertown neighborhood. 

Officials say the existing impound lot off Frankfort Avenue is meant to hold around 1,800 cars, but routinely has more than 2,000. Fischer said in a statement on Tuesday that Louisville Metro plans to tow roughly 140 vehicles abandoned on city streets to the new auction lot in Shively after it’s built, then move over more vehicles from the impound lot. 

“Our existing impound lot is a challenge that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic because of the slowing and stopping of auctions that, in normal circumstances, would help us get cars out of the lot and off the streets,” he said.

Fischer called the creation of a separate lot for soon-to-be-auctioned vehicles an “innovative solution that will allow us to more quickly move abandoned vehicles off roadways” and address public safety. 

Democratic District 3 Metro Council Member Keisha Dorsey, however, said she was not consulted on the proposal before it was made public. She represents the area around the planned auction lot.

Dorsey told WFPL News on Wednesday that she believes the rollout, which came during Metro Council’s winter break, was meant to stifle opposition. She said Fischer choosing to place the auction lot in Shively — a mostly Black and working class small city in Jefferson County — has “implications of racism and classism.”

“We have not only been raped by those that are coming in to take advantage of the low property values, the slumlords, but the hurtful part is we’re being raped by our own government,” she said. 

Dorsey said she believes Fischer’s past statements about racial justice and equity are not matching his actions. 

She is also concerned about potential environmental impacts the project might bring to the area. She said residents of Shively and the Taylor Berry neighborhood near the proposed site already deal with sewer odors and whiskey fungus from nearby distilleries. Storing impounded vehicles on the lot could contaminate land that could otherwise be developed, making it what is known as a brownfield.

“So the city is essentially creating a brownfield where there is green space in the middle of a low-income and primarily Black and Brown area of town,” Dorsey said. “

Shively Mayor Beverly Chester Burton shares some of Dorsey’s concerns. She told WFPL News that she wasn’t notified about the planned auction lot until hours before it was made public.

Burton said she doesn’t think it’s the right place to store abandoned vehicles, since 7th Street Road is a gateway to Shively and nearby attractions.

“Think about the people that often travel the corridor who are coming in for a bourbon tour or visiting Churchill Downs,” she said. “That’s not a good way to greet people into your city …the first thing they see is something that’s going to cause an eyesore.”

Burton said Shively officials were hopeful that the Metro-owned property could be used for business development or a community asset such as a library or community center. 

Louisville Metro officials say there will be screened fencing and round-the-clock security as well as trees and shrubs to mitigate any visual or security concerns. 

In response to questions from WFPL, Fischer’s spokesperson Jessica Wethington said the administration communicated with Dorsey and Burton ahead of the announcement. Wethington said Louisville Metro will try to mitigate the concerns of nearby business owners and residents, and “helping alleviate the challenge of abandoned vehicles on city streets will help all neighborhoods, including Councilwoman Dorsey’s district.”

Fischer’s administration filed development plans with the Planning and Design Services on Tuesday. A public meeting to gather community feedback is set for 1 p.m. on Jan. 19 at the Old Jail, 514 W. Liberty St.

Work to turn the property into an auction lot is expected to begin after that meeting, with the goal of completing the first phase by late winter or early spring, according to Wethington. After the first phase, it will be able to hold 100-200 vehicles ready for auction.

A Kentucky law that defines how zoning regulations affect government projects could prevent any local body, including Metro Council, from halting the tow lot proposal. The statute only requires that government entities notify local planners before starting the project, rather than having to seek their approval. While the law mostly references the state government, Dorsey said Louisville Metro’s attorneys have previously interpreted it as applying to local government, too.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL.