Emails show Metro Council member worked with developer to force project through – 89.3 WFPL News Louisville


Louisville metro board member Brent Ackerson worked behind the scenes with a developer to push forward a controversial development over objections from community members and the city’s planning commission.

Lawyer Steve Porter has called Ackerson’s behavior “blatant favoritism” and “bribery” in a lawsuit filed late last week. The lawsuit uses emails and texts to document connections between Ackerson, developer Scott Hagan, and the lobbyists and professional lawyers Hagan has hired. The communications provide a window into their strategy to overturn the Planning Commission decision and how connected Louisvillians can bypass community opposition.

Porter represents the association of owners of Cedar Creek Gardens and other residents living near the proposed development in southeast Louisville. They argue in Jefferson County Circuit Court that Metro Council’s decision to pave the way for the project was based on behind-the-scenes conversations, not the merits of the proposed apartment complex.

“This means that if a developer wants to do something, all they have to do is contact the right Metro Council member and have them go through the Metro Council without any hassle,” Porter told WFPL News. “Why should something like this happen for a project?” It just shouldn’t happen.

In addition to asking the courts to overturn the Metro Council vote, Porter said he hoped the lawsuit sends a message that “nothing like this happens to any other neighborhood.”

Porter will face Metro Council attorneys on Friday, when a judge is expected to decide whether more phone and email communications between Metro Council and the developer should be disclosed.

“YOU PLAYED IT LIKE A MAESTRO. “

In February, the news broke that Hagan Properties, Inc. planned to invest $ 48 million in a 344-unit apartment complex located at 8006 Cedar Creek Road, near the Fern Creek neighborhood. The project targeted 15 two- and three-story buildings built over 19 acres and included plans for a dog park, pet salon and auto care center.

The only problem was that the land was zoned for single family homes, not multi-family apartments or townhouses.

In order to change the zoning of the property, Hagan Properties should approach the Louisville Planning Commission for approval. Commission staff spoke out against the project in an April report, saying the proposed development was not well connected to the surrounding neighborhood and was not near activity centers or transit corridors. The Commission voted 6 to 3 on April 12 to recommend that Metro city council deny the rezoning.

The point went next to the Metropolitan Council’s Planning and Zoning Committee, which reviewed Hagan’s zoning case on May 11. Usually, the committee accepts the recommendation of the planning committee and sends it to the full council to make it formal. But at that meeting, District 22 council member Robin Engel, a Republican, wanted to do something different – send him back to the commission for reconsideration.

The committee adopted Engel’s proposal and forwarded it to the full council. The property is in the district of Engel.

In emails to their team of lawyers and lobbyists on May 19, Scott Hagan and his son Layson expressed unhappiness with the proposed ruling, which they said would not get them approval. dezoning. They said Engel’s proposal called on the Planning Commission “to just consider making a total of 180.”

“Who is Robin’s opponent in the next election?” Layson wrote to the team. “I will support with the maximum contribution to the campaign .. A kind of rhetoric but not really.”

Scott said he had already met earlier today with Ackerson, a Democrat representing District 26 who is a personal injury lawyer, and Jon Goldberg, another local lawyer. Scott told his team in an email that the meeting “went wonderfully.” He said Ackerson “liked our case” and would “lead the charge” to get the zoning change approved.

Ackerson is the chairman of the Metro Council government oversight and audit committee. He does not sit on the town planning and zoning committee.

He and other Metro Council members and staff whose communications are included in the lawsuit did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The county attorney’s office also did not respond.

Scott added that his team needed “to make sure [Metro Council President] David James and the rest of the Democrats show up. Scott said he would call a friend in state government to “make sure he touches David James again.”

Other emails from May 19 and 20 show that Hagan Properties and his team – Goldberg, zoning attorney Bill Bardenwerper and lobbyists John McCarthy and Sherman Brown – are scrambling to help Ackerson gain the support of a amendment to overturn entirely the decision of the Planning Commission and to approve the rezoning. They hoped council members would approve this rather than Engel’s motion to send the item back to the Planning Commission.

On May 20, the day of the Metro Council’s final vote, McCarthy told Scott Hagan that he had made about 20 calls to various Council members. Scott emailed Ackerson asking him to ask for the vote of District 12 Council member Rick Blackwell, a Democrat, and “let Rick know who it is for.”

Scott also sent Ackerson screenshots of text messages between his team and Steve Haag, the director of the Metro Council Republican Minority Caucus. Haag explained to them that many Metro Council members were “disgusted” by Ackerson’s efforts to overturn the Planning Commission’s recommendation.

“You must understand that Brent [Ackerson] going that far right now makes everyone feel like they have something at stake. This is very unusual behavior and even Democrats are noticing it, too, ”Haag reportedly wrote in a text message.

Despite reservations Metro Council members might have had, when the body voted on Ackerson’s amendment later that night, nearly every fellow Democrat backed him.

The amendment, which allowed council to reject the Planning Commission’s recommendation and approve rezoning, was passed by 18-6, with District 21 council member Nicole George being the only Democrat in the ‘opposition. With the exception of District 18 Council member Marilyn Parker, the entire Republican caucus voted against Ackerson’s amendment.

It’s unclear why Metro’s board members voted the way they did, but their decision was cause for celebration for Scott, who had managed to get the board to take an unusual step to approve his development. of several million dollars.

“I want you to know I’m on my third huge vodka celebrating with Wendy” – Scott’s wife – “thinking what a huge win this was and it was done by friends (you and Jon) who are really pros (you and Jon), ”Scott wrote in an email to Ackerson.

“YOU PLAYED IT LIKE A MAESTRO. “

Ackerson replied, “Jon [Goldberg] is someone I admire and thinks about you a lot, so de facto you were my guy from the start.

He also thanked Developer Scott for inviting him to “the party”.


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