The Frankfort-Franklin County Planning Commission likely made the right call in recommending rezoning of farmland near Interstate 64 for industrial use, but the process revealed major flaws — and, thus, opportunities for improvement — in the way this community plans and governs land use.
The planning commission, after hearing hours of public comment at a contentious meeting in January, voted 5-2 Thursday to recommend that the Franklin County Fiscal Court rezone about 85 acres known as the old Blanton-Crutcher Farm to accommodate warehouses. Neighboring homeowners are concerned about further encroachment on their rural way of life, and preservationists are furious that a historically significant property was disturbed before anyone knew what was happening.
No amount of careful land-use planning will remove controversy entirely from the zoning process. Any type of development in any area of the county will likely raise concerns from neighbors, who have a right to be heard and will almost always exercise it. But broader questions about land use shouldn’t be debated one tract at a time.
In the case of Duncan Road, that debate should have been part of a bigger public conversation at the time additional land on the road was designated as an “employment center” in the county’s comprehensive plan. The farm, which continues to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, immediately became endangered when that change was made.
Going forward, all property on the national register should be so noted on city and county planning maps and public hearings held any time a change in land-use recommendations would put such property at risk.
Such a process would have caused an earlier discussion about the Blanton-Crutcher Farm, which abuts existing industrial land and seems a natural addition to the county’s industrial park capacity in a strategically important place, with its easy access to Interstate 64 and U.S. 60. Planning commissioners ultimately decided not to tie the hands of those responsible for the community’s economic development by restricting construction on the prime property, nor pull the rug on a developer who relied on the comprehensive plan when deciding to purchase the land. We agree with the decision.
That said, the developer, Ron Tierney of Tierney Storage, is not blameless in the current controversy. Serious questions remain about Tierney’s apparent failure to get proper county and state permits before demolishing the historic home and creating access points to the property from Duncan Road.
Playing by the rules is important all the time, but especially when embarking on sensitive projects. County officials must insist that developers follow them. The rules must apply to all developers, including experienced ones like Tierney, who has a track record of job creation and facilitating job retention in Frankfort and Franklin County.
Lastly, county and economic development officials — and the private landowners they work with — must make a convincing case that the economic and tax benefits of a project outweigh preservation concerns. In this case, there remain legitimate questions about how many people will be employed in the buildings that eventually cover the farm — and what impact those buildings will have on the county’s tax coffers.
Specific information on economic impact should be required with future zoning applications. This and other changes in land-use decisions will create needed transparency and foster more informed decision-making.