Envision Franklin County respectfully disagrees with the planning commission's recent 5-2 decision to approve the zone change for the historic Blanton-Crutcher Farm at 690 Duncan Road.
Franklin County has a framework for dealing with zoning change requests. We have a Comprehensive Plan created from public input that sets community goals and policies. We have rules and regulations designed to provide for public input, manage development requests, protect the environment and balance competing interests. But the greatest plan in the world means nothing if we don't have people willing to implement it.
Here's where our county planners, our P&Z commissioners and the developer have failed us:
• Lack of respect for rules and the comprehensive plan. Winchester developer Ron Tierney disrespected our community by tearing down the historic 1796 Blanton-Crutcher House without a permit or advance notice. He has taken advantage of nearly every situation to expedite his own goals at the expense of the public.
For example, aerial footage confirms that he has disturbed over 10 acres of land, far in excess of his permit to disturb 1 acre or less. This land clearing and the illegal entrance on Duncan Road that he created have led to increased flooding, property damage and road hazards. Lines of mature trees that enhanced the historic property on the Bourbon Trail and acted as an important buffer to neighbors have been bulldozed.
Local officials have not only looked the other way as the developer thumbed his nose at the rules, but they have excused his efforts. For example, County Planner Robert Hewitt testified that the developer could have gotten a permit to raze the National Register house "if he had applied for a Homestead Exemption."
But Tierney didn't apply for an exemption. Instead of issuing a stop work order for this and other violations, staff recommended approval of the zone change based on cherry-picked provisions in the Comprehensive Plan. A majority of the P&Z commissioners ignored the evidence of Tierney's ongoing violations in the record and voted instead to approve a finding of fact that the developer had complied with all requirements!
Their ultimate approval to change the zoning from agricultural to industrial ignored the Comprehensive Plan's provisions to preserve historic sites, enhance agricultural lands, protect natural features, buffer neighborhoods and prevent sprawl.
• Lack of analytical integrity. P&Z commissioners clearly felt the pressure of the Kentucky Capital Development Corp.'s argument that industrial space is needed in the county. No one, however, has critically analyzed the situation.
For example, a reasoned approach would be first to determine what our industrial needs will be in the future, then project how many parcels would be needed to accommodate that growth. After that, appropriate siting is essential. Some uses might be best suited by the interstate, but there are road conditions, access to interstate, access to rail/water and other natural topography features as well as community concerns and values that should be examined in the process.
Warehousing like the kind that Tierney is proposing could likely fit in infill sites rather than sprawling on to important agricultural land. After sites are determined, types of land uses appropriate to buffer them need to be stipulated. None of this reasoning was applied in this case.
Moreover, the county should insist that a life cycle cost analysis be done for this project. We must look at the cost of maintenance of roads, sewer, etc., for this project versus the local tax revenue it will generate in order to demonstrate whether this project would be a net loss or a net gain for the county.
Factoring in environmental costs of flooding and property damage should be part of the full picture; the huge warehouses in the development plan for this project look like they will each add about 4 acres of impervious surface to the area. We can no longer afford to blindly accept that all development is good.
• Flawed process. Immediately upon purchase, the developer started altering the property in preparation for his warehouses. His bulldozing of the house and trees was clearly not a farm activity. County officials know that Tierney is not a farmer and that he planned to expand his industrial development onto the Blanton-Crutcher Farm, yet they allowed him to use his agricultural zoning as cover for his activities even after he applied for a zone change.
Officials have repeatedly attempted to curtail public input. At one point in the January public hearing, the attorney for the Duncan Road Neighborhood Association was told that he couldn't ask a question on behalf of his clients; the attorney for Tierney, on the other hand, took the floor repeatedly.
"Findings of Fact" submitted by the neighborhood association were not provided in the commissioners packets' prior to their voting meeting in February. To rectify this error, the commission took a bare 5-minute recess to "review" the neighborhood's six pages of comments, none of which made it into the commission's findings in their entirety.
Finally, County Attorney Rick Sparks has wrongly advised magistrates that they cannot speak with their constituents about this case, leaving local residents essentially without representation. Envision Franklin County was denied a meeting with the judge-executive on this same premise despite clear Kentucky Supreme Court rulings to the contrary.
In closing, the proposed rezoning to convert the Blanton-Crutcher Farm to industrial warehousing has been tainted by egregious behavior and irregular process. The fiscal court should overturn the planning commission's ruling and usher in a new era of accountability and rigor when making decisions about our precious and irreplaceable land.
Chris Schimmoeller is president of Envision Franklin County. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.