Envision Franklin County was formed 15 years ago out of concerns about poorly planned, destructive development. We advocate for smart growth with infill development that creates attractive, walkable communities which don't sprawl onto important rural lands.
Much to our dismay, recent development at 690 Duncan Road next to Industrial Park III has disregarded local residents and the environmental, historical and aesthetic values of the area.
Winchester developer Ron Tierney purchased the 103-acre farm this summer. Home to the stately 1796 Blanton-Crutcher House, which had been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975, this farm was home to many venerable trees as well as small wetlands, a pond and other historic features, including at least one grave of a slave. Just days after the sale and without any local, state or federal permits in hand, developer Tierney moved equipment onto the farm and began bulldozing.
The historic home and the big trees were leveled. The wetlands were threatened and the pond was filled in. The stone entrance pillars were knocked down and the entrance onto Duncan Road was widened. Another access road was created.
Frantic calls from local residents yielded nothing. Farmers don't need permits for land disturbance and this property was still zoned agricultural, they were told. Tragically, even structures on the National Register have no protections unless they have also been designated "historic" through a local zoning process. (This means that even some historic buildings in the city of Frankfort could be demolished at a moment's notice.)
Only after two weeks of altering the character of the historic farm and its natural features did the developer apply for the zone change from agricultural to industrial. Whether the issue is the historic structure, the trees, the access roads, the wetlands or the grave, the developer either caught state and local regulators flat-footed or pushed up to the line of what is permissible. It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.
The indiscriminate land clearing has left local residents with a host of problems. With the big trees gone, there is no buffer from the lights, noise and warehouses of the industrial district. Losing the trees and pond has altered the hydrology of the area, resulting in increased flooding, property damage and roadway hazards. Two wrecks involving Tierney trucks have occurred on Duncan Road in the last two months. To make matters worse, local residents have essentially been denied local representation as the county has advised the local magistrate that he can't talk to them because it might "taint" the fiscal court's ultimate ruling on the zoning change decision.
Problems abound with this situation, which is still unfolding. First, the Comprehensive Plan calls for protections of special natural features and compatibility of adjacent uses. Permission for ingress and egress should have been obtained from the Transportation Cabinet. Federal protections for graveyards exist and should have been applied. Moreover, as part of the Bourbon Trail, Duncan Road should have received special consideration with regard to safety and scenic appeal.
Why wasn't the developer held to these standards? Is economic development so important to local officials that it trumps all other considerations, rules be damned? What role did Kentucky Capital Development Corp. (KCDC) play? Surely local officials knew what the developer's intentions were when he bought the property — Mr. Tierney has been a developer in this county previously. Why did officials turn a blind eye to what was happening?
Finally, part of the property lies in an agricultural area of Woodford County. Has Franklin County been good neighbors with Woodford County throughout this process?
Unfortunately, it appears that the current work at 690 Duncan Road epitomizes the idea of "progress at all costs." Truly successful communities respect local residents, protect the environment and adhere to standards that the public can trust when implementing development. Franklin County should strive for nothing less.
Chris Schimmoeller is the coordinator of Remove Invasives Partnership (RIP) of Franklin County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.