The character of a community is defined as much by its built environment as the people who inhabit it. Though the strip development approaching Frankfort ties it to almost anywhere in the U.S., its downtown and residential districts as well as its rural beauty beyond the suburbs give it a very special character and a distinctive history.
Recently, that special character has been challenged by thoughtless development encroaching in areas separating rural and commercial development. I’m referring to the perfectly legal and calculated demolition of the Crutcher house, one of the oldest homes in the county and one designated by the National Register of Historic Places as a significant structure deserving of preservation. It came as a surprise to many of us, especially the residents of Duncan Road, that a Winchester businessman destroyed it and the old trees that gave it character to make way for another characterless storage building beyond the zoned commercial district on Duncan Road in southern Franklin County.
I attended the recent meeting to change the zoning from agricultural to industrial, hearing the many complaints of adjacent landowners who witnessed their rural neighborhood being transformed into an industrial site. Concerned citizens were repeatedly told that what the owner — Ron Tierney of Tierney Storage — did was perfectly legal, a bet that the Planning and Zoning Board would approve a zone change that would permit the building of another large box in what appears to be a march of boxes in the area.
Few would disagree that growth is good, but that growth should be smart growth in line with the strategic plan that has been developed for the county. This move goes beyond that. Though one of the regulations of the strategic plan provides that due consideration be given to the preservation of historic structures, that ethic seemed to be forgotten in the supposition that growth is always good and that owners on agricultural land can do just about anything they desire with it.
Regardless of how the board votes, the community has lost a landmark, a rural neighborhood has been permanently altered and another of the community’s distinctive structures has been demolished. Without structures that reflect our history we become characterless.
I’m reminded of the law school story of the child who murdered his parents and asked the court to take mercy on a poor orphan.
What are the lessons here? No one should be rewarded for bad behavior even if it’s under the guise of building the county tax base. Neighboring property values, I suspect, will drop. No one wants to live next to a bland monstrosity that covers acres.
We need to preserve what is special and lasting about our community. At the very least, someone official without a special interest should weigh the effects of destroying historic buildings that give our community its special character. I did not hear that voice among the officials who presented the case to the board.
Public officials should be sensitive to maintaining a balance between commercial and cultural interests. In a way, these buildings belong to the community just as they do the owner who chooses to profit by destroying them and betting on the rest of us buying into the idea of unlimited growth.
The built environment defines us, and the razing of the Crutcher house is an important loss, one that should be a cautionary lesson for our community. All of us need to recognize that a community’s value is not always measurable in dollars and the march of boxes.
Richard Taylor, of Frankfort, is a former Kentucky poet laureate who teaches English at Transylvania University. He formerly taught at Kentucky State University. He can be emailed at email@example.com.