Herald-Leader Editorial

OK Ashland Park as historic district

Commissioner confused about job

October 31, 2012 

Houses in the 200 block of South Hanover Avenue are in the Ashland Park neighborhood, which is proposing to become a historic district. The Planning Commission approved the request Oct. 25. The Urban County Council also must approve it.

CHARLES BERTRAM | STAFF — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

The Planning Commission made the right decision Thursday in a 7-4 vote approving the Ashland Park Historic District.

The designation, if approved by the Urban County Council, will protect properties from being demolished or significantly altered, thereby preserving the area's historic qualities.

The move to create a local historic district in what is unquestionably one of Lexington's most historically significant neighborhoods was initiated by residents and approved by about 75 percent of property owners who returned ballots. If approved, it will become Lexington's 15th historic district.

In addition, as commissioner Lynn Roche-Phillips noted, the National Register of Historic Places had recognized the district since 1986, so Lexington was a little late to the party.

So, the council should endorse the Planning Commission's action and the property owners' clear desire and approve the district.

However, we can't leave this topic without commenting on Commissioner Mike Cravens' disturbing comments at the hearing on the district.

Cravens' objections centered not on issues specific to this request but on concerns about preventing the majority from imposing restrictions on the property rights of a minority. That is certainly his right as a private citizen, but as a planning commissioner his job is to do just that.

That's what planning and zoning are all about: Creating a majority vision for how and where a community should develop and enforcing it. The idea, of course, is that individual property owners do give up some of their rights but in exchange they — and the community — gain assurance about what will go where.

A homeowner in a residential neighborhood cannot, for example, convert his property into a convenience store, but he is also assured that the person next door can't do that either. Historic districts provide an added level of protection, likewise placing more demands on property owners.

If Cravens doesn't like historic districts, authorized in Lexington since the 1950s, he should run for the Urban County Council and try to get the ordinance repealed. It might be a challenge since property values in historic districts, in Lexington and throughout the nation, are more stable and rise faster than in other neighborhoods. But still it's his right to try.

However, if he wants to remain on the Planning Commission, he needs to accept that its basic premise is to mediate imposing the will of the majority on the rest of us.

A final note: Commissioners of planning and those who serve on other boards are generally appointed by the mayor and approved by the council. Both should make sure that candidates understand their responsibilities fully before they take office. As for those already in office, a refresher course might be in order.

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