Concerned residents argue that an updated comprehensive plan seriously diminishes protections for some of Woodford County's scenic vistas and best farmland.
But the chairman of the committee that recommended the changes contends that the new plan is a more user-friendly guide that advances the interests of all residents.
Brian Traugott, chairman of the comprehensive plan review committee, anticipates that a large crowd will want to comment on the proposed plan at a public meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the county courthouse in Versailles.
The comprehensive plan is a guide that outlines what the community sees as its transportation priorities, land-use needs and a host of other areas. The plan, which is required by state law to be updated every five years, is a reference used by local decision-makers when weighing rezonings or which road improvements to pursue. But the plan also gives a wide-angle snapshot of the community's population trends, parks, public health, and even crime and accident statistics.
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Of particular concern to Lori Garkovich, president of a citizens group called the Woodford Coalition, is the elimination of protections for the "agricultural-equine preserve district," which is the term used for the land on which iconic horse farms are located north of Versailles and outside the urban service boundary of Midway. The elimination of those protections, Garkovich argues, would allow more residential development in an area that was supposed to be set aside for prime agricultural uses.
"It makes all land in the entire county eligible for rural residential clusters," Garkovich said Tuesday. Clusters allow residential lots on as much as 20 percent of a tract, while the other 80 percent is preserved for agricultural use or open space. Such clusters are not allowed now in the equine preserve district.
"You can convert agricultural land from crops to pasture and pasture to crops, but once you convert it to an urban use, you have eliminated any prospect of its agricultural-use value," Garkovich said. "From my perspective, that is a short-sighted decision. ... Think about what Woodford County is known for. Is it known for subdivisions? Is that what brings people to Woodford County as tourists?"
Traugott said the stronger protections should be eliminated in the interest of treating all landowners fairly and equitably, rather than treating those in the southern county differently than those in the north. Furthermore, he said, conservation easements — "the strongest protections you can get" — remain an option for farmers. And the land in northern Woodford is unlikely to be developed anyway, Traugott said, because it is simply too costly to do so.
The market price for an acre of land in northern Woodford County ranges between $10,000 and $18,000 an acre, but some acreage has recently sold as high as $32,000 an acre, Woodford County Property Valuation Administrator Gary Gillis said.
"The market will dictate that that land will be used for its best purpose, which is agriculture, for the foreseeable future," Traugott said.
In another area of contention, the Woodford Coalition and other residents object to some road projects mentioned in the updated comp plan, such as extending Falling Springs Boulevard around the west side of Versailles to the U.S. 60-Midway Road intersection north of town.
The draft of the updated plan also says the extension of Blue Grass Parkway from U.S. 60 to Interstate 64 "should be further examined as a possible method of alleviating traffic problems between Versailles and Lexington." But any route north to the interstate would go through some of the most important farmland in the county.
"We find it difficult to understand how the construction of a four-lane highway through geologically sensitive, agriculturally productive, and historically significant lands of northern Woodford County is logical given the goals and objectives that have already been approved," Garkovich wrote in a letter to the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning Commission.
Traugott said he doesn't know why "anybody would not want to discuss an option" such as the parkway extension. As for extending Falling Springs Boulevard around Versailles, Traugott said, "that's a project I personally support."
"I live on the south side of Versailles and I work in Frankfort, and it takes me longer to get through (downtown) Versailles than it does once I hit U.S. 60 to get to Frankfort," he said.
Traugott acknowledges that the updated plan retreats from some aspects of "new urbanism," the idea to provide a place where people live, work and shop side by side rather than in segregated areas. The concept was touted in Versailles 12 years ago as a way to reduce traffic and sprawl and to encourage traditional neighborhoods.
However, the slump in the economy dealt a blow to several projects with new-urbanist features. Traugott said some developers thought new urbanism added costs and constraining regulations to their projects.
"When ... you're in a small town, new urbanism is just not the ideal way to do it," Traugott said. "It works in larger cities. It doesn't work in a small town."
Garkovich said the new-urbanism concept wasn't given a chance to work, and in any case, developers weren't forced to follow it.
"It was a choice made by developers who chose to follow that path because they felt it was better for their development," Garkovich said. "Why would we suddenly take away a choice?"
After Thursday's meeting, the planning commissioners will take some time to digest public comments on the updated plan. "I assume there will be an effort to make some changes," Traugott said.
However, he said, the planning commission might vote to adopt the revised comprehensive plan as early as Nov. 10. No other approval is necessary from the cities of Midway and Versailles or from Woodford Fiscal Court.