If Derek Paulsen is confirmed by the Urban County Council on Thursday, Mayor Jim Gray can strike another item off his to-do list: Appoint a cabinet-level commissioner to unify and elevate Lexington/Fayette County planning.
It's the right thing to do.
Lexington has a great history of planning that has preserved the scenic beauty and economic viability of tens of thousands of acres of agricultural land outside the city center and thousands of historic buildings inside it.
That history, though, has not been enough. A perplexing and frustrating disconnect within or among the bureaucracies often seems to result in the city acting against its own best interests:
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■ Subdivisions and shopping centers built without adequate infrastructure to support them;
■ Neighborhoods compromised by wrong-headed spot zoning;
■ Historic buildings lost to demolition by neglect;
■ Inefficient land-use design that wastes our precious Bluegrass;
■ A sense that we often settle for less than this place deserves.
The city has long needed a full-time professional to look at and advocate for the big picture.
We hope Paulsen can be that person. An academic whose field is law enforcement, he got interested in urban planning by studying how to improve safety through design.
Although Paulsen has been on Lexington's planning commission since 2009 and recently became its chair, his background is not in planning or city administration, so he'll have a steep learning curve on the new job.
That's OK, but it will be important for Paulsen to remember that, even as he's managing a newly united set of agencies within city government, he's not starting with a blank slate.
There are some projects, like the envisioned Rupp Arena Arts and Entertainment District and the open space on what's known as the CentrePointe block, that do offer almost endless possibilities.
But so much of the planning that this area begs for demands a subtle balance among enhancing urban vitality, preserving historic and other neighborhoods, and protecting the ongoing economic viability of our agricultural base.
It's important to remember that historic and agricultural resources are serious economic forces, not just scenic amenities.
Historic districts and the protections they offer attract educated, engaged young people, consistently increase property values and — as any historic-property owner can attest — provide ongoing employment for local craftspeople.
Fayette County was Kentucky's leading agricultural producer in 2007, with products that had a market value of over half a billion dollars, according to the Census of Agriculture, compiled every five years.
Even more significant, the census revealed an expanding agriculture sector in the county, with more farms, more acres in production and more receipts than in 2002.
Here's hoping that Paulsen, as the community's first commissioner of planning, can wrangle a group of offices into a coherent department to protect and enhance this special and unique place.