There is nothing onerous or excessive about requiring careful planning and vetting of new developments in rural Fayette County.
On the contrary, anything less than careful planning and vetting has the potential to unravel 60 years of smart public policy and investment.
And yet at a March 26 meeting, six of the 11 Planning Commission members voted in favor of shortcutting the review process for development plans in the most environmentally fragile areas, those that would be zoned agricultural-natural or A-N.
The motion by commission vice chairman Mike Cravens came during debate of a zoning ordinance amendment that emerged from a work group convened in 2012 by then-vice mayor Linda Gorton. The laudable goal: recommend ways to responsibly accommodate more tourism and recreational land uses.
The Planning Commission continued its discussion until May 21. Any zoning ordinance changes approved by the commission would have to be enacted by the Urban County Council to take effect.
Of the six planning commissioners who wanted to shortcut reviews of development plans in the A-N zone, four are in the home-building or real estate business.
The other two explained that they did not want to feed the perception that government is intrusive or stifle entrepreneurship. While their motives may be worthy, planning commissioners can better serve the public by carrying out Lexington's democratically enacted land-use policies, goals and intents.
Cravens, a member of the Homebuilders Association Hall of Fame, objected to requiring a conditional-use permitting process that he said could take 90 days. He also said "it has to do with personal property rights for me."
He obviously was not thinking of the rights of property owners who trusted in Lexington's long-standing promise to protect agricultural zones and farming from incompatible development and commercial intrusions.
The advantages of requiring conditional use permits for non-agriculture developments in agriculture zones would be many, including ensuring adequate buffers, parking, traffic management and sewage disposal; mitigating environmental damage, and anticipating site-specific effects on neighbors and the environment.
Lexington cannot be hurt by holding developers of our world-class landscape to high standards, whether the plan is for a youth camp, commercial outfitter, hayride or wine-tasting room.
Lexington can only be hurt by lax standards. And the impact of lax standards can radiate far beyond neighboring pastures and cropland. Under Kentucky law, a development that changes the character of an area provides legal grounds for a widespread zone change. This could trigger a domino effect of development, which in this case could topple 60 years of land-use planning.
Lexington is unique among American cities because of its commitment to confine development inside the nation's first Urban Services Boundary, including purchasing development rights to almost 30,000 acres of farmland. The local economy has too much riding on horses, cattle and crops to undermine the integrity of the rural area now. Landscape is our biggest tourist draw.
What's at stake may be blurred by the roots of the debate — construction of a commercial canopy tour and zip line over Boone Creek near the Kentucky River without the proper permits. The plan also included hiking, fishing and camping.
Its many champions have pleaded that opening up more of rural Fayette County to recreation would strengthen the public's commitment to conserving the land and streams.
Anyone who wants to conserve the land and streams — whether for hiking or raising horses — should be alarmed by the direction Cravens and the majority of the Planning Commission appear to be moving.