Fayette Planning Commission member David Drake worried aloud at a meeting of that group Thursday that a proposed new zoning plan for the county's rural areas places too much emphasis on "control."
He wants the document to encourage, rather than limit, new commercial uses in the area. "I don't know how to resolve it," he said.
With all respect to Drake, who has extensive experience in the energy sector but is relatively new to land-use planning, his dilemma is based on a false dichotomy that pits zoning against economic activity.
It's an old argument, really a tired one, that has not proved valid over the 60-year history of preserving rural lands in Fayette County.
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Since 1960, the county's population has more than doubled. Compared to the generally zoning-averse Kentucky, the county is thriving. Census data tell us that our county's population and employment are growing almost three times as fast as the rest of the state; per capita income, median household income and the value of homes far exceed the rest of the state.
In May, Fayette's unemployment rate was the second-lowest in Kentucky at 3.8 percent and well below the state average of 5.1 percent.
This is not to say there are no economic challenges. Thoughtful land-use planning can and should play a role in addressing them. But the data do not support the argument that our history of protecting rural areas while encouraging dense urban development has impeded economic growth.
In fact, it shows that thoughtful, quality, consistent land-use planning enhances economic growth. There's ample evidence to support this nationally as well, but it is also common sense. Like other services government provides such as fire and police protection, traffic engineering, sanitary sewers and emergency services, zoning allows individuals and businesses to buy and invest in the county with the certainty of basic protections.
This effort to further define what can and can't be built or operated in the rural areas grew out of the messy dispute that arose in 2012 when Burgess Carey began building and ultimately operated, without the appropriate zoning, a zip-line tour on land he owned in southern Fayette near the Kentucky River.
The dispute was resolved in court, where Carey lost, but the controversy gave rise to the three-year effort to adjust the zoning ordinance to allow more uses in these areas without damaging the environment or disrupting the long-term agricultural uses which have made Lexington the horse capital and, more recently, a hot spot for locally grown foods.
The final sticking point for the commission is whether some uses — including zip lines — should be granted by right in rural zones or be what's called conditional uses.
To understand this, consider residential zones. A property owner can build a house, no questions asked. Some uses, like manufacturing, just aren't allowed But other uses, like schools or churches, are allowed conditionally. This means they are permitted, but only after they've been vetted to assure that any potential problems related to additional traffic, noise, water runoff, etc. have been addressed.
Drake, who serves on a corporate board with Carey, and others on the commission worry that the process of setting conditions for approval, which can take as little as a month, is a disincentive for investment.
A more valid concern would be whether investors attracted by our environmental wonders will be willing to invest here with few assurances that such great natural beauty will be protected.