On April 18, the Urban County Council spent close to seven hours hearing and then voting to modify a zone change that had been approved by the Planning Commission 8-1. The final vote on council was 9-4 in favor of approving the zone change, with modifications.
The reaction I got from a number of constituents suggests at least confusion, if not outright misunderstanding, of the meaning of council’s final vote and of how the whole process works.
Before going into some of the details of this particular hearing, there are two important facts to highlight:
▪ If council fails to take action within 60 days on a zone change approved by the Planning Commission, then the Planning Commission decision stands as is.
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▪ It takes a majority of council (eight votes) to modify or reject a decision of the Planning Commission.
So in practice, if at least eight council members cannot agree to either reject or modify a commission decision, that zoning decision becomes law.
At the council hearing many who spoke in opposition to the Planning Commission decision mentioned forcefully and repeatedly that they did not oppose the zone change itself nor the ultimate development of the land. Rejection of the whole zone change was not proposed.
They did, however, express concerns about numerous aspects of the proposed development, and they requested a number of changes.
Without going into detail about all the pros and cons of all the issues raised, it is fair to say that towards the end of the lengthy hearing, council’s deliberations centered on two of the issues raised by those in opposition:
▪ Both sides agreed there should be a conservation easement buffer required between the edges of the proposed development and the Kentucky American Water reservoir that surrounds the proposed development on three sides. The disagreement concerned the appropriate dimensions of the buffer.
▪ Both sides agreed that some development should be allowed. The disagreement concerned how many total dwelling units should be allowed in the development.
In the preliminary development plan that accompanied their zone-change request, the petitioners had proposed a total of 501 dwelling units. Those in opposition proposed that a maximum of 328 allowable dwelling units be a condition for approval.
The Planning Commission had imposed inclusion of a 25-foot buffer as a condition for approval. Those in opposition, proposed a 75-foot buffer, including a 25-foot trail easement.
Many motions and amendments to motions aimed at some compromise on one or both issues failed to get the eight votes required to modify the Planning Commission decision. Finally, a motion to approve the zone change with a maximum of 450 dwelling units and a buffer of 50 feet passed 9-4.
The key point here is that if council had been unable to get eight votes for a compromise, the original decision of the Planning Commission — allowing as many as 501 living units and requiring only a 25 foot buffer — would have remained in place and been adopted.
So, here is where “no” means “yes,” and “yes” means “not so much.” The four council members who voted “no’ to the compromise were in effect voting “yes” to support the original Planning Commission decision.
The nine council members who voted “yes” were in effect voting to support “not so much” development as part of the zone change.
Steve Kay is vice mayor of Lexington.
At issue: Herald-Leader article, “Lexington council approves controversial Squires Road development but decreases number of homes, apartments”