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DeCamp's legacy historic preservation, town-gown relations

Urban County Councilman Dick DeCamp represented a district with old houses and young students, both of which embody what he will be best remembered for during his time on the council.

DeCamp, 77 leaves council at the end of the month after serving 12 years as the District 3 representative. He could not seek re-election because of term limits.

DeCamp has a long history of championing historic preservation and the arts.

He also supported efforts to help make the neighborhoods around the University of Kentucky more livable through his work on the Town & Gown Commission and sponsoring laws such as the Lexington Area Party Plan and a keg registration ordinance.

"Dick DeCamp has been a preservationist of note in our city and also a good guardian of the downtown community, the neighborhoods and the town and gown relationship," said former Vice Mayor Isabel Yates. "That's been invaluable in keeping our downtown and also pushing our downtown to greater heights."

Before joining the council, he spent 25 years in historic preservation. He was the first executive director of the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation and the head of the city's first Historic Commission.

DeCamp started the Blue Grass Trust plaque program, in which a plaque is placed on buildings of architectural or historical significance that are at least 50 years old. More than 900 buildings in Lexington and the surrounding counties now have plaques.

It has taken a long time to educate people about the value of historic preservation, said Foster Pettit, a former Lexington mayor and board president of the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation.

"It attracts a lot of tourists," Pettit said. "I can remember when anything Victorian was viewed as just ugly as hell and, of course, now people rush to restore a Victorian house ... Dick was a very important person who spoke for historic preservation and so we're grateful for that."

On the arts front, DeCamp served on the LexArts board and lobbied for increased city funding for the arts.

The additional city money has helped LexArts increase its community arts grants by 600 percent over the last six years, said Jim Clark, president and CEO of LexArts.

This year, LexArts gave out $120,000 in grants to fund organizations such as the UK Art Museum, the Lexington Opera Society, and the Jazz Arts Foundation.

"If Dick thinks that his time in terms of helping promote greater public involvement in the arts is over, he's sadly mistaken," Clark said. "We'll keep him involved."

In 2004, DeCamp pushed for creation of an art review board that would approve all public art, monuments and memorials placed in the city's rights of way.

"I'm really pleased at the way the arts are beginning to evolve in this city," DeCamp said. "That's really important in having a viable cultural atmosphere in making our city livable."

Over the years, DeCamp endured the ire of University of Kentucky students who opposed his work on behalf of the neighborhoods surrounding the university.

He helped form the Town & Gown Commission. He also pushed for a keg registration ordinance that allows officers to track kegs with a tag that must be visible.

"I became very unpopular with the students, but every time I ran, it ended up that the university newspaper endorsed me," DeCamp said.

On two different occasions, students vowed to wage war on the council because of legislation DeCamp introduced.

In 1998, DeCamp attempted to get the city to limit the number of unrelated adults living in the same home or apartment to three. That measure failed.

In 2001, DeCamp pushed for the Lexington Area Party Plan, a law intended to curb loud parties. Then-UK student government President Tim Robinson went to the council dressed in camouflage and face paint to declare a "Wildcat War." Although the war was with the entire council, the bulk of the students' contempt was aimed at DeCamp.

The party plan, which is now in its sixth year, has been helpful in keeping many of the neighborhoods more livable, DeCamp said. "Students realized that the city and the neighborhoods were serious about trying to keep things down to a dull roar."

While DeCamp wasn't the students' favorite council member, he was popular with the neighborhood residents he championed.

During his final council meeting last week, DeCamp was surprised by members of the Columbia Heights Neighborhood Association, who presented DeCamp with a token of their appreciation for his work on their behalf over the years. They also made him an honorary member of the neighborhood association.

"We really appreciate your tireless efforts representing us in this district," said Kate Savage, president of the neighborhood association.

"Now I can represent you from this side," DeCamp said as he accepted a crystal paperweight from the neighborhood. "Don't think I won't be down here."