Clark fiscal court approves ordinance to rezone 165 acres of agricultural land

The Allen Co.'s Madison County quarry sits across the Kentucky River from land in Clark County where it seeks to open an underground limestone quarry. The company proposes to put a conveyor across Athens-Boonesboro Road and the river to transport crushed stone.
The Allen Co.'s Madison County quarry sits across the Kentucky River from land in Clark County where it seeks to open an underground limestone quarry. The company proposes to put a conveyor across Athens-Boonesboro Road and the river to transport crushed stone. Herald-Leader

WINCHESTER — In a meeting packed with opponents, Clark County Fiscal Court voted 3-1 Wednesday for final approval of an ordinance that rezones 165 acres of agricultural land for use by heavy industry.

The rezoning opens the door for the Allen Co. to reopen a closed underground limestone quarry beneath the land near Boonesborough.

"Binding elements," or language in the ordinance, would keep agricultural uses on the surface, although County Attorney Brian Thomas cited an appellate court decision that said such language is not binding on future fiscal courts, who could amend the ordinance.

Commissioners Rick Smith, Vanessa Oaks Rogers and JoEllen Reed voted for the rezoning ordinance. Clark County Judge-Executive Henry Branham voted against it.

The vote, although anticipated, deeply disappointed nearby residents and critics of the rezoning.

"I'm just appalled. Appalled," said Clare Sipple, manager of the Lower Howard's Creek Nature and Heritage Preserve and chairwoman of the Kentucky River Authority.

John Rompf, a Winchester lawyer who represents the Allen Co., had little comment.

"I understand there are two sides to every issue," Rompf said.

Members of the Southwest Clark Neighborhood Association, which opposed the rezoning, had previously said they would appeal approval of the ordinance in Clark Circuit Court. Hank Graddy, a Versailles lawyer who represents the association, said no decision will be made on how to proceed until next week. See the Facebook page for Citizens Against Open Pit Quarry in Clark County.

Clark County has no ordinance or regulations governing quarries, but Thomas, the county attorney, said he will discuss the possibility of drafting such regulations with the Winchester-Clark County Planning and Zoning Commission.

The Allen Co. operates a quarry in Madison County across the Kentucky River from the Clark County site that was rezoned. A previous underground limestone quarry operated on the Clark County site from the 1930s until 1959, before current planning and zoning regulations went into effect.

Under the company's plan, rock would be crushed underground on the Clark County side and then transported by conveyor belt over Athens-Boonesboro Road and over the Kentucky River to the existing crushing yard in Madison County.

The conveyor is intended to reduce the use of big trucks on narrow rural roads in the area.

Even with Wednesday's fiscal court vote, the company needs approval from state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to put a conveyor over the Kentucky River.

Opponents had argued that there have been no significant changes to the land since Clark County adopted a 2012 comprehensive plan or since the planning commission and fiscal court had considered an open-pit quarry for the site last year.

But three fiscal court commissioners — who are not seeking re-election — said Wednesday that the latest plan was less intrusive than what the Allen Co. had proposed earlier.

"This time the Allen Co. submitted a substantially different application," Reed said. "It does provide a stable economic base and it does provide jobs for our citizens; in this case, 18."

Commissioner Rogers said she disagreed with those who say there has been no significant change to the river corridor, and she pleaded for a "reality check." She said the 3-mile stretch from the Ford community to Hall's on the River restaurant has a power plant, coal-ash settling ponds, electrical power lines, a lock and dam, abandoned restaurants and an abandoned trailer park, and a state park campground.

"The Kentucky River valley of Daniel Boone's day no longer exists," Rogers said. "Would reopening, recycling a historic quarry destroy an otherwise pristine setting? Let's stick to the facts.

"Despite all this change, people obviously still love the river, their river — the hiking on Howard's Creek, the boating on the river," Rogers said. "What the Allen Co. has proposed, I firmly believe to be a positive, least intrusive compromise."

Rogers said she was disappointed by the "half-truths, distortions, the untrue rumors" surrounding the debate and vote.

Pamela Roundtree took Rogers to task for chastising those who opposed the rezoning.

"Obviously, planning and zoning really doesn't matter in this county," Roundtree said. "Because we don't take a long-range view from a comprehensive plan that was developed over many hours of discussion and writing and revision, and it doesn't matter. We can just sit down as four people and make a decision to ignore every long-range plan made by this county, every long-range plan to protect the property values of these people."

Sipple, the nature preserve manager, said she was sorry that Rogers chastised constituents for speaking out.

"As your constituents, that's our right," Sipple said. "We feel like this is a very important issue. ... I've already had several people come to me and say, 'If that land gets changed to (heavy industrial), can I put that zoning on my property as well?'

"We are your constituents. There are many more than 18 people here today who will be affected and heavily impacted by this," Sipple said. "I think you have sold us out for a very small economic impact to the county but a very large detrimental economic impact to everyone who are property owners here today."

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