Editorials

Planning body’s mess on display

An overflow crowd gathered for a meeting of the Urban County Planning Commission to address a proposed Ball Homes development. An overflow crowd attended with many people being forced to watch the proceedings on monitors in various lobbies of City Hall.
An overflow crowd gathered for a meeting of the Urban County Planning Commission to address a proposed Ball Homes development. An overflow crowd attended with many people being forced to watch the proceedings on monitors in various lobbies of City Hall. cbertram@herald-leader.com

It was perplexing at best when, during a contentious zoning debate, Urban County Council members Bill Farmer and Richard Moloney worried aloud that a proposal to create a public pathway along a waterfront could decrease the value of lakefront lots.

They appeared more concerned about one developer’s profit than creating a public amenity for everyone.

In fairness, the Planning Commission had left this mess for the council. And in truth, both the council and Mayor Jim Gray must address the mess that is the Planning Commission in order to protect this community’s future.

Too many of this commission’s 11 members — including at least five with close ties to or jobs in development and real estate — didn’t seem willing to dig into the details of one zoning decision. How can they be trusted with planning the all of the county’s 180,000 acres?

As the city’s planning department says on its website, “well-planned cities don’t happen by accident.”

Maintaining the balance between a vital urban core and a world-class countryside requires thoughtful, informed, long-term planning, something Lexington’s been working on since its first comprehensive plan in 1931. The planning commission is now reviewing and revising the plan, as required every five years.

The commission waved aside the articulate, fact-based concerns of citizens who suggested modifications to a Ball Homes proposal to develop 90 acres on a reservoir that supplies drinking water to the city. It didn’t deign to discuss the pathway.

Although the commission heard over four hours of testimony and received about 750 letters opposing the development plan, members took only a few minutes to question and discuss before voting 8-1 to approve the plan presented. Some sighed over the inevitability of development and the challenges of their work.

Zoning changes, thankfully, require approval by the council, which did the heavy lifting. After hours of testimony and debate, it reduced the density, protected more trees and expanded the buffer between the development and the water, but turned back the proposal to set aside property for the multi-use waterfront trail that city planners have long envisioned.

The council has the authority to change the commission’s decisions, but in this case it was essentially forced to take on the work the commission didn’t do.

Gray, who appoints commissioners, and council members who confirm them, must keep that in mind with three terms expiring next month: William Wilson, Carolyn Plumlee, the only “no” in the recent case, and David Drake.

As chairman, Wilson has guided contentious meetings with a steady hand; Plumlee shows up prepared and inquisitive. Each deserves another term.

Gray should not reappoint Drake, a retired energy executive who has demonstrated almost no interest in mastering the complexities of land-use issues. If Gray, whose background is in building and development, reappoints him, the council should carefully review Drake’s service and his commitment to the city’s land-use goals.

Also, in this community where there’s such passion about preserving farmland while nurturing a lively urban core, people with the time and commitment must step up to volunteer for the hard work required of a planning commissioner.

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