Elected officials in Paris are giving their fellow Central Kentuckians a crash course in how not to do infill development: Rush through an unpopular rezoning as part of a secret economic development plan while refusing to hear from constituents.
No wonder people are upset and suspicious.
The city commission is both seeking and expected to approve the rezoning of a 94-year-old golf course for light industry. The city has agreed to buy the 48-acre site for $650,000 and is hoping to market it with help from state economic development specialists.
The city is providing no details about what kind of industry or what sort of building might be required, though the site is next to an established neighborhood and on the edge of the historic downtown.
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The Bourbon County Joint Planning Commission rejected the rezoning. The Bourbon County Health Department warned that the effects on flooding should be studied before rezoning the land which adjoins Stoner Creek and is now zoned for conservation. Worsening flooding could harm the community’s long-term economic prospects.
Nonetheless, Mayor Michael J. Thornton and the city commission seem determined to push ahead with a vote Thursday morning without even pausing to hold a public hearing. They are letting the record of a planning commission meeting, attended by almost 200 people, suffice for public input.
The acreage already designated and available for industrial development is in dispute. Nailing that down before making any big decisions would be a good idea.
The planning staff and commission rejected the rezoning as incompatible with the 2017 Comprehensive Plan because the industrial site would adjoin residential properties. The staff recommended against waiving a height limit of 60 feet for buildings on the site.
The comprehensive plan also calls for infill redevelopment, according to an “Open Letter to Paris Residents” posted on the city’s web site.
How to create jobs, invigorate the economy and expand the tax base without destroying our built history and farmland is a big challenge, not just in Paris and Bourbon County but also in Lexington and the rest of the region. Respect for existing neighborhoods, businesses and quality of life is critical for infill efforts to gain support and ultimately succeed.
The Paris mayor and commission would be smart to slow down and engage the public in an open discussion, though that seems unlikely. Other cities should at least learn from their mistakes.