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The Kentucky Standard: Faceless Editorial Opinion Fails to Recognize Community Attitudes
Posted October 26th, 2013 in Bardstown and tagged , , , , by Rick Hill

zoning 4An editorial in the Kentucky Standard on October 20, 2013, began with an accurate statement—building permits are facts of life. In its editorial, the Standard was responding to a controversy about a ramp to a residential home. Neighbors had constructed the ramp to enable a child with a disability to have independent access to the house, without the required permits.

 

The Kentucky Standard is an award-winning newspaper and an asset to Bardstown and Nelson County. However, for some unknown reason, the Standard’s editorial board adopted a preachy tone: “What those people failed to realize was that the commission didn’t cause the problem. They’re just doing their job which is to enforce regulations.” The editorial continued: “It’s much easier to attack a faceless agency than to acknowledge that the issue is not with the commission, but rather with the property owner, who failed to follow legal protocol.”

Given that the agency has a well-documented staff, identified commission members, and open public meetings whereas the Standard’s editorial author remains nameless, the “faceless agency” was perhaps a poor choice of words.

 

However, in its key statements and general observations, the Standard’s editorial was correct: A community does need land-development codes and zoning regulations. Maintaining and enforcing these rules, regulations, and codes must be a thankless and difficult task, especially given that the rules and laws are totally disregarded at times and subject to appeal, waivers and variances. Likewise, a limited staff must work with a flawed one-size-fits-all code and a final approval process eventually controlled by politicians with their own visions, agendas, campaign contributors, and constituents to consider.

 

But, the editorial continued: “Nelson County is as beautiful as it is because there are rules in place to keep it that way. As people, we’re capable of making quite a mess of things when left to only our own devices.” So, now we get to the truth! Government knows better than the community, and everyday citizens clearly cannot be allowed to apply their imagination, creativity, and innovation. This is hardly the case. The towns across the nation that are growing with smart, sustainable, and highly attractive development are only occurring with a deeply engaged community. The mess comes from uninformed zoning decisions and when citizens do not hold commissions and politicians accountable for their actions.

 

Just look at the evolution of the mismatched commercial corridors in Bardstown: North Third Street (Highway 31 E) between the railroad tracks and Highway 245 and Bloomfield Road (Highway 62) between historic Wickland and Highway 245.  Both were largely rezoned and redeveloped after the Nelson County Planning Commission was created in 1970. Those two strips are as poorly planned, as unregulated, and as ugly as any commercial strip around. If anything, they serve as a guide on how not to do it.

 

Ironically, the downtown area of Bardstown and the adjacent residential blocks are the most cherished portions of the built environment in the community.  Now a historic landmark district they were developed without building codes and a planning commission.

 

Bardstown and Nelson County are filled with good people. Likewise, planning staff, commission members, and elected officials generally have good intentions. Planning staff expertise has certainly improved in recent years, as has community vision, and neither deserves to be attacked, threatened, or treated in a condescending manner.

 

The Standard needs to understand that Bardstown is beautiful not because of code enforcement officers but because of its natural environment and its community. People left to their own devices take pride in their homes and businesses and generally want to do what is right and good.

 

Therefore, when a faceless newspaper editorial defines the job of zoning and planning as one of merely enforcement, every citizen should take note. The community needs education and information about zoning and the implications of long-term planning decisions.  Staff and public education, design assistance, neighborhood coaching, and political leadership inspired by a deep community conversation on our aesthetic values are needed as well. Merely telling people to follow the rules is not the way to build on the spirit, inner beauty and human richness of the community. If given the opportunity, empowered citizens are quite capable of protecting their history, built environment, open spaces, and vistas while allowing balanced growth and economic development.

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