It's gut check time for Garrard planning commission

May 19, 2004|JIM LOGAN

LANCASTER - After a bruising two months of meetings with residents angry at the prospect of zoning in Garrard County, the Planning Commission took stock of itself Tuesday night and decided it isn't going to slink off into oblivion.

The panel's gut check came after some members apparently said the nasty political atmosphere surrounding the commission might have made it a lost cause that should just disappear.

"We've taken a lot of flak," said Ronnie Lamb. "If the board dissolves, I think we've really let the people down. I think we should be here for the people."

Lamb's sentiments were echoed by nearly every member of the volunteer panel. The lone exception came from its newest member, "Buckeye" Bill Moore, who has been a critic of the panel's perceived rush to impose zoning.


Moore, who was sworn in Tuesday night, said the county should focus on "doing its job" - fixing roads, cleaning out culverts and the like.

But he made it clear he wasn't on the commission to be an obstructionist.

"We might come up with a real plan - and I'm here for y'all. I'm not gonna say I'm for it, but I'm not totally against it. I'll work with you."

The shape and scope of that plan, the members agreed, should be specific and limited: infrastructure, recreation, police and fire services.

Dick Brunson, the commission chairman, said he believed the public - even those who denounced the panel - would be in favor of ideas that pay for themselves, like impact fees on developers, rather than new taxes.

"I think we're all in agreement on that, and those are things we can plan on," he said.

People don't want zoning

What people don't want, he and the rest agreed, was zoning.

Although the commission's job was never more than to write a comprehensive plan, public opposition quickly focused on zoning and the imposition of harsh restrictions on land use. It became the rallying cry of the no-zoning faction despite Brunson and others frequently pointing out that state law exempts farms five acres and larger from local restrictions.

Moreover, it was argued, zoning would be toothless without enforcement, and the county hasn't enforced what few rules it does have.

The public "will not accept new ordinances, especially zoning, when old ordinances are not uniformly, fairly and aggressively enforced," Brunson said. "I think that's the argument I heard at the meetings. Why? Because there's currently a lack of confidence and a mistrust of the Fiscal Court.

"I think planning is away to reduce future taxes while making the county a better place to live. But I think what I heard at the meetings is that the citizens today feel that to be successful, more restrictions need to be placed on government and developers, not them."

A simple comprehensive plan devoid of zoning suggested

Brunson suggested that a simple comprehensive plan devoid of zoning could be acceptable to the public. It would be up to the Fiscal Court to decide what sort of zoning the county should have.

The idea clearly appealed to the panel.

"Let the judges and magistrates, if they're gonna put zoning on this, let them come up with the idea," said Lamb. "Let's just come up with some kind of thing to put on the table for 'em and let 'em pick through it."

Moore, asked if the plan's most vocal critics would support such an idea, shook his head and smiled.

"They're head-strong," he said.

They're also active and increasingly organized. Zoning opponents have outnumbered supporters at every public meeting.

And although it was suggested that a "silent majority" backs planning, Brunson said the commission has an obligation to listen to everybody, especially its critics.

"I hope if I ever run for public office I never have to depend on the silent majority that doesn't show up at the polling booth," he said. "I've got calls ... that are in support of what we're doing. But I think the people that we need to listen to are the ones that care enough to come out to the meetings."

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