Sunday, January 07, 2001

Kentucky takes steps against sprawl

State pushing 'smart growth'

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FRANKFORT — Gov. Paul Patton is embracing legislation promoting “smart growth” that encourages and, in some cases, mandates additional planning by local governments.

        Mr. Patton last week made “smart growth” one of the key points of his State of the Commonwealth address to the General Assembly.

        The governor wants a task force of lawmakers, local government planners and business interests - including Realtors and home builders - to study smart growth and urban sprawl legislation during 2001 and to have one or more bills prepared for the 2002 legislative session.

        “We must explore how we can give our communi ties the tools they need to ensure that they're growing in ways that preserve their quality of life without slowing their economic potential,” Mr. Patton told lawmakers.

        “Kentucky is developing its farmland at a rate that's ranked third in the nation. Many of our communities are seeing the high cost of unplanned growth.

        “This is an issue that we must begin to address or the Kentucky we know and love today will not be the Kentucky we leave to our grandchildren.”

        “Smart growth” is to some an antidote to urban sprawl, in which suburbs push into rural areas with unrestrained development.

        Proponents say “smart growth” could help:

        • Prevent the destruction of green space.

        • Decrease the cost of water and sewer services.

        • Increase worker productivity, shorten commutes and ease congestion.

        A package of “smart growth” legislation was filed during the 2000 session, but it died without a vote, mainly because some industry groups - including Realtors and home builders - were opposed and said they felt left out of the process.

        “We agree there needs to be a balance between growth and a healthy economy,” said Cheery Malone, president of the Northern Kentucky Association of Realtors. “We're very encouraged that the governor has listed this as one of his top issues, and we'll help anyway we can.”

        Mr. Patton's call for a task force appears to bring all the parties to the table, said Rep. Jim Wayne, D-Louisville, who sponsored the 2000 smart-growth bill and plans to do the same this session and next.

        “The essence of the bill is for comprehensive planning in every county, and that the planning be coordinated,” he said. “You have better-planned communities so you reduce the sprawl, you reduce the development of all these farms.”

        Most Kentucky counties - 74 out of 120 - have no countywide planning and zoning. The legisla tion would mandate planning for those areas.

        Supporters say that without planning for growth, a community can end up with clumps of retail strip centers and other businesses clustered around roads too small to accommodate their traffic or subdivisions full of homes before adequate water and sewer lines are built.

        The legislation would improve growth in Northern Kentucky, said Marshall Slagle, assistant director of the Northern Kentucky Planning Commission, because it would lead to better communication among officials.

        “Smart growth is really growth management,” Mr. Slagle said.

        “For the most part, we have made a good step in that direction ... but we need some fine-tuning and work toward better coordination between the various groups ... like the highway departments, the water districts and the sanitation district.”

        Campbell County, unlike Boone and Kenton counties, does not have a coordinated, countywide planning unit.

        Fast-growing counties like Boone and Kenton would likely encourage better coordination of community needs, said Kevin Costello, director of planning for Boone County.

        “Our areas have a good history of good, solid planning. But we could still do more by getting everybody involved ... to sit around the table and really plan in those areas where significant growth is occurring,” he said.

        For instance, Mr. Costello said, school officials, road planners, builders and others could focus on areas about to be developed to ensure infrastructure is adequate.

        Boone County has already begun doing that. Developers - including the Erpenbeck Co. of Northern Kentucky - have donated $1.5 million in land for school construction in Union and Hebron where new homes are being built.

        “Smart-growth” legislation may also provide state money for roads and other incentives to com munities that draft a comprehensive plan approved by the state.

        But some, including builders and developers, fear a loss of local control.

        “We think the control over land use ought to be on the local level,” said Dan Dressman, director of government affairs of the Homebuilders Association of Northern Kentucky.

        “We think by requiring every comprehensive plan to be reviewed by the state carries an additional level of bureaucracy that is unnecessary,” he said.

        The battle has already begun. Mr. Wayne has filed one bill for consideration during the 2001 session, legislation that would establish training and continuing education for members of local planning and zoning bodies.

        “That's a good start,” said Mr. Slagle. “But I encourage the Legislature to keep moving forward, because really what the advocates of smart growth are saying is growth ought to be planned, as opposed to unplanned.”


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