Saturday, November 5, 2011

Big majority at public hearing object to removing Equine Preserve from county's land-use plan

By Nate Courtney
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

The overwhelming majority of local residents who spoke to the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning and Zoning Commission Thursday night, Nov. 3, were against removing the Agricultural-Equine Preserve district from the proposed new Comprehensive Plan.

Over and over, those at the courthouse hearing said development of the northern part of the county would destroy land that Mary Ann McCauley said has the “richest soil in the world.” (Map: limited-capability soils in dark gray; click map for larger image)

“To remove the protection from our Agricultural Equine Preserve is to set up for the destruction of one of our most valuable assets – our soil,” McCauley told the commission. “We got the goose that’s laying the golden egg. Don’t kill that goose, for if we do we’ll be left with a dirty nest.”

Community residents acknowledged that rural development might create jobs, but some asked, at what cost to the rest of the community?

Magistrate Larry Craig, who represents Midway on the Woodford County Fiscal Court, asked, “If we do away with one agricultural job to promote a new business job, what are we accomplishing?”

The elected Fiscal Court has no say over adoption of the Comprehensive Plan. That is up the commission, which is appointed by the three local governments. It could vote on it as early as Thursday, Nov. 10.

Some of speakers also objected to the plan’s suggestion that Falling Springs Boulevard be extended to the south end of Midway Road to form a southwestern bypass of Versailles, and that consideration be given to extending the Bluegrass Parkway to Interstate 64. Both could affect Midway.

The commission allowed each resident to speak for three minutes about the proposed plan but direct dialogue was not allowed between the speakers and commission members. Some speakers wanted to know why the commission would remove the Ag-Equine Preserve, in which residential subdivisions are all but banned.

Commission Chair Brian Traugott told The Woodford Sun about a month ago that removing the district “was driven by an effort to put all agriculture in Woodford County on a fair plane.” Pattie Wilson, the county planning director, said at the start of the hearing that the plan would still require residential lots in agricultural areas to be at least 30 acres.

But residents from both the northern and southern part of the county suggested a different tack: extend the preserve to the whole county, instead of removing it. (Map: County geology by rock units, with evenly bedded limestone in green; click for larger image)

“It would be just as fair to all the farmers and land owners to extend protection to the south end of the county as it would be to remove it from the northern part,” said Evan Miller, a farmer on the south end.

Hank Graddy, a Midway attorney and farm owner, agreed, reminding the commission that 20 years ago residents in the north wanted “greater protection” and “went road to road to gain 90 percent support to create the Ag-Equine Preserve.” That percentage of landowners in the district had to agree in order for it to be created.

Part of the compromise allowing the preserve was to allow cluster residential development in the southern part of the county. “I would support efforts to make it fair for north and south,” Graddy said, by making the preserve countywide.

Graddy called the proposed plan “a slap in the face of our productive farmers that wish to continue farming and thoroughbred industry,” and said, “It is out of step with the will of the overwhelming majority of people on this community.”

The crowd of about 100 gave Graddy lengthy applause after a loud buzzer signaled the end of his three minutes.

Photo by Dick Yarmy
(from city council meeting)
Midway Mayor Tom Bozarth, left, a bloodstock agent, expressed concerns only about the extension of Fallings Springs Boulevard, saying it would put more traffic on Midway Road (US 62). That would “will adversely affect the city of Midway, all the farms, and anyone who travels Midway Road,” Bozarth said. “It is a small road with little shoulders.” 

Lori Garkovich, a University of Kentucky professor and Woodford County resident for 28 years, also expressed concerns regarding the future design and construction of improvements to Midway Road.

Garkovich, a rural sociologist and planning specialist speaking on behalf of the Woodford Coalition, also recommended standards in writing to the commission that she said would “preserve Midway Road’s designation as a scenic corridor and improve its safety.”

The extension of the Bluegrass Parkway to I-64 was proposed 40 years ago but dropped by the state because of the impact it would have on the Pisgah Pike Historic District and the eastern end of the Midway census tract and ZIP code.

"Why build new roads that aren't desperately needed when we desperately need when we to take care of the roads we already have?" asked former Gov. Brereton Jones, a horse breeder who lives a few miles west of Midway. "We need new roads, no question about it, but we don’t need to be destroying the prime agricultural land, the best land that exists."

Traugott said after the meeting that the commission “would absolutely consider the questions that were raised by the community residents.”

A few of the approximately 30 residents who spoke did commend the commission for shrinking the current 400-page document to about 100 pages, and endorsed it. Those included Brad McLean of Midway, chairman of the Woodford County Economic Development Authority.

McLean said the EDA gives the plan their “entire support” and thanked the Commission “for making economic development a priority.” Versailles Mayor Fred Siegelman also endorsed the plan.
Traugott said in a post-meeting interview that there were “many, many things that everybody agrees on” in the plan. “There are three or four real issues.”

The biggest issue by far was the future of the equine preserve. “The destruction of the farmland would turn Woodford County into another faceless and indistinct bedroom community,” horse farmer Richard Masson said.

He called the plan “the first step to becoming just another off ramp on a freeway instead of a famous and historic landmark and the crown jewel of the Bluegrass.” Masson received the heaviest applause of the night.

The hearing was the latest episode in a long debate between preservationists and pro-development interests in Woodford County. For background on the debate, from the current plan, click here.


Deborah Knittel said...

Well written, Nate. You captured the conversation well and did not leave out the fact that there were no objections most of the changes in the document. The planning meeting on Thursday, Nov 10 should also be well attended. It will be interesting to see how the commission responds to what they all heard. Will you be reporting on it?

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for your compliment. I will be there tomorrow night to cover the meeting -should be very interesting to see what happens!

-Nate Courtney