Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Columns

September 3, 2013

John Cannon: Zoned out of county: 09/04/13

ASHLAND — When my wife and I moved here from Sumner County, Tenn., in 1979, we had every intention of buying a few acres of land in Boyd County and continuing our plans to eventually live almost entirely off the land. At the time, we were growing enough vegetables in our two gardens that we had not bought any vegetables for more than a year. We also had Angela, our Jersey milk cow who was keeping us in milk and butter, and chickens to provide us with plenty of eggs and meat. My next goal was to buy a beef calf, the final step toward becoming truly self-sufficient.

I was even making a little money selling vegetables and melons from the  garden and eggs from the hens. The next step was to sell fruits and vegetables at the farmers market

Thus, when I accepted a job at The Independent, my wife and I planned to buy enough land to keep Angela, the chickens and the large gardens. In fact, when we met with a Realtor here in Ashland, we told him that we wanted a house with land. This farm boy had no intention of becoming a city dweller.

However, the Realtor only had to say one thing for both my wife and I to abandon our plans to live in the country.

“Is there zoning in Boyd County?” I asked.

“No sir!” he replied in a tone that indicated he thought I would be elated that Big Brother government could not tell me what I could do with my land. But for me, not having zoning was a deal ender, and my wife and I started looking at homes in Ashland. Thirty-four years later we still are in that house on Forest Avenue, and I still would not live in rural Boyd County because there is no zoning.

While opponents of zoning think it denies them of their God-given property rights, I think of zoning as protecting my home from neighboring developments that would be undesirable and likely have a negative impact on the value of my home.

While we lived in a rural area in Tennessee, there was countywide zoning way back then. In addition, we had deed restrictions on our land. Some of those restrictions I thought were silly. For example, we could not build a garage with the garage door facing the highway.  However, I knew about the restrictions when I bought the  house and I was willing to live with them..

I know that some subdivisions in Boyd County also have deed restrictions to compensate for the lack of zoning. The problem with deed restrictions if that if your neighbor violates a restriction, you have to take to court to enforce it. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to sue their neighbor. On the other hand, if a zoning restriction is violated, it is Big Brother government that comes down  on the property owner. To me, that’s better because it keeps peace in the neighborhood.

I can think of two incidents in recent years when the lack of zoning has put the Boyd County Fiscal Court in an uncomfortable position. One was the recent effort by Pathways to build a much-needed drug treatment center near Cedar Knoll. If there had been zoning, that property could well have been zoned “residential” making it unsuitable for the treatment center.

But since there is no zoning in the county, there was little the fiscal court could legally do to stop the treatment center. So, fiscal court members were reduced to threatening Pathways about what would happen if it built the center at that location.

A few years ago, a property owner in Westwood  developed plans to place mobile homes on land he owned, which he had a legal right to do since there is no zoning in Westwood. When neighbors complained to the fiscal court, our elected leaders first tried to stop the development by insisting it was in a flood plain. They eventually purchased the land for a nice little park. End of controversy. But what happens the next time someone tries to put a mobile home park where neighbors don’t want it? Is the county going to buy the land for another park? I doubt it.

I know that there a many county residents who oppose zoning, but I have to believe there also are many who would support it. I also think the lack of zoning hampers development in the county. And residents are constantly coming before the fiscal court to complain about something that could be handled if there were zoning. At one recent meeting, a property owner complained about his neighbor keeping large animals too close to his house.  Maybe the neighbor was, but without zoning, there was nothing the county governing body could do about it.

During the recent controversy over the Pathways drug treatment center, an angry caller asked what I would think if someone tried to build the treatment center in my neighborhood.

“It’s not going to happen,” I replied, “because my neighborhood is not zoned for such a facility.”

That’s not the response she wanted to hear. She hung up on me.

The controversies over what and where you can build anything in Boyd County will not end until the fiscal court enacts countywide zone. As best I can tell, that’s not going to happen in my lifetime. That’s why I plan to stay put on Forest Avenue.

JOHN CANNON can be reached at jcannon@dailyindependent.com or at (606) 326-2649.

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