Fighting Suburban Sprawl in Rural KY

Jul 12, 2011

The fastest growing areas in Kentucky are just outside cities. Trouble is, as population grows so does pressure to fill up those open spaces. It’s a tough balancing act. WEKU’s Jacalyn Carfagno reports.

A drive along U-S 68 from Lexington to Wilmore is like time travel. Harrodsburg Road, as it’s known in Lexington, is lined by subdivisions, shopping centers and big box stores until it gives way to rolling countryside, horse farms and bird song in Jessamine County.

Now, a horse farm owner along this road wants to build a gas station and convenience store on his land, but neighbors -- and county planners -- say that’s a bad idea.

“I purchased my home 3 and a half years ago and I did not expect to have a chance of a strip mall being a mile down the street from me,” said Jessamine County resident Robert Fugate.

Fugate thinks a rules change in the middle of the game is unfair.

“The farmers and the people who live on the corridor were sold a bill of goods that it would continue to be that, that it would continue to be a rural agricultural corridor and that’s being changed, or they want to change it,” said Fugate.

Few people have invested in the U-S 68 corridor as heavily as Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey. In 1994 they bought an historic farm along that scenic highway in Jessamine County.

By that time the land had nurtured winning race horses for almost a century.  The couple kept the tradition going, adding land to what’s now called “Ramsey Farm.”  Their horses run at Keeneland and Churchill Downs and have won the Dubai World Cup. It’s the Ramseys who wants to build the gas station and convenience store, but they need a zoning change.

The case has stirred neighbors up for a couple of reasons. If it’s approved, they fear U-S 68 could be crammed with auto dealerships, strip malls and other commercial development.  Secondly, Jessamine County has other plans for that corridor.

A key part of the plan is to keep commercial activity in the cities and towns and out of the rural, agricultural parts of the county.

And it singles out U-S 68 for special attention, designating it a “historic scenic highway.”

Arguing for the zoning change is Nicholasville attorney Robert Gullette.  Both Gullette and his clients rejected our requests for interviews.  But, during a public hearing, he said, they also want to protect the scenic highway, but the plan is just too conservative.   

 “Look at it — out there — it just screams it ought to have a gas station on it; it is a perfect location for a commercial application,” said Gullette.

Arguing against the zone change is attorney David Royse.  The lawyer grew up in Nicholasville and still lives there, even though he commutes to Lexington.  Royse sees this as a test of the community’s will..

 “I think it really speaks volumes about what standards the community holds itself to and the input of its citizens so I think this is a very important decision in and of itself without regard to what may happen down the road,” said Royse.

In a way it’s also a question of individual rights versus the rights of a community.  Even though he opposes this zone change, land owner Robert Fugate admits he’s a little uneasy with the idea of restricting property rights.

“I struggle with it. It’s like I’ve told people, I don’t want someone to tell me what I can do or I can’t do with my property but I don’t want a sex shop next to my house. So you have to look at the good and the bad of zoning,” said Fugate.

 “I think people have become more accepting of the idea that some zoning controls can make a community better for everyone and kind of a rising tide raises all ships while their still have to be due process protections for the individual and his rights to use his property in a way that is reasonable,” said Royse.

That’s something Kentucky’s courts will eventually look at, too. Both sides have made it clear, if the Jessamine County-Wilmore Joint Planning Commission rules against them, there will be an appeal.