Our View: Zoning change needs more review

Published 7:54 am Monday, February 27, 2017

Although they rarely get much attention until a controversy arises, zoning regulations are a critical part of building a community and growing in a structured way that benefits those who call the city or county home.

That is why all deviations from the basic foundation should be handled very cautiously, as allowing exceptions puts a community on a very slippery slope.

Winchester and Clark County are no different.

We have significant concerns about a proposed text amendment that would allow nursing homes and similar health-related facilities to be built on property zoned for agricultural use.

Earlier this month, the Winchester-Clark County Planning Commission voted 4-3 to approve a proposed amendment which would allow such facilities as a special use for property zoned A-1.

For this to take effect, both the Winchester Board of Commissioners and the Clark County Fiscal Court would have to approve the amendment to the joint zoning ordinance.

There seems to be a fair amount of misinformation or confusion about exactly what this amendment would do, who is driving it, what the existing steps to build facilities like this in an A-1 zone would and what is going to happen next.

Many in the community felt this issue was going to be a major topic of discussion but neither body had the item on the agenda for last week’s meetings. Both Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner and Clark County Judge-Executive Henry Branham said publicly the issue needed more discussion by the planning commission.

We agree.

The proposed amendment doesn’t grant the type of complete freedom that would come from designating nursing homes and similar health-related facilities as a “permitted use,” which would allow such businesses to be built without notice or much legislative approval, but it definitely weakens the county’s existing zoning ordinances and opens the door for potential conflicts.

Since the amendment was officially approved by the planning commission, it doesn’t automatically go away just because it wasn’t brought up last week. It could still be voted on within the next 60 days.

We would like to see both legislative bodies address this formally and transparently by putting it on the agenda, allowing public conversation and, unless some new information surfaces, voting it down so it will go back to the planning commission for revisions.

Some of the proposed projects that may require this sort of zoning change may be great for Winchester and Clark County. Those should be looked at on an individual basis and with great input from property owners most impacted.

Wholesale changes — especially those of which the ramifications may not be fully understood — aren’t good for Winchester and Clark County.