WITT: The value of local P&Z

It is unlikely that more than one person in a hundred fully understands or appreciates the value of local Planning and Zoning boards.

While our elected governing bodies – the Fiscal Court and City Commission – are the final arbiters regarding actions taken by the Planning and Zoning Commission, those governing bodies typically rely on the opinions and expertise resident in the Commission.

The Winchester-Clark County Planning Commission is an appointed body, with members being selected by both the city and county governing bodies. Some members serve for many years, building up a body of expertise which they can pass along to other members and to new ones coming onto the board. Some continuity amongst the members is a desirable thing.

It is also true that some appointees come onto the board, possibly without realizing the importance of, and dedication required for, the position. And some will subsequently voluntarily leave the board, occasionally even before their four-year appointment has come to an end.

Planning and Zoning has been in effect in Clark County since the mid 60s and, for the most part, has served the community well.

Because of state requirements, districts which utilize planning and zoning must establish comprehensive plans, and such items as subdivision regulations, zoning ordinances, sign regulations, parking regulations and landscape ordinances all serve to enhance the process.

When planning and zoning was first proposed here, there was a level of outcry against it, some even resorting to describing it as communistic because it would restrict the rights of landowners.

Well, it does restrict rights of landowners. In return, it protects landowners as well.

Here’s an example. Not long ago in Powell County, a neighborhood was protesting the possibility of a landfill being constructed near their homes. Since Planning and Zoning does not exist in Powell County, there was little recourse for the neighbors except to appeal to their elected officials, officials who also have very little capability under the law without a planning and zoning ordinance.

In recent years reportage of the meetings of the Commission has languished, largely due to the demands on newspaper reporters at many local government meetings, the City Commission, the Fiscal Court and the school board, all of which meetings are vitally important to the community.

But make no mistake, the actions and recommendations emanating from Planning and Zoning can also have a dramatic impact on how this community develops.

The actions of this commission are so important that it is mandated to update its Comprehensive Plan every five years, and to completely re-write it every 10 years. These actions epitomize the vast changes that can occur in a community during a short period of time.

What is also critical in the actions of the commission is the coordination with other community services, especially water and sanitary and storm sewers.

It makes little difference if some development is recommended for approval if that development is unable to make use of these services. Ergo, the planning process provides for the rational growth of services along with growth in housing, business and industrial development.

The individuals who serve on the Planning and Zoning Commission perform a valuable service to the community, at very low remuneration and added requirements for continuing education.

It’s unfortunate that more people don’t understand the importance of this service, especially since most people don’t think about it until an undesirable development is being proposed in their own backyard.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.