Forum Journal & Forum Focus

Kentucky: “Quality Growth” Means Moving Forward by Preserving the Past 

12-09-2015 17:35

As we work to move Kentucky forward, our past provides the foundation for our future. This is a simple concept that embodies a great truth as well as a great challenge. Growth is desirable, and growth is inevitable, and as I look back on my administration I will repeat what I have championed many times before -- that we as a state must now grow in a way that enhances our prosperity by improving our quality of life. But to do this, we must also continue to preserve our rich heritage.

In the last decade, Kentucky has reversed a trend of out-migration and the Commonwealth is growing again. In 1982 about a third of an acre was developed for every person living in Kentucky. By the end of the last decade, that figure had jumped to one-half acre per person. Unfortunately, not all of this growth has been well planned -- in our urban areas, the rate of land development has far exceeded the rate of population increase.

If we do not manage our growth, those things that we hold dear about our state -- the unique beauty of our natural and historic landscapes, prime farmland, wildlife, and diverse recreational opportunities -- will be threatened. As will the character of our towns and cities, centered around historic downtowns that offer citizens a sense of community and a high quality of life.

Kentucky is not only blessed with a rich history, but many of these historic downtowns -- and cultural and rural landscapes that embody this history -- remain intact. In fact, Kentucky has the fourth highest number of entries in the National Register of Historic Places, with more than 3,100 listings encompassing approximately 40,000 structures.

It is these qualities that will determine our ability to compete for jobs in the new economy, where technology allows companies to locate virtually anywhere. Communities that offer a high concentration of skilled workers in an attractive, clean setting with a high quality of life will be the most successful.

That’s why during my first term, following on reforms of our elementary and secondary schools, we have overhauled our system of higher education, and made significant investments in early childhood development and adult education. It is this sustained commitment to enhancing the quality and access to education that will give all Kentuckians the chance to succeed in this new economy.

It will take this same long-term commitment to the issue of quality growth, if we are to build on its critical connection to our quality of life and economic future.

Renaissance Kentucky

Key to Kentucky’s efforts at promoting quality growth has been the revitalization of our historic downtowns. In 1996 I launched the Renaissance Kentucky program to help communities access the financial and technical resources needed to revitalize and restore their downtowns. An alliance of four state agencies and three private entities was formed to enhance and coordinate existing efforts.

Since its creation, Renaissance Kentucky has channeled more than $80 million into efforts in 73 cities to promote and reinvigorate downtown areas. This highly successful program is based on the model of locally based planning and management with state financial support and technical assistance.

New Partnerships

Just as Renaissance Kentucky has been a model for cooperation between agencies of state government and the private sector, other partnerships have been a key to our successes in preserving those things that are uniquely Kentucky.

The Kentucky Heritage Council (which serves as the state historic preservation office), the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, and the Federal Highway Administration’s Kentucky Division have come together in a unique partnership that links important transportation policy decisions with historic preservation, economic development, and community revitalization. What may have once been considered an unlikely partnership now provides valuable leadership on preservation issues.

Through the allocation of surface transportation funds, Kentucky’s Transportation Enhancement program recognizes local preservation initiatives. Enhancement dollars are used to acquire scenic and historic landscapes and roads, to rehabilitate and restore historic transportation-related buildings, for streetscape projects through Renaissance Kentucky, and for environmental and historic preservation initiatives that stimulate cultural and heritage tourism.

New Ways of Working

These new partnerships have fostered a new way of looking at highway projects. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, with input from its partner agencies, now seeks to design roads with community character and a sense of place, recognizing the importance of historic, scenic, aesthetic, and cultural resources. Further, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is one of five state transportation departments currently participating in a national pilot project to develop and implement flexible community-centered design principles for America’s roads and bridges.

Under the leadership of Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary James Codell, now president of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the first national Historic Preservation and Transportation Conference took place in June in Lexington, Ky. The conference was clearly the result of these successful partnerships as well as a collaborative effort between AASHTO and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Working closely with the Kentucky Heritage Council, the University of Kentucky has also become more actively involved in historic preservation throughout the state. The new graduate program in historic preservation, located within the College of Architecture, trains students to document and interpret historic buildings and landscapes, and to become advocates for their renovation, conservation, renewal, and adaptive use.

Also this past June, the Heritage Council received a national Stewardship ExcellenceAward from the Cultural Landscapes Foundation for its pioneering work in rural preservation. These efforts include a landmark study, being conducted in partnership with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, the Kentucky Heritage Council, and the University of Kentucky, on the history of Kentucky farms and rural areas, which will aid in the nomination of these properties to the National Register of Historic Places.

Building Momentum: Recommendations of the Smart Growth Task Force

Through my association with the National Governors Association, I became fully aware of the important role that quality growth plays in a state’s overall growth strategy. In May 2001, I appointed The Smart Growth Task Force to elevate smart growth as a public policy issue statewide, with a goal of identifying those key issues related to growth and land-use management. The process that produced the final report of the task force last November was one of inclusion and broad participation.

The report clearly identifies many important issues related to growth and land use that confront our state. Recognizing the best practices being pioneered around the country and here in Kentucky, it also offers a number of viable options that we could use to address these issues.

Several things were made clear: private property rights must be respected. Decision-making should be local. And, the state’s role should be to lead by example, provide technical assistance to localities, and provide funding to preserve land, create educational programs, and support local planning initiatives.

Many of the task force report’s recommendations are based on incentives, rather than mandates, to encourage quality growth. Unfortunately, the state’s current fiscal position prevents us from providing all the resources to preserve the Kentucky we know. To prepare for a time when the financial picture is brighter, we have taken several steps that begin to build a framework for quality growth into the future.

First, I presented a legislative package during the 2002 session of the Kentucky General Assembly that was designed to “preserve and strengthen our quality of life.” It included five bills, which addressed the siting of cell towers, the siting of power plants, a comprehensive solid waste initiative, the establishment of a linear state park to protect a unique natural landscape, and one we labeled the “Smart Growth Bill.” While we were successful in the passage of four out of five of these bills, the one with the designation of “smart growth” failed to pass.

The “Smart Growth Bill” was written to ensure what the task force recommended, that state government should lead by example. The bill would have required that state-administered capital projects be subject to local planning and zoning. The bill also would have established a State Planning Committee to review the siting of state capital projects to consider their impact on existing infrastructure, open spaces, agricultural resources, and historic or environmentally sensitive areas; and to review state infrastructure and capital development plans for their long-term impact on growth and land use. Finally, the bill would have established a State Planning Assistance Office to serve as a one-stop resource site for local communities in their planning efforts.

The bill also would have created four state tax credits that would preserve neighborhoods, encourage restoration of historic areas, aid affordable housing, and promote downtown revitalization. For certified rehabilitation of a property listed in the National Register or located within a historic district, it would have provided a 30 percent credit for owner-occupied residential property, a 5 percent credit on the qualified rehabilitation cost for all other property to supplement the existing federal tax credit, and a 10 percent credit for qualified new construction in historic districts. A tax credit would also have been given for qualified redevelopment of property for affordable housing in a distressed neighborhood.

Despite the fate of the “Smart Growth Bill,” however, earlier this year I signed an executive order that implements several more specific recommendations made by the Smart Growth Task Force. The order directs the establishment of siting criteria and design guidelines for state-funded public facilities; requires a plan to promote economical rehabilitation of aging buildings through the use of “smart codes,” changes in our building codes to encourage renovation; urges the Kentucky Board of Education to support the concept of smart growth in school siting criteria; creates the Brownfields Task Force, pulling together the public and private sector to coordinate and promote brownfield redevelopment; and directs the preparation of statewide inventories, including historical and natural resources, which will be the basis for long-term statewide planning efforts.

And finally, I appointed an advisory body-the Kentucky Progress Commission -- to continue this dialogue between the diverse interests having a stake in our growth, to serve as an advocacy group, and to work to raise public awareness on the importance of quality growth. Such public awareness will be critical to the successful development of a long-term growth strategy. I have also charged this commission with developing the private support necessary to become a free-standing, not-for-profit entity that can advocate quality growth at every level.

Looking Toward a Bright Future

The programs and partnerships that we have established in Kentucky now provide an essential framework for planned growth and address the concerns of many of our citizens. I plan to continue to promote measures that can make an important difference in the quality of life, both economically and aesthetically, for Kentuckians and their communities throughout the Commonwealth.

To be successful going forward, we must continue to look at things in a new way -- a way that recognizes the qualities that make Kentucky unique, and most important, that will provide choices that will best serve us and future generations of Kentuckians.



Publication Date: Fall 2002



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Author(s):Paul E. Patton
Volume:17
Issue:1