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New Alliances Promote Kentucky’s Rich Heritage  

12-09-2015 17:35

My family and the other early settlers who came to Kentucky were drawn by the beauty of the land, the richness of the natural resources, and the potential for personal and economic prosperity. And they developed a rich tradition of architecture and craftsmanship that built on our state’s natural heritage. Today those are the very assets, the very strengths, that we find ourselves placing a renewed value on 200 years later.

I’ve been interested and involved in preservation and growth management issues from a number of different perspectives: as president of an economic development agency, as secretary of the tourism cabinet, and as arts commissioner for Kentucky. But today my job is to advise Kentucky’s governor on the broad policy agenda to move the state forward and to look at all the ways all of our various policy initiatives should interlink and coordinate in ways that can truly form a brighter future for Kentucky.

In Kentucky, thanks to a constitutional amendment, we have now the first governor who’s ever had a chance to serve two consecutive terms. It’s been an important change because short-term governors who served only one term really couldn’t deal with long-term issues very effectively. I’ve worked for six governors, and it’s made a tremendous difference.

Governor Patton made education his top priority when he came into office seven years ago. And he did that because he looked at the long-term trends and what the future of Kentucky will be if we don’t make tremendous improvements in quality and access of education at all levels. The governor also believes that we have to take that same kind of long-term approach and sustained commitment to growth management. And it’s the first time that we’ve really had a statewide dialogue on managing growth and trying to encourage quality growth across the state.

The governor turned to smart growth because of its critical link to economic prosperity for Kentucky. The connection between smart growth and economic prosperity is the best way to build the bridge between the traditional advocates for preservation and the business and the development community. If we’re truly going to see the economic results the state needs, we must partner with people who are investing in Kentucky’s future.

In this new economy of the 21st century, quality of life matters more than it ever has before. New high-tech firms and knowledge-based companies are going to locate where the highly skilled workers are. And those skilled workers will want to live in areas that are attractive, clean, and free of congestion, and where they can raise a family.

Kentucky, as do many states, has many advantages when competing for new jobs and new industries. We have some of the most diverse and beautiful landscapes in the country. We have unique small towns dotted across our state, each with its own rich history. We have vibrant cities with strong cultural offerings. We have a very low cost of living. We have the lowest energy costs in the country and some of the lowest housing costs. But it’s essential to protect those assets if our state will have a successful economic future.

The states that aren’t taking the steps to protect those assets will find themselves the economic backwaters. They will be creating service jobs and back-office jobs. The businesses that attract the well-educated workers will not settle in the states that aren’t paying attention to protecting those quality-of-life assets.

Kentucky’s Smart Growth Task Force

In May of 2001, Governor Patton appointed a 35-member Smart Growth Task Force, a bipartisan committee of volunteers across the state with diverse interests. About 65 groups were identified as stakeholders who could also participate in meetings and work teams. The task force organized its work around five committees, which attracted more than 230 members from around the state. The subject areas of the work committees ranged from community design and revitalization, to economic development, land preservation, planning, and transportation. Over a period of about six months, those work teams met all across Kentucky.

As part of this Smart Growth initiative, we asked the University of Kentucky to conduct a survey to test people’s opinions on various growth management issues in different parts of the state. And we learned an important lesson in that process: In Kentucky, the concerns about growth are as diverse as the regions of our state. In the urban areas such as Louisville and Lexington and northern Kentucky which is just south of Cincinnati, it’s traditional sprawl issues. But it’s preservation of farmland in central Kentucky and far western Kentucky, where farmers are threatened by large chicken and hog operations. It’s preservation of natural areas in far eastern Kentucky where we have some of the most beautiful ecological treasures in our state. And it’s the preservation of downtowns and neighborhoods in every community that Kentuckians care about as they look to the future.

But we found quickly that, unfortunately, too few Kentucky communities have the tools with which to address these issues. In fact, nearly 25 percent, or 27 counties in Kentucky, have no planning function at all, at either the city or the county level. Only 27 of our 120 counties have joint planning units with full county-wide planning and zoning. And in many of those counties where they have comprehensive planning on the books, we found decision makers who truly didn’t understand the basic tenets of comprehensive planning and certainly didn’t understand the principles of smart growth. So we found a tremendous lack of education and training in the state, even in the areas where the right laws are on the books.

Meanwhile, Kentucky’s rate of growth is accelerating at an astounding pace. From 1982 to 1997, 592,000 acres of farmland were converted to urban areas and roads. The state’s land development is dramatically out of synch with its population growth. We’re showing a slight growth in population, but our land development is far outpacing that growth.

In the fall of 2001, after about six months of work, the governor presented the results of the Smart Growth Task Force report. The task force came out with 66 recommendations ranging from training and education of local officials to changing laws to require more planning at the local level to providing more technical assistance for local communities to developing significant funding pools for preservation to recommendations to enact historic tax credits.

We began to try to implement the report’s recommendations in our legislative session last spring. Since smart growth is a controversial issue in Kentucky, we tried to take segments of it that we thought were manageable and that we could build political support for. We passed several bills that related directly to smart growth. We passed bills dealing with the siting of cell towers and power plants. We also passed a bill to create Pine Mountain State Park in eastern Kentucky to protect the area from mining and timbering and other encroachments. We passed a comprehensive solid waste management bill which we consider part of a broad environmental growth plan.

However, the bill we called the Smart Growth Bill failed to pass. And it’s that phrase, “smart growth,” that really turns people off and makes them think that the government is trying to interfere with individual property rights or trying to mandate state controls that can override local controls. The Smart Growth Bill, which would have established a state planning office to give more assistance to local communities, scared some legislators to death. They were convinced that that was communism.

The other bill that didn’t pass was historic rehabilitation tax credits. The bill would have provided up to a 30 percent state tax credit for owner-occupied residential property and for redevelopment and qualified new construction in historic districts. We hope to revive that bill in the 2003 legislative session. I think, as much as anything, that bill got caught up in our fiscal crisis in Kentucky as in every other state.

A state tax credit would really be an important step forward because it would continue to build on Kentucky’s legacy of preservation. Nationally, Kentucky has the fourth highest number of entries in the National Register with more than 3,100 listings encompassing approximately 41,000 structures. The tax credit would build on the federal programs and would serve as a catalyst for investments in neighborhoods and downtown commercial areas.

We put together a broad coalition to lobby for the tax credits, which included Kentucky homebuilders, the Kentucky Board of Realtors, The Farm Bureau, Associated Industries of Kentucky, the industrial lobby. But our key supporters obviously were the Kentucky Heritage Council and Commonwealth Preservation Advocates, the preservation groups that have historically been so important to presenting these issues in Frankfurt. And even though we were not successful, we made a lot of progress in understanding each others’ issues and concerns, from the development side of the equation and the preservation side, and trying to find that common ground.

The governor is also committed to doing as much as possible by executive orders. This past spring, he directed agencies to establish design guidelines and siting criteria for state buildings; to develop smart codes that will encourage building renovation; to use smart growth principles in school siting criteria, which is a big issue in Kentucky as we abandon so many of our neighborhood schools. And that’s a tough one politically because we really don’t have the authority from the executive branch to direct the State Board of Education to do that, but we’re doing it anyway, and we’re going to see how far we get.

We established a brownfields task force with public and private participation, and we directed statewide inventories be prepared, of our cultural and historical assets, our natural assets, and our existing infrastructure throughout the state -- inventories that can be incorporated into our geographic information systems and become the basis for future statewide planning.

In addition to the legislation and the executive orders, Governor Patton appointed an advisory body to serve as a successor to the Smart Growth Task Force. This new group, the Kentucky Progress Commission, is charged with developing private support with the goal to become a free-standing nonprofit entity that can live beyond this term and have independence from any particular governor. It includes preservationists and land conservationists, but also realtors, developers and local elected officials.

We realized very early in this governor’s administration that the key to promoting responsible community development was the revitalization of historic downtowns. And while we didn’t call it smart growth, in 1996 the governor really began his smart growth initiative, several years before he named the task force, by creating a program called Renaissance Kentucky. This program provides communities with financial and technical resources to revitalize and restore their downtowns. Since its creation, Renaissance Kentucky has channeled more than $72 million into efforts in now 73 cities.

Forming New Alliances

We’ve learned some valuable lessons in Kentucky. We’ve lost some battles and we’ve won some battles. I think the most important lesson is that we have to form new alliances if we’re going to convince a broad cross-section of citizens that we must act now to preserve and protect our natural and our built heritage, and if we expect to have public policy that ensures a strong economic future. We can no longer afford to have our preservation and conservation interests seen as being at odds with our economic interests because they are vitally linked.

One of my previous jobs, as I mentioned, was secretary of the tourism cabinet. And I’ve been in some meetings where the preservation and tourism and arts community were in the same room with the transportation officials, and you didn’t want small children in the same room. It was not a pleasant atmosphere. These were not agencies where there was a great deal of mutual trust. There was not a great deal of understanding of each others’ missions and responsibilities. But today in Kentucky, not only have we reached a point where these agencies are working together, but what they are doing in Kentucky for us is a model for other states to follow.

But in all of this, it’s absolutely clear that in every state, preservation must be a player. And you must be a partner when issues affecting the future of the state are addressed. In Kentucky, we talk about having the fourth highest number of listings in the register. But in the end, it’s not the numbers, it’s the people that will make a difference. It’s not enough for preservation advocates to get together to tell each other what a good job we’re doing. We must talk to economic development planners, to local elected officials, to members of planning and zoning boards at the local level, business leaders, and chambers of commerce.

And it’s vital that we act now. There are decisions being made today in every community across this country that are affecting the future of our children and our grandchildren. And those decisions are going to determine whether or not those next generations actually have the choice of remaining close to their roots where they can nurture their heritage while also enjoying economic prosperity and a quality of life.

As preservation advocates, each of us must never let our elected officials forget that in the end, government is not about programs or policies or buildings or task forces. Those are all a means to an end. Government is about the lives, the hearts, and the minds of the people that we serve. And we must together build a future that will give every opportunity possible for our people to live the lives that they want and deserve.

Publication Date: Winter 2003


Author(s):Crit Luallen

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