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Letter to the editor: Ford property zoning change process ‘flawed’

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After reading the article last week regarding the zone change for the former Ford property in town, I felt compelled to respond and clarify some of the facts surrounding the issue.  I was contacted for a quote prior to last week’s edition, but chose at that time to not make a comment as I did not want to speak emotionally and without much prior consideration.  It is not my intent to belittle any individuals or cause controversy within our community.  My intent is to simply state the truth that has been glossed over or neglected entirely. 
The comprehensive plan that was mentioned in the article was not up to date when the zoning commission made the recommendation to approve the zoning change.  Despite the plan update being approved later on, the fact remains that there was not a current plan as required by law when the change was recommended by the commission and that is not something that can be considered retroactively.  Not only was the required plan not in place, the members of the zoning board were obviously not aware of the details of the comprehensive plan as the provisions were never mentioned in any of the commission meetings and a copy of the plan in place was never made available.  Any questions about the comprehensive plan were met with confusion and a lack of answers.
Along those same lines, the members of the commission had not received proper training to make such recommendations prior to doing so.  They were informed that they could make the recommendation legally without the training as long as the training was going to take place in the near future.  The fact remains that the commission was not properly trained and educated on planning and zoning prior to making the recommendation.  With a decision that has such a far reaching impact as this one, being fully aware of the law, process and procedures is imperative yet this training was neglected.
Mayor West stated that we need to get whatever businesses that we can.  He has said in the past that we need to increase the number of new businesses in our community.  Let me be clear in saying that I could not agree more.  Our city has too many empty storefronts.  Despite the goal of reducing those empty locations, this zone change will in fact increase that number as the zone change is for an existing business that is moving and not for a new business.  The change could also cause a domino effect that would create further empty spaces and a reduction of jobs in the city. The mayor, zoning commission, and city council were made aware of this potential prior to the recommendation being made and the change being approved.  Additionally, the zone change reduces the amount of residential space in the city and residences are the driving force behind sustainable growth in cities.
I have no direct financial stake in this change.  My mother and late father’s company does and I have never tried to hide that fact.  However, this is about more than my family’s company.  This is about a city government doing the right thing the right way and doing the will of its citizens.  What we saw through this process was an unnecessary rush through a series of specially called meetings at times that limited the possible notification of the citizens to allow their voice to be heard.  I have been through this process in other counties and I understand how it is supposed to be done when it is done properly.  I can say without a doubt that this process was flawed at best.  I believe the City of Owenton deserves better. 
Respectfully,
John Ashcraft