October 10, 2001 | By: Laura Skillman

As communities begin to feel the affects of growing pains, many are looking at ways to successfully plan how they want their community to look.

As communities face these issues, Lori Garkovich, a community visioning and planning specialist with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, is spending more and more time visiting communities to assist them in their efforts.

But, she said the plans have to be the vision of the people within the community. "The plan is only as good as the amount of effort local people put into it," she told Hopkins County residents during a recent meeting.

"The question of how a community changes and the impact growth has on a community does not respond to those five famous words in the English language - Maybe it will go away," Garkovich said. "Either as a community you choose to take control of how you are changing, or change will happen and you will live with the consequences."

Garkovich said she is an advocate of planning because through planning a community, the people who live there take charge of what they are going to become. She said she sees land use planning as a piece of a bigger planning process where a community thinks about what it wants to become, what it wants people to do and have in that community and this is the basis for a vision for the future of the community.

Once the vision is there, a community can begin planning to reach that goal. In that planning will be a lot of issues such as where to put the infrastructure and schools, green spaces, or what kind of economic development the community wants. All those things determine how land is used.

"So, the first question a community has to answer is do we want to plan," she said.

The next step, is how to do it. One of the tools is zoning but that there are many creative ways of managing land use, she said.

Garkovich said there are no easy answers because whether a community plans or not, there will be some winners and some losers. One example, she said is that studies in Kentucky and nationally are finding residential development demands back more in public services than it pays back in property taxes.

The ratio generally is somewhere between a $1.08 to $1.30 in services are given back for every $1 paid in on property taxes, Garkovich said.

Agricultural land is a net gain for a community's bottom line because generally it gets back between 21-cents and 48-cents in public services for every $1 paid in property taxes. The main reason is "cows don't go to school." One of the biggest costs of residential development is schools, she said. Commercial and industrial land generally are net gainers as well.

As a community decides land use, it also must look at who is going to pay and who is going to benefit and is there equity in the balance of these two? The concern is how the plan will affect an individual's opportunity to make decisions about their land that are in their best interest. And that needs to be considered.

"You want to have the tools so that the burdens of cost are shared equally," she said.

For the farm sector, managing land use provides some certainty. Also, if there is a desire to continue to see agriculture be a viable part of the economy, a community needs to take into account how farmers are going to stay in business.

There are many methods of determining land uses, Garkovich said. There's zoning but within that are many aspects. Some areas are now looking at density as a determination. Other places, especially, urban areas are looking at multiple use areas such as schools, shopping and housing within walking distance. Still others are using urban service boundaries, these are areas around towns or cities and to get public services, you must build within them.

An option for rural housing can be clusters instead of houses sprinkled along a county road. Communities have to determine for themselves how they want to grow and what they want their community to reflect to others, she said.

Garkovich said she has worked with a number of communities in recent years that are facing the consequences from their failure to plan 10 to 15 years ago.

In Hopkins County, the Cooperative Extension Council, determined that educational information regarding land use was something they should bring to the county, said George Kelley, Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources.

Also, the county judge-executive is interested in residents becoming more educated about land use planning and asked the Extension office to provide some assistance, Kelley said.

The county as a comprehensive land use plan but only has subdivision regulations in the county while the city of Madisonville also hase adopted zoning ordinances, he said.

Kelley said Gov. Paul Patton's smart growth initiative also is playing a role in some communities wanting to look at where they are going.

Garkovich said she has information that can be shared with communities as they consider how they want their communities to look or if they want to consider land use issues. One thing is for certain, she notes, growth is here and it will not just go away.


Lori Garkovich, (859) 257-7581; George Kelley, (270) 821-3650