Fiscal court looks into zoning map controversy

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Reporter - Elizabeth Fields
Photojournalist - Mason Watkins
Web Editor - Mason Stevenson
Web Editor - Amanda Roberts

UPDATE:

A Grand Jury has indicted both McCracken County Judge Executive Van Newberry and Deputy Doug Harnice with one count of tampering with public records each in the illegal zoning case.

This is a class D felony. 

We will bring you more information as it becomes available. 

Original Story:

MCCRACKEN COUNTY, Ky. - Possible zoning designations that could cost you money if you own property.  As many as 500 properties in McCracken County could be listed wrong.

Monday night, the McCracken County Fiscal Court looked into allegations that the county's zoning maps were changed without proper authorization.

The zoning problems aren't the only things that could affect property owners.  It turns out the county's comprehensive plan, which is based on zoning, hasn't been updated since 2002.

It's supposed to be updated every five years.

Everyone agreed that some sort of step in the right direction needed to be taken, which is why the meeting lasted until almost 9:30 p.m.

The first thing addressed was the comprehensive plan.

County Attorney Mike Murphy presented an idea that would hire local engineer Doug Moore, who has worked for the county before.

For $50 an hour, Murphy says in four weeks, Moore could have something for the fiscal court to vote on.  That would get them back up to date.

He did add that if Moore continued to work for the fiscal court, in 12 more weeks he could go back and identify the zoning concerns, find out where there problems are and address them accordingly.

Commissioner Ronnie Freeman had a serious problem with the second part.

He maintains that a thrid party from outside the county needs to review the zoning investigation.

"There's absolutely no way, that I can see, that an individual that you selected that has these common things could be unbiased," Freeman said.

After several motions were voted on and failed, the fiscal court finally voted to one: have the local engineer get the comprehensive plan up to date and two: have a thrid party from outside the county lead the zoning investigation.

The zoning conflict took up the better part of an hour, because it was the first time the fiscal court got to hear directly from Dell Washburn, the local attorney who started the ball rolling on all of this. He said he didn't mean to get involved, but fell on the discovery when he sold his own property and couldn't ignore it.

Washburn handed $300 worth of maps over to members.  He first highlighted his property at the corner of Harris Road and Olivet Church Road.  Washburn bought it when it was zoned commercial, but when he sold it to a company that wanted to build the Hucks station.  That's how he realized it had been changed to residential.

Then he says he found proof that more than 500 properties had been changed illegally.

He didn't name Judge Executive Van Newberry specifically, but says he believes it was under his leadership that the changes happened.  He says he wants to see an attorney not involved with either side hired.

"To make sure it doesn't continue and to implement something to go back and give relief to all those property owners who's zone was unlawfully change, especially, who's property was diminished in value," Washburn said.

Judge Excutive Newberry has denied anything improper, but Washburn alleges the changes didn't just happen in 2007 with his property.

He says the last changes actually happened in 2012 when he came and tried to change his property back.  Washburn says at that time, 40 more properties were changed from residential, back to commercial.

 

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