(“What is past is prologue,” is inscribed on the base of the statue Future (1935, Robert Alken) at the side of the front steps to the National Archives building in downtown Washington D.C. The quote is generally thought to mean that the past is a prologue of what's to come in the future, that history influences and sets the context for the present, much like those who are ignorant of the past are doomed to relive it.)
So much of what Kenton County is today can be described best by reviewing its history. That’s certainly true when you look at how planning and zoning and their related activities are pursued today in Kentucky’s third most populous county.
The post-World War II suburban explosion and baby boom played out in Kenton County much as it did throughout the rest of the nation. Subdivision after subdivision sprang up south of Covington and the other century-old cities on the south side of the Ohio River. And, as was the case in a good many other US urban areas, these residential units were furnished with municipal water and sewer from the established incorporated cities.
By the early fifties, the river cities began to recognize the shortsightedness of their policy on providing utilities. The tax base was fleeing to the suburbs and local officials had no way to stop it. This led them to begin annexation proceedings for those areas that were enjoying municipal utilities without having to pay the city property taxes that helped support them.
Residents of these newer suburban areas resisted the annexation attempts and the older cities fought even harder to incorporate them and their taxable property. This led many of the existing neighborhoods to incorporate as cities to preclude the older cities from gobbling them up. Time passed and the number of incorporated places grew to almost 30. (Today’s number is 19.)
Growth Brought Problems
As this suburban growth explosion continued, so too did the problems that planning and planning commissions address routinely. Many of these incorporated cities recognized this fact and established their own municipal planning and zoning commissions. One by one they appointed citizens, adopted their own plans, and pursued their own zoning and subdivision regulations. By some recollections, the number of Kenton County communities with their own planning and zoning commissions grew to 12 by the late fifties.
This proliferation of planning units led many to fear the day when each of the 20-something cities had its own planning commission, its own regulations, and its own personnel administering those regulations. Many of these people were business interests that could see the day coming when differing regulations in each of these municipalities would make it difficult to do business. They were joined by many who feared that such a fractured strategy on managing growth would prohibit Kenton County from pursuing anything that could be in its best long-term interest. Even the Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky advocated for consolidated planning operations throughout Northern Kentucky as early as 1956.
Locals Seek Help from Frankfort
Northern Kentucky’s delegation to the Kentucky General Assembly took proposed legislation to Frankfort for the 1960 session. The General Assembly enacted it based largely on the fact that by definition it applied only to Kenton County and one or more of its neighboring counties. The bill was approved on March 31, 1960 and became effective on June 16 of that year.
As intended by the bill’s authors, the new statutes authorized local officials to form an area planning council “in order to provide more effective representation of the various governmental units…” As elected officials, members of the area planning council were, among other things given the responsibility of electing up to nine persons to serve two-year alternating terms on an “area planning commission.” This commission’s responsibility was to oversee the professional staff and the budget that funds it. The council was given budget review authority over the commission.
The Sixties Bring About New Planning Infrastructure
The Northern Kentucky Area Planning Council and Commission were formed officially in 1961 and the County’s first professional planning staff was hired. Several years later in 1966, after interrogating each of its cities about participating in a joint planning effort (a step required by state law), Kenton County Fiscal Court created a 15-member Kenton County and Municipal Planning and Zoning Commission.
The formation of this joint planning commission precluded individual cities from continuing their own individual planning efforts and those that had discontinued them accordingly. The two main elements of a comprehensive and coordinated planning program—the citizen planning commission and its professional staff—were now in place.
In 1984 the Kentucky General Assembly amended provisions of KRS 100 to expand the number of members a local planning commission can have from 15 to 20. The Kenton County and Municipal Planning and Zoning Commission expanded its membership shortly thereafter.
With very few exceptions, the two organizations—the Kenton County Planning Commission and Planning and Development Services of Kenton County as the two are known today—operate as they have since 1966 when the county planning commission was created. To be sure, each is unique; so too is the relationship. But, that was the intended result when the Northern Kentucky’s General Assembly delegation went to Frankfort over 50 years ago. The goal, to foster a single comprehensive planning program to serve the diverse needs of Kenton County’s many communities.