Unfortunately. Private.

There were two common refrains at Tuesday’s Urban County Council confrontation between our vice mayor and the developers of CentrePointe.

One was the word “Unfortunately” continuously invoked by the developers.  While “unfortunately” led some 6 sentences in the developers’ prepared statement, it also led nearly every response from the developers to difficult questions from the Council.  Unfortunately, the developers didn’t foresee the economic downturn.  Unfortunately, things change in projects like these.  Unfortunately, bloggers and the press and rumor-mongers have pointed out immense and inconvenient flaws in our business case.  Unfortunately, it is apparently their free-speech right to do so.  Unfortunately, people die.

Well, um, unfortunately, REAL businesspeople are supposed to anticipate and overcome such circumstances (not be paralyzed by them).  Anything less amounts to sheer speculation.  Which is what Lexington has encountered with CentrePointe.

The second refrain was actually more worrisome and more puzzling.  It came from members of the Council who acted as apologists for the developers (developers whose actions can only be characterized as bumbling).  These same councilmembers – Lane, Stinnett, Myers, McChord, and Beard – felt compelled to offer apologies for forcing the developers to account for their continuous inaction.

The refrain they used was “private”.  Councilmember Myers asserted that this is private property assembled by private developers with private funds, that the developers could do whatever they wish with it, and that the council had no business forcing CentrePointe’s developers to explain their incompetence.


Before more libertarian readers resort to labeling me a socialist, let me assert my firm belief in property rights.  Unlike some of my more radical friends, I believe that property and capital and money have driven the vast majority of improvements in our living conditions and overall social well-being.  To be sure (and as we have seen quite clearly of late), capitalism often has an ugly downside driven by unrestrained greed.  But the long term gains have far outweighed that downside.

The crater created by CenterPointe’s developers is certainly private property.  It belongs to them.

But here’s where the stalwart defenders of property rights are wrong: Private property always comes with civic responsibility.  Owners of private property cannot use their property in ways which destroy value for surrounding properties or surrounding businesses.

Let me illustrate this principle with a recent and vivid example:  A year and a half ago, in the Andover neighborhood, there was a private home that was infested with rats.  The community and the Health Department mobilized to eradicate the rats and eradicate the problem.  Nearby property owners (including yours truly) were rightly concerned for both our safety and our property values.

Apparently, these same councilmembers would claim that the rat-infested house was private property, and, thus, the community had no right to defend their health or their property values.  Would councilmember Myers sit on his hands if a rat-infested house was next door to his house?  Apparently so.  Would councilmember Lane approve of a neighbor’s right to spread pig manure (and noxious fumes) to fertilize their lawn in his Hartland Gardens?  Apparently so.  After all, it is their property, and they can do what they wish with it.  Right?

Of course not.  Private property comes with civic responsibility.

* * *

With CentrePointe, we have a rathole downtown.  The rats, while not physical, are more insidious and more destructive:

  • There’s the bulldozer rat that razed buildings, jobs, businesses, and revenue last July.  The rathole has produced no jobs, no revenue, no businesses, and no buildings.
  • There’s the ugly-city rat that an out-of-town visitor takes back to their home as tourism dollars and tourists mysteriously disappear from downtown.  I suspect there will be many of this breed of rats available for the World Equestrian Games next year.
  • There’s the blight rat which drains surrounding property values and sucks patrons out of surrounding businesses.
  • And, finally, there’s the developer rat, who repeatedly fails to deliver on public statements about CentrePointe’s timing, funding, and business model.

Councilmembers Stinnett, McChord, Myers, Lane, and Beard appear to sympathize with both the rats and with the rathole.

I do not.  And I don’t appreciate our representatives who do.  And I’m not alone.

Private property comes with civic responsibility.  We need leaders who recognize that fact.

3 thoughts on “Unfortunately. Private.

  • May 7, 2009 at 11:14 am

    I agree with you 100% !!
    It’s time to UN-elect Stinnett, McChord, Myers, Lane, and Beard.

  • May 7, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Private property RIGHTS comes with civic responsibility.
    Rights vs. Responsibility. The problem is one is protected by law, while the other is not required by law. It would be NICE or AWW, HOW SWEET if the Webbs wanted to develop by consensus, but your insinuation that they are required to do so is factually incorrect. Find me a KRS that requires public input on a “by right” development. Find a LFUCG ordinance that requires a development plan for Centrepointe. They’ve been to the Courthouse Board as required and been approved.
    The comparison to a rat infested house is a fallacious argument as well. There is no public health and safety breach with a fenced off site awaiting development. There is with a rat infested house. Comparing the two is apples:oranges. In Andover, the Health Department and Code Enforcement were REQUIRED to act in the interest of Public Health and Safety in the same was a Fire Truck is required to respond to a fire call.
    The argument that a blank lot brings down property values is as unfounded as the one that claims “Affordable housing” lowers neighborhood property values. It is the reddest of all red herrings used by NIMBY crybabies who like to mask their elitist attitudes under the guise of property values.

  • May 7, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    Kimmy, thank you.
    Chris, I would have responded earlier, but I had payroll to complete and a number of meetings to attend.
    Unfortunately you are quite thoroughly wrong in your comments.
    With regard to affordable housing, this is the one place you may actually be correct: it doesn’t draw down property values. I know this because my family has been deeply involved in Habitat for Humanity for a number of years, and I am proud of the fact that my father served for a time as Chairman of the Board for LexHFH (as well as serving on the board in other capacities, as well as on the boards of God’s Pantry and the Bluegrass Chapter of the American Red Cross).
    Where you are incorrect is in equating a sound, well-built Habitat home containing a family who is trained in money management (apples) with the blight of an empty pit of rubble in the center of our city created by bumbling, financially suspect developers (rotten apples). Apples <> Rotten Apples.
    The irony of making such an illegitimate connection while invoking a ‘red herring’ attack is pretty profound.
    Your objection to the rat-infested house seemed based in the health and safety implications of rats. OK. There are still a number of other private uses of property which have negligible health or safety implications but which are still prohibited by law: for instance, playing one’s music too loudly, or, letting one’s grass grow too long.
    The rat house was simply the most visually appropriate illustration for what is happening with CentrePointe.
    With regard to ‘development by consensus’, I haven’t asked for public input into how the developers use their land. I have asked for public accountability for their continued pattern of incompetence and / or deception while obtaining public approvals for the block.
    Finally, you are very misinformed in your belief that property comes without encoded responsibilities. Since you are so deeply familiar with state law, you probably know about these, but I thought that I’d share them with our readers anyway.
    For instance, you probably know about KRS 411.550. In subsection (1) it states “In determining whether a defendent’s use of property constitutes a private nuisance the judge or jury…shall consider all relevant facts and circumstances including the following:”. Then drop to paragraph (d): “The influence of the defendent’s use of the property to the growth and prosperity of the community;”. Paragraphs (c) and (e) are also quite relevant to the CentrePointe case, as are, for instance, parts of KRS 381.770, which deal with the kinds of remedies available to a city against such a nuisance property.
    But you already knew that, right? Wonder why you didn’t share that with us in your post…
    I’ll be glad to continue discussions like these, but only if in future posts you refrain from counterproductive name-calling, and debate the points on their real-world merits.


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