The Old Jail Building (Photo by Brian Tucker)

Today I had the pleasure of spending 90 minutes in an old jail building downtown, listening to the testimony of residents fighting the transfer of a parcel of land from a real estate developer to Metro Parks.

This particular case was not why I was there.

The committee had a full agenda, the meeting ran long, the clock was ticking on the parking meter and I had a 4 p.m. appointment with my full-time employer, so I completely missed the reason why I subjected myself to this nonsense in the first place.

In the beginning, the hearing was slightly more enjoyable than, say, having your fingernails ripped out with needle-nose pliers.

It got better.

The Metro Planning Commission is charged with the task of administering zoning regulations in Louisville. The commission holds hearings, often at inconvenient and impossible times, for the purpose of recommending approval or denial of zoning changes to the Metro Council or other legislative bodies.

The commission has 10 members who include eight citizens appointed by the mayor, a representative of the mayor and either the Director of Public Works and Assets or the County Road Engineer, as determined by the All-Knowing and All-Powerful, Most Benevolent Mayor. Even so, the actual mayor was not there.

Around 30 people, including legislative assistants from Districts 13 and 25, were in attendance today.

The hearing, begun late, was hampered by a poorly miked and tragically soft-spoken chairperson. The lighting was bad and we had a strong hunch there was going to be a painful PowerPoint presentation at some time during the process.

I have some advice for those of you that wish to dive into the dazzling world of zoning in Louisville: Clear your schedule and be prepared to invest a significant amount of time in the Old Jail Building.

Be aware of the rules and do not deviate from them in any way whatsoever. Try to familiarize yourself with the Robert’s Rules of Order. And do not, under any circumstances, ask the commission to introduce themselves by stating their names aloud for all to hear as was done by a resident today.

The act seemed to highly irritate the members and cast a pall over the room, especially when the process seemed to fall apart halfway through the introductions. The man then asked them to continue introducing themselves because, “I didn’t get those names … again, starting from YOU.”

The legal counsel for the commission was visibly agitated at this line of questioning and raised his voice to broadcast his name in an act of childlike defiance I will never forget. The frustration was most likely due to the fact the man asking the names was not writing them down. Just nodding his head in approval of their reluctant compliance.

More Advice: Be aware that there will be no signs, notices or any such instruction or direction to the room in which the hearing is to be held. Furthermore, know you must register in order to speak in any way, shape or form during the hearing, even if you think you have nothing to say.

If you come up with a question or comment during the hearing and you have not signed up to speak, you will not be allowed to say anything and your remarks will not go into the record. You will have to seek this form out on your own. It, as most other aspects of these meetings, is unadvertised by bothersome signage or any other type of placard or notice or visual aid.

My associate and I arrived early. We were going in to do serious battle with expensive lawyers wearing shark-skin suits in a vain and futile attempt to represent the interests of less fortunate residents – residents hamstrung by things like jobs or school as to not be available to make the hearing – against a bus company wanting to construct a huge maintenance facility at the main entrance to their subdivision.

At the opening of the proceeding, we were notified that our case was being pushed to the end of the hearing and all other business would be conducted first. This fact rendered us unable to remain for the duration, and totally took the wind out of our sails.

We were, however, treated to a fine display of civic duty by a few members of a South End neighborhood association in what seemed, on its face, to be an easy case.

The request was for a transfer of ownership of  an “Open Space” lot from Woodridge Lake Subdivision to Metro Parks. What wasn’t clear was what Metro Parks was actually going to do with the property.

The open space in question is at the rear of the subdivision, and – depending on who you ask – was either a sand pit or a rock quarry with no redeeming value. The developer, after failing on his promise to convert the property into a grassy area and a bird sanctuary, took it upon himself to donate this snake filled, trash-strewn, mosquito-infested hole in the ground to Metro Parks, and they accepted.

The only problem was the residents wanted to know if the area was going to be a public park or, as lightly suggested by a Metro Parks representative, part of the Louisville Loop. Either way, the question of access had to be addressed in order to satisfy the residents, one of whom lives 50 feet away from the property.

But the question of access was never definitively answered.

The representative from Metro Parks could only repeat that the actual use for the land was in the “planning stages,” and there was no way to tell what the land would be used for or how it would be reached by the public.

There were no specifics given on the discussions of the “planning stages.”

All of these remarks by the Metro Parks official doomed the mood of the residents, all of whom voiced a clear and final opposition to the transfer. All they really wanted was for Metro Parks to tell them how the land was going to be used.  It is, after all, only a hole in the ground filled with “bottom ash” from LG&E’s coal-fired power plants, and would require some capital to change it into something useful.

In this case, Metro Parks had the cart in front of the horse. But, as one resident suggested, there may be a use for the property by another government agency.

“They might as well hold these meetings there.”