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New sign laws set to start in Warren County

With one more vote, all of Warren County will have new sign laws in place limiting the number of temporary signs allowed on private and commercial properties.

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in an Arizona case that sign laws must be content-neutral, meaning all signage must be treated the same. For example, a municipality’s laws can’t allow signage for charitable events but not advertising a private business. Governments nationally have been working on formulating laws that adhere to the ruling ever since.

The local effort to revamp the county sign ordinance has spanned several years. Warren Fiscal Court and the cities of Smiths Grove, Oakland, Plum Springs and Woodburn have signed off on the new laws, and the Bowling Green City Commission did likewise March 16 on a first reading. A second and final reading is expected in April.

After gathering input from the real estate community and others who utilize temporary signs, as well as discussion among elected officials about how to protect property owner rights, the new county signage ordinance limits the number of signs allowed on private property to 10 and on commercial properties to four. If a property is on a corner and has two road frontages, the allowed signage is doubled.

No signs will be allowed in rights of ways.

“Our staff have worked on (the new regulations) for three years,” said Ben Peterson, executive director of the City-County Planning Commission of Warren County.

He admits it was “really hard to strike that balance” between property rights and the need to have some restrictions, but the new ordinance “strikes as fair a balance as we could.”

A common site is small temporary signs along roads in rights of ways, but the new ordinance restates that all such signs are prohibited.

“It’s an all or nothing proposition – if you allow one thing you have to allow all,” Peterson said.

Warren County Public Works will be in charge of enforcement of the new ordinance outside Bowling Green.

In the city, that responsibility falls to the code enforcement division within the city’s Department of Neighborhood and Community Services.

That department’s director, Brent Childers, said property owners found to be not in compliance with the new regulations will first get a notice of violation.

“They are given an opportunity to remedy it,” he said.

If the issue is not fixed, property owners can be fined $50 per violation.

Childers said as the new rules are rolled out, the focus will “be heavy on the education side.”

Through the multi-year effort to craft the new sign ordinance, “we talked to interested parties (and) made them aware of the thought process,” Childers said.

Jim DeMaio, chief executive officer of the Realtor Association of Southern Kentucky, said his group was thankful for being included in the discussions.

He said while Realtors are looking for “as many avenues as possible” to advertise, officials “had an open dialogue with us ... that’s all you can ask for from your elected officials.”

He said the new regulations should not have a huge impact on real estate professionals.

As the new regulations roll out, Peterson said officials will be receptive to feedback.

“If it doesn’t work, we will address it,” he said.

Family Enrichment Center fundraiser returns to form

Back for its 25th year, The Family Enrichment Center’s Run and Walk for Children event returned to form Saturday when it raised more than $53,000 to support the agency’s mission to prevent child abuse.

“It feels wonderful,” said Nickie Jones, the center’s executive director and the event’s organizer. Despite the cloudy skies, rumbling thunder and even a few lightning strikes that moved through the area Saturday morning, nothing could dampen Jones’ spirit. “I think people are itching to get out and do something.”

As the nonprofit’s largest fundraiser, the event directs proceeds to The Family Enrichment Center’s various prevention services, including parenting classes, supervised visitation, Wee Care Childcare, its Adoption Resource and Little Learner’s programs and more.

“We have a giving community,” Jones said, thanking the event’s sponsors like German American Bank, Kroger and Kerrick Backert. “Individuals give $100 just to say ‘Hey, we want to help support children.’ … That’s what helps us sustain our programs.”

The event registered more than 250 participants for the half-marathon, 5K run and fun walk at Ephram White Park. All events added safety precautions amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“With COVID, we’re just thankful to be able to be out here today,” Jones said.

“We did have to do temperature checks and some questionnaires … just to kind of monitor and make sure that everybody’s safe,” she said, adding that participants were also required to wear masks when gathered near the start and finish line, though not while running. “Just trying to put in as many safety precautions as we can so people feel safe to come out.”

Participants Marty Cook and Shanda Blair went away as the overall male and female winners of the 5K event.

“I’ve done this event many times, and it’s a great way to exercise,” said Cook, who added that he attended Western Kentucky University and enjoys Bowling Green.

Another participant, Paula Hayes, said she’s been a longtime supporter of The Family Enrichment Center.

“I’ve watched what they’ve done over the years, and I like to give back and help them all I can,” she said.

It also felt good to return to some semblance of normal, Hayes said.

“This was the first local race that was canceled last year,” she said. “To be back here, even with the weather delay, feels great. I love it.”

Mental evaluation for Carey ordered, then rescinded

Attorneys in a case involving a Bowling Green man accused of killing his estranged wife and in-laws were at odds early in the criminal case over whether a psychiatric evaluation is warranted for the defendant.

Joseph Carey, 32, is under indictment on three counts of murder, three counts of first-degree wanton endangerment and one count each of first-degree burglary and tampering with physical evidence.

Carey is accused of shooting Angela R. Carey, 30, and her parents, Charles W. McGranahan, 79, and Lupe V. McGranahan, 63, all of Morgantown, on Jan. 19 at their home on Lonnie Snodgrass Road.

Carey was arraigned earlier this month in Butler Circuit Court and a not guilty plea was entered on his behalf.

Toward the end of the March 9 arraignment, Butler County Commonwealth’s Attorney Blake Chambers requested Carey undergo a psychiatric evaluation at the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center to help determine his competency to stand trial.

The motion was granted by Butler Circuit Judge Tim Coleman over the objections of Carey’s defense team of attorneys Jennifer Wittmeyer and Kayla Fugate of the state Department of Public Advocacy.

On March 12, Wittmeyer and Fugate filed a motion requesting Coleman reconsider his evaluation order, noting that they had no reason to question Carey’s competency and have not advanced any defense strategy involving Carey’s mental health.

In the motion, Wittmeyer and Fugate argued that state law does not allow for an independent psychiatric evaluation of a criminal defendant at the prosecution’s request without the defense having first raised the issue, saying such an evaluation violates a defendant’s right not to incriminate himself.

Carey’s defense team went on to argue Coleman did not have grounds to believe an evaluation was necessary before ordering one to take place.

“Indeed, the order to send Mr. Carey to KCPC for an evaluation occurred at his initial appearance before this court, and it is therefore far too early in the proceedings to make a determination as to whether competency is an issue at hand,” Wittmeyer and Fugate said in their motion.

Carey’s attorneys have also not provided any notice of intent to introduce any testimony from expert witnesses regarding any mental illness.

In a response filed March 16, Chambers argued there were enough facts known to the court for Coleman to order an evaluation.

Chambers pointed to a January preliminary hearing in Butler District Court in which Kentucky State Police Detective Shae Foley testified Carey acknowledged to police that he had sought psychiatric treatment at a local hospital shortly before the triple homicide and was prescribed certain medications.

Chambers also said Carey had been in touch from Butler County Jail with family members through text messages and phone calls this month requesting reading materials that would enable him to “self-assess” his mental state.

“In a phone call from Butler County Jail on March 3, 2021, (Carey) tells a person on the phone line that he wants books by Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud and other ‘psychological books ... I’m trying to self-diagnose here,’ ” Chambers said in the filing. “He later states he is trying to get these books to figure out ‘what the (expletive) is wrong with my brain because they are not going to let me go to a doctor obviously.’ ”

At a hearing March 19, Coleman rescinded his prior order directing Carey be evaluated.

A discovery conference is set May 11.

Carey is being held without bond. Chambers is seeking the death penalty.

New developments could ease housing shortage

Two new single-family residential developments could help ease Bowling Green’s continuing low inventory of available houses.

Just as the Realtor Association of Southern Kentucky was releasing February numbers showing that a red-hot real estate market is translating into a shortage of residences for sale, the City-County Planning Commission of Warren County was giving its approval to a pair of rezoning applications that could result in nearly 100 new houses.

The GVTP Developments group headed by George Vogler and Tim Poston won approval at the March 18 planning commission meeting for a 13-acre, 40-unit single-family residential development along Elrod Road that would be an extension of the Stagner Farms development now being built.

At that meeting held via Zoom teleconference, Jody Allen of J. Allen Builders was approved for his plan to develop 51 single-family residential lots on 14.6 acres along Mt. Olivet Road near the Northridge subdivision he has been developing.

“This is somewhat of an extension of the Northridge subdivision,” Allen said during the March 18 meeting, talking about his development near Ephram White Park in the northern end of the county.

Likewise, attorney Chris Davenport said during the meeting that the new GVTP project will tie in with Stagner Farms.

“This is the same developer, and it’s an extension of Stagner Farms,” Davenport said. “It would tie in with Stagner Farms and have no access to Elrod Road.

“It will have all the same design requirements. It will be filling the empty space between Stagner Farms and the (Calvary) Baptist church.”

It and Allen’s development could also fill an empty space in the local housing market.

RASK’s recent report showed that 189 residential units were sold in February in the seven-county region it covers. That’s up 2.7% from February 2020.

Sales volume reached $42.4 million, up 23.4% from February 2020. The average sales price was the highest of any February on record, at $224,705.

Such high sales figures have been a trend locally for several months, fueled by low interest rates and a local economy that has thrived despite restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic.

But that boom in home sales has led to a bust in inventory. According to the RASK news release, there were only 412 residential units actively for sale at the end of February. At the same time last year, there were 928.

“There are more homes under contract than we have in inventory,” said Ron Cummings, owner of Bowling Green’s Century 21 Premier Realty Partners. “We still need inventory, particularly in the $225,000-and-below category. That’s the No. 1 need we have.”

The developments by Allen and GVTP seem to fit that need.

Allen’s development plan calls for homes of at least 1,200 square feet, which should fit in the price range of the Northridge subdivision, where many houses are listed for slightly less than $200,000.

The GVTP development plan is similar, calling for houses of at least 1,400 square feet with two-car garages, but the prices listed for Stagner Farms in the Zillow.com website trend slightly higher.

In the “buildable plans” section of that Zillow website, prices range from $227,000 to more than $300,000.

It’s a price range, though, that Cummings believes will quickly find buyers.

“If it’s priced under $300,000 and is a decent property,” he said, “it’s selling within 24 or 48 hours.”

The Elrod Road and Mt. Olivet Road rezonings will now go to Warren Fiscal Court for final approval.

Andy Beshear