New zoning administrator ‘a perfect fit’

Covington’s new zoning administrator, Dalton Belcher, is helping to transform the City’s approach to zoning.  

Religious, legal studies provided unique training for Paintsville native

COVINGTON, Ky. - The City of Covington’s new zoning administrator once wrote a 15-page school paper examining a single Bible verse, worked for a video productions company that filmed legal depositions, researched medical malpractice cases as a law clerk, and volunteered in Appalachia at disaster scenes.
It wasn’t what some people would consider a traditional path toward his current position, Dalton Belcher says.
But each part of his unique background has helped prepare him for a job that requires attention to detail, careful analysis of evidence, a sharp mind, and people skills - all at the same time.
“It was all good training,” Belcher said. “This is essentially a legal job that requires working with the ‘body of law’ that we call the zoning code. At the same time, every application or issue that comes before me - whether it’s a new garage or an addition or a fence -- has a person or people behind it. Every day I get to go home realizing that I helped somebody achieve something.”
Belcher is a native of Paintsville in Johnson County and graduated from UPIKE with a Bachelor’s of Science in religion and from Chase College of Law, where he focused on environmental law and wrote a research paper on endangered species and cloning.
He was hired in late summer to replace Alex Koenig, who worked at City Hall for three years before returning to Arkansas.
The position carries a range of duties, most of them focused on administering the City’s zoning code, reviewing proposed development and construction documents, and working with other Economic Development Department team members on business retention and real estate development.
Covington Economic Development Director Tom West said Belcher’s background was advantageous, given the timing of his hire.
West said the City didn’t want to bring in someone entrenched in traditional, rigid Euclidean-style zoning ordinances as it continues to work with consultant Kendig Keast Collaborative to transform to a hybrid form-based development code that is more flexible and attentive to Covington’s historic character.
“Dalton has brought a new perspective to zoning and endless enthusiasm to the laborious process of creating a new zoning code,” West said. “His personality is a perfect fit for Covington and the culture at City Hall.”
Belcher said he’s excited to work on the transformation and said he’s seen firsthand, even in his short time at the City, the weaknesses of the current approach.
“The current code doesn’t meet the needs of Covington. It creates unnecessary hassle, it’s convoluted and unwieldy to implement, and it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “There’s a unique look to this town and many of its neighborhoods, and we need a zoning code and process that better balances the retention of that historical element with the need for growth, modern uses, and development.”
One of his biggest roles in the writing of the new zoning code is figuring out which provisions of the old code to keep, Belcher said, a task he said has become more clear with each zoning application and applicant who comes before him.
Meanwhile, he said two things struck him immediately about Covington: the walkability of its downtown and adjoining commercial districts, and the engagement of its citizens.
“The passion of Covington’s residents is incredible, and to an extent it can be overwhelming,” Belcher said. “The people of Covington care a lot about their city.”
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