Recommendations could provide 'pathway' to canopy tours in area including river palisades

bfortune@herald-leader.comMay 29, 2013 

Although zip lines and canopy tours would be prohibited in most rural areas of Fayette County under a working group's recommendations, there could be canopy tours in an agricultural natural zone in southeastern Fayette County that includes the Kentucky River Palisades.

The working group, which made its recommendations Tuesday, studied ways to amend Lexington's zoning ordinances to increase recreational and agritourism opportunities not just in rural areas, but throughout the county.

It's unclear how the recommendations might affect the only canopy tour operation in Fayette County, operated by Boone Creek Adventures off Old Richmond Road.

On Wednesday, owner Burgess Carey said even if the recommendations become part of the city's zoning code, they would not impact his canopy tour. That's because he contends there are no local zoning laws prohibiting canopy tours and zip lines.

In March, Lexington's planning department sent Carey a letter notifying him that zip lines — part of the canopy tour — violated Lexington's zoning laws and gave him 30 days to remove them.

Carey has not taken down the short zip lines. "They asked me to take down the zip lines, but they cited no laws," Carey said. "The only citation was (about) my private club permit. My private club is not private enough for the Board of Adjustment. Because I was allowing day memberships and guests — which I have been doing since 2000 — they said that was not the intent of my original private club permit."

Carey built the canopy tour on his 23-acre farm off Old Richmond Road, where he has operated a private anglers club under a conditional use permit since 2000. He lets people buy single-day memberships, as well as selling memberships for corporate events.

Carey goes before the Board of Adjustment on Friday. The Board will consider whether to allow him to keep his conditional use permit for a private club. His original permit allowed a membership limited to 60. There also had to be an established membership list and dues were to be collected.

However, Carey said, "In my permit there is no procedure outlined for how I have to run my club." He contends that his club is no different than the Keeneland Club or the Lexington Tennis Club. "I can operate my club the way other clubs are operated," Carey said.

Thoroughbred breeder Don Robinson, chairman of the work group, said zip lines and canopy tours were only one small piece of the group's work which stretched over a year. The group was set up in February 2012. "What we did was study recreational opportunities throughout all of Fayette County from a land use aspect. That is something that had never been done before," he said.

Knox van Nagel, president of Fayette Alliance, a land use organization, who sat in on meetings of the work group, said the intent of the group's recommendations is to balance agricultural and farm operations, on the one hand, with public access and recreational opportunities on the other. Van Nagel was not an official member of the group.

The group recommended against allowing canopy tours in agricultural areas zoned A-R. This zoning designation covers most of rural Fayette County and includes horse, cattle and general agricultural farms. Canopy tours would be allowed as a conditional use in a few rural areas, including one called agricultural natural that is in southeastern Fayette County and includes the Kentucky River Palisades. This is where Boone Creek Adventures is located. Other conditional uses allowed in that area would include such things as hiking, bike and horse trails.

Zip lines would not be permitted in A-R or in agricultural natural zones. They could exist in agricultural buffer and agricultural urban zones as a conditional use.

Both canopy tours and zip lines could be located in all office, business and industrial zones throughout Fayette County.

Canopy tours are a series of platforms, staircases, bridges and short zip lines high in the tree tops that allow people to see an area from an elevated view point. A zip line is a stationary line strung at a steep angle between two permanent posts. People slide down the line as a thrill ride.

"The main intent of the A-R zone is to promote production agriculture," van Nagel said. "The work group felt zip lines and canopy tours would be disruptive to livestock and threaten the farms."

With $550 million in equine sales last year, Fayette County represents one the highest grossing agricultural counties in the country, Robinson- said. "That is our signature industry. That is our power draw. That is what draws people to Lexington and Fayette County. Our work started from that context."

The group's recommendations were sent by the city council to the Planning Commission for further study.

Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251. Twitter: @BFortune2010.

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