A Lexington council subcommittee has voted not to set aside $5 million to preserve more than 1,000 acres of farmland owned by an Irish citizen.
But the issue of whether to buy the development rights for Castleton Lyons — which would protect the land from commercial development — may come up again later this week.
The Rural Land Management Board, which oversees the preservation development program, had asked the Urban County Council for an additional $5 million to purchase the development rights for a farm owned by Shane Ryan, who — because he is not an American citizen — does not qualify for federal matching funds that typically pick up half the cost to preserve farmland.
But an Urban County Council budget subcommittee Tuesday ultimately voted not to include the $5 million to purchase the development rights for Castleton Lyons on Ironworks Pike. The council budget subcommittees reported their recommendations Tuesday during a daylong meeting. Mayor Jim Gray’s proposed $358 million budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 did not include additional money to buy the development rights for Castleton Lyons.
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The purchase of development rights for Castleton Lyons was one of the most controversial budget items discussed during Tuesday’s budget hearing. The council has until June 30 to make changes to Gray’s proposed budget. The council took no final votes during Tuesday’s more than five-hour budget hearing. It will return on Thursday to continue budget discussions.
Councilman Richard Moloney, a member of the budget subcommittee that considered the Castleton Lyons request, told the council that the budget subcommittee was originally told Ryan was not interested in putting sections of his farm into the program, which would lower the cost. Other large farm owners have put sections of their farms into the program — a few hundred acres per year.
After the budget subcommittee met, the group was told Ryan would be willing to divide his farm into smaller tracts. Gray’s budget had included $1 million in bond funds for the program. In addition, the program has $1.1 million in reserves to draw down federal matching programs.
But Ryan apparently changed his mind again early Tuesday. He has decided he wants to be paid for the entire 1,000-acre parcel or the full $5 million, said Councilwoman Jennifer Mossotti, who is the budget subcommittee chair for the committee that oversees purchase of development rights.
Councilwoman Kathy Plomin later made a motion to add money to buy the purchase of development rights for the entire farm, despite objections from some on council. That motion passed.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Plomin said. “This is the No. 1 rated farm.”
But others on council said they had concerns about spending that much money on farm preservation.
Councilwoman Jennifer Scutchfield said it was time to take a closer look at the PDR program, now in its 17th year. Since its creation in 2000, the PDR program has allocated $77 million — $37 million in local money, $24 million in federal money and $16 million in state money — to buy conservation easements for more than 28,000 acres. With additional farms under contract, the city will soon have more than 30,000 acres of protected farmland.
“This is a lot of money,” Scutchfield said. “These horse farms are not something that you and I can go to.”
Plomin said that people are allowed on horse farms through horse farm tours. People must pay to take those tours, however.