At its meeting Thursday, the Urban County Planning Commission might vote on a zoning text amendment that would prohibit companies from operating hiking, biking, canoeing and zip line activities in much of Fayette County's rural landscape.
The planning commission has been discussing possible changes to zoning laws regarding recreational use for 18 months. At issue is what can be allowed in two key zones: agricultural rural and agricultural natural.
Most rural Fayette County land is zoned agricultural rural. Only a small percentage of the county's land, mostly along the Kentucky River in the southeast corner of the county, can be zoned agricultural natural.
According to the proposed changes, biking, canoeing and hiking operators or recreational outfitters in the agricultural natural zone would be allowed only as a conditional use. That means someone who wanted to put a recreational outfitter on land in that zone would have to go to the planning commission for approval.
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Under the proposed text amendment change, hiking, canoeing, hiking and other recreational outfitters would be prohibited in agricultural rural zones.
Bill Sallee, manager of planning for the city, said it's not clear whether the planning commission will take a final vote on the zoning amendment during Thursday's meeting. The commission held a public hearing in October on the proposed changes and will resume discussion Thursday. It's unclear whether the commission will allow additional public comment during Thursday's meeting.
Those who support the change say that Fayette County's agricultural land should be protected and preserved, and that allowing recreational uses could harm farmland that makes Fayette County unique. The county's protection of its farmland and its urban service boundary have been copied in other states and counties.
However, the proposed change has already drawn criticism from the city's 13-member greenspace commission, whose charge is to encourage, protect and promote access to green space in Fayette County.
In a letter Aug. 4, Greg Butler, chairman of the commission, urged the planning commission to reconsider the proposed zoning text amendment.
"The prohibition of so many potential uses is contradictory to the aims of the Greenspace Plan to diversify the rural economy and increase rural recreational activities," Butler wrote.
Butler said Wednesday the greenspace commission voted unanimously last summer to send the letter to the planning commission. Butler's group encouraged the planning commission to allow hiking, biking, canoeing and kayaking as conditional uses.
John Park, a lawyer who represents Boone Creek Outdoors, which has tried unsuccessfully to operate a zip line and canopy tour along the Kentucky River off of Old Richmond Road, said the proposed changes would allow the zip line operator a way to reopen. Under the proposed text change, if Boone Creek's zoning were changed to agricultural natural, it could apply for a conditional use to operate the zip line and canopy tour.
Boone Creek tried that approach, but the planning commission deadlocked in September 5-5 on Boone Creek's application for a conditional use, killing the application.
"We believe it should be an allowed use," Park said. Still, if the zoning text amendment passes, Boone Creek Outdoors could apply again for a conditional use and zoning change.