After three years of discussion and debate, the Lexington Urban County Planning Commission voted narrowly Thursday to change Lexington zoning laws to allow for new recreation and tourism-based businesses.
But some members of the commission urged their fellow commissioners not to send the zoning text changes to the Urban County Council. The changes allowed too much commercial business in rural areas, and those changes could negatively impact Fayette County's rural landscape, they argued.
"There is only one thing worse than a bad piece of legislation — that's moving it forward," said Frank Penn, a commission member. "This will come back and bite us."
The commission ultimately voted 6 to 5 to approve the changes to the zoning law that establishes and defines tourism and recreational businesses such as farm gift shops, family wineries and nature preserves. The changes in the law also establish where those type of new uses can be located.
The zoning text amendment addresses what types of recreational and tourism activities may be conducted throughout Fayette County.
But the controversy has centered on recreational uses in the county's rural zones — the agricultural rural and agricultural natural zones.
In March, the Planning Commission voted 6-5 to make youth camps, commercial hiking, bicycling and canopy tours a permitted use in the agricultural natural zone without getting special permission from the city, commonly called a conditional use permit. During Thursday's meeting, the commission made further tweaks to what could be allowed by right and what needed special permission. Educational classes related to agriculture, commercial biking and hiking, equine trails, canoeing and kayaking, canopy tours and nature preserves would still be allowed by right under the changes made Thursday. Activities that would need a conditional use include large horse shows, botanical gardens and rodeos.
A conditional use permit can be approved by the Planning Commission or by the Board of Adjustment.
Penn and other members of the commission expressed concern that allowing those types of activities by right in the agricultural natural zone could have substantial environmental impact. The agricultural natural zone is typically for land that is not farmland but is environmentally sensitive. The land around the Kentucky River in Southeastern Fayette County has the potential to be zoned agricultural natural.
"It's not the use, it's the overuse," Penn said.
Mike Cravens, who supported allowing commercial recreational activities in the agricultural natural zone, said that same zone allows for homes to be built without a conditional use permit. Home construction causes more damage than a hiking trail or a canoeing outfitter, Cravens said.
Planning Commission Chairman Mike Owens sided with Penn. Owens said that although recreational uses should be allowed in Fayette County in the agricultural natural zone, there should be some oversight so environmentally sensitive areas would be protected, he said.
Allowing commercial-type recreational uses in the agricultural natural zone changes the intent of the zone, said Patrick Brewer.
"If we make it by right, a principal use in this zone, we have changed it forever," Brewer said.
Despite efforts to delay the vote, the commission ultimately voted 6-5 to approve the zoning text amendment. Those who voted to send the recreational zoning amendment to the council include: Cravens, Karen Mundy, Will Berkley, David Drake, Joseph Smith, Carolyn Richardson. Those who voted against: Penn, Owens, Brewer, Wilson and Carolyn Plumlee.
The Urban County Council will have final say on the text amendment. The council could make additional changes, accept the planning commission's recommendations or opt not to pass any changes to the current zoning laws.