A board that oversees conservation easements designed to protect Fayette County farmland voted Monday to pursue an appraisal for the development rights of a 1,000-acre horse farm on Iron Works Pike.
Members of the Rural Land Management Board made no final decisions during its Monday meeting on how it would pay for those development rights, a key sticking point in the debate over whether to use public dollars to protect Castleton Lyons.
But several board members said during Monday’s meeting they felt they should pursue an appraisal of the farm first so the board would know how much money those development rights will cost. The board voted 7-2 to seek the appraisal Monday after months of debate.
At issue is whether to use only local funds to purchase conservation easements for Castleton Lyons.
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Shane Ryan, the owner of Castleton Lyons, does not qualify for federal matching funds that typically picks up the tab for 50 percent of those easements in Fayette County’s PDR program. Although an appraisal has not yet been completed, easements for the farm will likely top more than $4 million, which would deplete the local program of funds for at least two years.
Several city officials, including Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, have raised concerns over depleting the entire budget of the program on one farm that does not qualify for federal funding.
But Castleton Lyons has argued the local ordinance governing Fayette County’s PDR program allows for foreign landowners to apply for local funds. That local ordinance does not require that landowners qualify for federal funding. Moreover, the farm has been ranked by the program and has received the highest-ranking of those that applied.
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 29,165 acres of land, protecting it from future development.
Billy Van Pelt, who is representing Castleton Lyons, said during the Monday meeting that Castleton did not want to discuss any options until an appraisal was complete. In its application, Castleton Lyons proposed appraising the farm as a whole. Another option would be to section the farm into four different tracts and appraise those four different tracts. Based on conservation easements of surrounding farms, Castleton Lyons’ appraisal could be more than $4 million. Van Pelt said that might not be accurate.
“We haven’t had a farm of this size,” Van Pelt said.
Kristin Clark, a board member, said she felt the board could not move forward until that appraisal of the 1,000 acre farm was completed.
But other board members questioned if it was wise to pursue an appraisal —which costs $3,000 — if there are still questions on how that conservation easement would be paid for. The program typically receives $2 million a year in city money to buy conservation easements. But if Castleton Lyons’ development rights top $4 million, that’s more money than the board has the authority to allocate, said Nathan Billings, a board member and a lawyer.
“We have a fiduciary duty as a board to maximize the number of acres in this program,” Billings said.
Billings and Mary Ann Delaney, a former city law commissioner and board member, were the two board members to vote against seeking an appraisal.
Delaney said after reading all of the ordinances, she believed Castleton Lyons had to comply with the federal program to receive city funding.
Van Pelt, the former director of the PDR program, said board members can go to the Lexington Urban County Council and asked for additional funding for Castleton Lyons. In prior years, board members had appeared before the council and asked for additional funding.
“The board had a much more active role in the budgeting process,” Van Pelt said. “If you want more than $2 million the board is going to ... have to go out and get the money from the council.”