As dreadful as it was, Lexington should be grateful for the Luke Bryan concert at Talon Winery and the nightmarish traffic snarl it generated.
Here's why: Lexington's leaders were given a sobering look at what can happen when inappropriate commercial activities invade a rural area. But, thankfully, nothing truly disastrous happened. The toll at the end of a long, long night seemed to be thousands stuck as traffic backed up for miles and hours but only one person injured, a pedestrian hit by a car who sustained no serious injuries.
If the Urban County Council, in the early stages of considering a zoning amendment that could permit more commercial activity in the rural areas of our county, takes the lesson seriously, then we will all benefit. Yes, it is important to invite more uses, particularly recreational activities, in our rural area, but it can't be a wholesale invitation.
It is hard to talk about the language of zoning amendments without making eyes glaze or roll, or both, but the Talon/Bryan snafu makes it clear that these words carry real consequences.
The fundamental dispute arose over whether new uses — such as commercial biking, hiking and zip-line and canopy tours and farm gift shops — would be allowed as permitted or conditional uses. A permitted use is one that's allowed by right in a zone, such as building a home in a residential zone. A conditional use is one that is allowed but only after the request has been reviewed, its impact considered and any conditions applied to allow it to operate without disrupting existing occupants in the zone.
An example last fall was the Art Bar on Euclid Avenue which had a conditional permit to operate as a nightclub with live entertainment. The conditions applied by the Board of Adjustment included providing off-site parking, specific closing hours, not allowing in anyone under 21, and review after six months to see how it was all working.
When those conditions weren't met, the conditional permit was revoked.
This system protects businesses that want to move into new zones and their future neighbors. If the business applies for and receives a conditional permit and abides by the conditions then it has the right to be there. If things aren't working then the neighbors have a place to air their concerns without resorting to the expense of a lawsuit. Either party can appeal the Board of Adjustment's decision in Fayette Circuit Court.
The Planning Commission approved, by a 6-5 vote, a text amendment that would allow many new activities in the rural area as permitted uses. The Talon/Bryan fiasco shone a bright light on the flaw in this thinking. While reporting focused on the experience of concert-goers, Talon's neighbors — both human and animal — were also affected by the influx of 20,000 people and their cars into a quiet rural area.
It's safe to say that if something similar happened on a regular basis it would change the entire character of the area.
Fayette County's appeal rests on many factors but none is so important, and vulnerable, as our rural area. The council must protect it.