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Horse farm rental prompts call for change in law

People looking for the quintessential Bluegrass experience can rent a house on a 20-acre horse farm on Iron Works Pike, the Park Avenue of horse country, near such storied farms as Spendthrift, Castleton Lyons, Gainesway and Elmendorf.

The farm is Razor Cave Farm, advertised on the Web as a quiet vacation spot with two houses that can each be rented weekly for between $200 and $1,000 a night.

But neighbors complain that instead of quiet family vacations, the two houses have become party destinations, with crowds of people, noise, loud music, fireworks and dogs running through nearby fields of horses.

"They've become weekend party houses. It's actually cheaper to have a party there than to rent Fasig Tipton or the Keene Barn," said neighbor Tony Hancock, owner of the adjoining North Forks Farms, a small Thoroughbred breeding and sales operation.

The complaints have reached the ears of the Planning Commission, which will hold a public hearing Thursday on a proposed change in an ordinance. The amendment would address some of those complaints and change the rules for short-term property rentals.

The current ordinance allows houses to be rented on a weekly basis, year-round. "The main change is to change it from a weekly minimum to a monthly minimum, with four exceptions. Four times a year you could rent your house for between a week and a month," said Bill Sallee, manager of planning services in the city's Division of Planning.

The farm is owned by Raymond "Skip" Jackson, who lives in Brentwood, Tenn.

Two weeks ago, Hancock, the neighbor, said he counted eight vehicles from four states parked at one house.

Young children with no adult supervision climb on fences to try to pet and feed the animals, Hancock said. "I looked out one time and there were 10 kids running across the field toward the horses."

Individuals not acquainted with Thoroughbreds see the horses and think, "Oh, look, Mr. Ed," said another neighbor and farm owner Carl Brewer. But Thoroughbreds are high-strung and can bite without warming.

"They can take a finger off quickly," Hancock said.

Proponents of the rule change say it will eliminate problems associated with weekend rentals in neighborhoods in town and rural farm areas alike. At the same time, it addresses temporary housing needs for events including race meets, horse sales and the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

The proposed text amendment outlines how extended-stay hotels would be be affected.

The proposed change to the zoning ordinance originated with the Urban County Council on a motion by 12th district councilman Ed Lane. "The problem is taking a farm and renting it out by the weekend, making it into a hotel operation," Lane said. Of the council's actions, Lane said, "We didn't want to curtail rentals for the World Games or any other event. We are trying to make this equitable, so a person can't take a residential property and turn it into a hotel."

Attorney Richard Murphy, representing Jackson, the Razor Cave owner, indicated that, in the past, Jackson had rented the property for less than a week, but his client "understands now he can only rent by the week." Murphy said he has represented Jackson for six months.

"We are in compliance with the ordinance today, that we can rent on a weekly basis," he said. "We confirmed this with the building inspector."

Murphy described the situation as "a dispute between neighbors" and recommended that a settlement between Jackson and neighbors on Iron Works Pike, particularly Hancock, be arrived at through mediation, not by changing a city ordinance.

"We think we can solve the problem with mediation, without an overarching ordinance," Murphy said, calling the text amendment "an overreaction."

Among the organizations that have expressed support for eliminating weekly rentals in favor of monthly is Fayette Alliance, a coalition of agricultural, neighborhood and development interests promoting urban and rural vitality.

Fayette Alliance executive director Knox van Nagell wrote in a letter to Chris King, director of the division of planning, "This text amendment achieves the delicate balance of advancing local tourism and individual property rights, while promoting safety."

The Fayette County Neighborhood Council also has come out in favor of the change, saying that it should not have any negative effect on providing housing for the 2010 Games and that it places reasonable restrictions on short-term rentals.