Fayette County

Group recommends banning zip lines and canopy tours in most of rural Fayette

Mackenzie Leachman held on to the zip line at Boone Creek Outdoors last year, before the Fayette County business was ordered to halt the canopy tours because of zoning issues.
Mackenzie Leachman held on to the zip line at Boone Creek Outdoors last year, before the Fayette County business was ordered to halt the canopy tours because of zoning issues. Herald-Leader

A work group studying recreational and tourism opportunities in Fayette County recommended banning a wide range of businesses in most rural areas zoned for agriculture, including zip lines and canopy tours.

But the work group recommended that some activites, such as canopy tours, be allowed in a new agricultural natural zone in southeastern Fayette County that includes the Kentucky River Palisades.

The group, appointed by Vice Mayor Linda Gorton to suggest amendments to the city's zoning code, gave its final report during the council's work session Tuesday. It also recommended nixing businesses in agricultural areas that would run campgrounds; hiking and biking trails; canoeing and kayaking tours; the sale or rental of recreational equipment; country inns; and museums.

The 15-member panel gave a thumbs-up to farm tours and hayrides in rural areas. It also recommended allowing farms to add roadside stands, wine tasting rooms, value-added product sales, petting zoos and pony rides.

Council members voted to forward the group's report to the Planning Commission for further study. The city's planning staff will begin writing ordinances that would turn the recommendations into law. The resulting changes to zoning law would have to be approved by the Planning Commission and the Urban County Council.

The types of rural tourism allowed among Lexington's famed horse farms has been a controversial topic in Lexington since last year, when Boone Creek Adventures began offering canopy tours — a series of zip lines, rope bridges and wooden platforms in tree tops — on a small farm owned by businessman Burgess Carey in southeastern Fayette County off Old Richmond Road. The city has notified Carey that he is operating his canopy tours in violation of existing zoning ordinances.

Gorton, who appointed the work group, said at a press briefing earlier Tuesday that concerns over zip lines and canopy tours stem, in part, from anticipated problems with insufficient parking, light pollution at night and the need for bathrooms in rural areas that are on septic systems instead of sanitary sewers.

Thoroughbred horse breeder Don Robinson, chairman of the work group, said the panel focused on ways to add more recreational and tourism opportunities in Fayette County without ruining good things that already exist, such as iconic Thoroughbred farms.

Carey urged the council to consider allowing more businesses that allow the public to access green space, not just look at it. Otherwise, people will have no reason to preserve rural green space in the future, he warned.

"By definition, the Thoroughbred industry cannot invite the type of interaction with our green space we're going to need in the future" to promote conservation, Carey said.

The work group also recommended allowing numerous activities as conditional uses to the county's agricultural zoning, which means a land owner would have to seek a conditional use permit from the city's Board of Adjustment before offering the activity on a commercial basis.

Those activities include fishing and hunting clubs; equine trails; bird watching and nature preserves; corn mazes; children's rides; farmer's markets; riding stables; outdoor rodeos; fishing lakes; hunting or trapping; and gift shops.

Councilwoman Shevawn Akers asked Robinson how the work group's recommendations help small farmers keep their farms and expand recreational opportunities.

"There are restrictions, but there are opportunities," Robinson said, for farmers to expand beyond traditional agriculture operations.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that some activities, such as canopy tours, would be permitted in a new agricultural natural zone.

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