Fayette County

Lexington zoning changes to allow recreation, tourism businesses move forward

A Lexington council committee on Tuesday moved to the full council changes to the Fayette County zoning law that would allow for new recreation and tourism-related businesses. The changes have been four years in the making.

The Urban County Council Planning and Public Works Committee voted 7-2 to change the proposed zoning ordinance to make six activities, including canopy tours or ziplines, conditional uses which would require additional approval.

The committee also voted 7-2 to refer the zoning law changes, called a text amendment, to the full council. A final vote on the changes won’t take place for several weeks.

In February 2012, a work group began deliberating changes to the merged government’s zoning ordinances regarding agriculture and ecotourism. The Urban County Planning Commission voted 6-5 in June 2015 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 uses would be permitted.

The planning commission sent the measure to the Urban County Council last year, but the council removed it from its agenda in November and only recently returned to the issue.

The zoning text amendment addresses what types of recreational and tourism activities may be allowed in Fayette County.

Controversy has centered around recreational uses in the county’s rural zoning classifications — the agricultural rural and agricultural natural zones. There are no current agricultural natural zones in Fayette County.

The planning commission voted narrowly to make commercial hiking and bicycling, canopy tours, equine trails, canoeing and kayaking launch sites, nature preserves and educational classes allowed uses in the agricultural natural zone. That means a conditional use permit would not be needed. Activities that would need a conditional use permit include large horse shows, botanical gardens and rodeos.

However, the city planning staff recommended that the six classifications, which include ziplines, be considered conditional uses. The Planning Commission or the Board of Adjustment can grant a conditional-use permit.

Vice Mayor Steve Kay made the motion to make the six classifications conditional, and Councilwoman Peggy Henson said she agreed that additional oversight was needed in an environmentally sensitive area.

“I think it should be decided on a case-by-case basis,” Henson said.

The issue of what can be allowed in the county’s agricultural natural zones — which could include areas along the Kentucky River in southeast portion of the county — came to a head more than four years ago when a Fayette County man tried to open a canopy and zipline tour off Old Richmond Road and Interstate 75. Neighbors of the project protested. The issue ended up in court. The canopy tour, which was at one point open, is currently not in operation.

Susan Speckert, executive director of the Fayette Alliance, a nonprofit group that advocates for rural land, urged the council to make the six types of activities conditional uses.

“Including these uses as conditional uses strikes the proper balance between public access and natural resource preservation,” Speckert’s letter said.

Richard Murphy, a lawyer for Boone Creek Properties, which operated the zipline, advocated that the six uses be allowed by right.

“There is currently no lands zoned the AN (agricultural natural),” Murphy said. That means that someone would have to get a zone change and a conditional use if it wanted to operate a biking or hiking commercial venture. It’s possible a property owner could get a zone change and then have their conditional use for a hiking trail turned down.

Burgess Carey, owner of Boone Creek Properties and the zipline, said the agricultural natural or AN zone has existed since the 1990s. Because there are few things allowed by right, there is no incentive for landowners to change their land to an AN zone.

“No one has ever applied for it,” Carey said.

The two council members who voted against the changes and moving the text amendment to the full council were Shevawn Akers and Amanda Bledsoe.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall