Fayette County

New provisions for Lexington recreation tourism clear key hurdle

Riders applied the brakes as they near the platform on the zip line at Boone Creek Outdoors at Exit 99 off I-75 on Saturday March 30, 2013 in Lexington, Ky.
Riders applied the brakes as they near the platform on the zip line at Boone Creek Outdoors at Exit 99 off I-75 on Saturday March 30, 2013 in Lexington, Ky. Herald-Leader

A controversial change to Fayette County’s zoning laws that will allow for new recreation and tourism-related businesses cleared a major hurdle Tuesday after nearly four years of changes and debate.

The Urban County Council voted unanimously during a Tuesday work session to move the recreation zoning text amendment to the council’s agenda. A final vote is expected on July 7.

The council's Planning and Public Works Committee voted 7 to 2 on June 14 to move the recreation zoning text to the full council after making some changes. Those changes included making six activities —including zip lines and canopy tours — a conditional use in the agricultural natural zone. A conditional use requires an additional approval from a government board.

The planning commission sent the measure to the council last year, but the council removed it from its agenda in November and only recently brought the zoning text amendment back to a committee for further discussion.

The zoning text amendment addresses what types of recreation and tourism activities may be allowed in all of 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.

However, the city planning staff recommended that the six classifications be considered conditional uses. The planning commission or the board of adjustment can grant a conditional-use permit.

The Planning and Public Works committee ultimately sided with the city’s planning staff and reversed the planning commission’s decision at the June 14 meeting.

Many council members expressed reservations during Tuesday’s meeting about requiring a conditional use permit for commercial hiking, biking and canopy tours.

Councilwoman Shevawn Akers said people don’t have access to Fayette County’s rural lands unless they take a horse farm tour. Akers said she has to go outside Fayette County to hike and do other recreation activities.

“I appreciate nature and want to preserve it,” Akers said. “I believe when people have access to nature they will appreciate it more.”

Other council members said requiring additional protections for Fayette County’s rural landscape was key to preserving it. Allowing too much development will destroy it, they said.

Councilman Russ Hensley, who represents much of rural Fayette County, encouraged the council to move the zoning changes forward. The debate has dragged on for too long, he said.

“We can come back if it doesn’t work,” Hensley said.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall