Fayette County

Council OKs new rules for recreation, tourism business in Lexington

After more than four years of debate and multiple changes, the Lexington council on Thursday unanimously approved major changes to the city’s zoning laws that will create new tourism and recreation use designations throughout Fayette County.

The controversial recreation zoning text amendment will prohibit hiking, biking, cycling, and ziplines in the agricultural zone, the county’s largest agricultural zone. In the agricultural natural zone, those uses will be conditional; groups wishing to pursue those types of activities in the agricultural natural zone will need to get permission from a Fayette County planning body.

There was no discussion before Thursday night’s vote, but the changes have been debated for more than four years.

The zoning text amendment addresses which types of recreation and tourism businesses may be allowed in all of Fayette County.

Controversy 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.

A work group began deliberating changes to the county’s zoning text in 2012. The issue was then sent to the Urban County Planning Commission for review.

The Urban County Planning Commission, which debated the changes for more than a year, voted narrowly to allow commercial hiking and bicycling, canopy tours, equine trails, canoeing and kayaking launch sites, nature preserves and educational classes in the agricultural natural zone. That means a conditional use permit would not be needed.

However, 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 issue went to the council, which tabled it in November. A council committee recently took up the issue again.

The Urban County Planning and Public Works committee ultimately sided with the city’s planning staff and reversed the planning commission’s decision. The city’s planning staff had also recommended that the six classifications be conditional in the agricultural zone. But the council ultimately decided to prohibit those types of recreational activities in the agricultural zone.

Those who supported the zoning changes said that the county’s agricultural land should be protected and that those types of recreational uses could destroy it. Those who opposed the changes said the proposal would make it nearly impossible to start new biking, hiking, cycling and zipline tours in Fayette County. Adventure tourism is a booming business. Many families have to leave Fayette County to take part in those types of activities, they argued.

It was not immediately clear when the new zoning laws will take effect.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall