Reject appeal on Boone Creek zipline; owner blatantly violated zoning laws

Zipliners zip from canopy to canopy on the zipline at Boone Creek Outdoors at Exit 99 off I-75  on Saturday March 30, 2013 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Zipliners zip from canopy to canopy on the zipline at Boone Creek Outdoors at Exit 99 off I-75 on Saturday March 30, 2013 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

We know it's not sexy; no one will be wearing a T-shirt at the Board of Adjustment meeting today promoting the glories of zoning restrictions.

But that is the process that has protected Fayette County's rural areas from sprawl, raw sewage and other visual and environmental degradation.

And for that reason, it's the right — if unpopular — thing for the Board of Adjustment to deny Boone Creek Adventures' appeal of a notice to stop operating an unauthorized canopy tour.

That administrative ruling, however, does not mean the city should then take immediate steps to shut the business down. That's because proposed changes to the city's zoning laws introduced this week, if enacted, would allow a canopy tour as a conditional use on Boone Creek's land.

However, even if the city allows the tours to operate, it must impose strong penalties on owner Burgess Carey for knowingly, willingly violating current zoning laws.

The public debate on this case often has been cast as a David vs. Goliath tale of one man fighting a rigid bureaucracy; of an equally rigid, entitled wealthy class trying to maintain the rural area as its own private preserve.

Those arguments are not only simplistic and misleading, they are beside the point. The issue is whether local government will enforce the zoning ordinances that have, for over 60 years, protected our rural landscape.

Some context and history: Zones establish primary uses that are appropriate without question in certain areas, such as residential, commercial, industrial, agriculture. In most zones, there are also provisions for conditional uses, those that can be allowed after the community has been assured they won't disrupt the primary uses. Examples are community centers in residential zones or private clubs in agricultural zones.

About 10 years ago, Carey asked for and got permission from the Board of Adjustment to operate, as a conditional use, a private fishing club on acreage he owns in an agricultural zone at the county's southern edge.

In 2011, Carey asked the board for permission to enlarge his operations to include several additional recreational uses, including zip lines and a canopy tour. The board turned him down in January, 2012, saying the use he proposed isn't allowed in the zone, and noting concerns about safety and sewage removal.

Carey filed an appeal but, while that appeal was pending, he went ahead with scaled-back plans, building a canopy tour that included some zip lines.

In March of this year, the city's planning division issued a notice of violation, giving him 30 days to remove what he had constructed. Carey appealed; today the board will hear and act on his appeal.

This is really a simple matter at its heart, and the board must uphold the planning division's action.

Carey flaunted the planning process and took matters into his own hands. If the city allows him to do it, then it's inviting others to follow suit. That would remove the long-standing protections that families and businesses rely on when they invest in homes, farms, offices and other commercial real estate in Fayette County.

Read the Boone Creek notice of violations at Kentucky.com/opinions.

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