Right vote on recreation use in rural areas

A committee of the Urban County Council did the right thing last week by restoring provisions in a zoning amendment to protect Fayette County rural lands that had been stripped out by the Planning Commission.

Four years in the making, this amendment allows more recreational uses in the county’s rural areas and the full council should follow the committee’s lead and adopt the committee’s version.

The drive to amend the zoning codes to encompass more recreational activity in rural areas grew out of the 2012 controversy over a commercial zip-line tour that began operating in the southern part of the county where it wasn’t permitted.

That dispute was resolved in court in the county’s favor but then-Vice Mayor Linda Gorton convened a work group to deal with the larger issue of how to protect rural agricultural lands and sensitive natural areas, like the palisades along the Kentucky River, while allowing more people access to them.

Gorton’s group met 20 times in public, heard testimony from dozens of people and considered the potential impact of a wide array of activities, from wineries to rodeos, zip lines to nature preserves, farm markets to festivals and concerts.

It was a concert in the rural area last year that brought the importance of what might seem bureaucratic and esoteric into focus.

The Luke Bryan concert at Talon Winery in rural Fayette County created a traffic and logistical nightmare as thousands — concertgoers and commuters — were stuck in traffic for hours. Neighboring farms suffered the disruption of noise, light and thousands of people invading their turf.

Although no one was hurt, fortunately, it provided a vivid case study on why it’s important to plan carefully for new commercial activities in rural areas.

The work group devised an approach that allowed many new uses in these areas but placed a condition that they first be vetted by the county’s board of adjustment to ensure they operate without harming either our natural resources or neighboring farms.

Requirements typically would relate to things like hours of operation, noise and light levels, traffic and parking plans, the number of people to be accommodated.

When the Planning Commission considered this last fall it decided — in a 6-5 vote — to ignore the work group’s recommendations and allow several uses outright, removing any need for them to be reviewed by the board of adjustment.

This odd decision seemed to be based on the economic interests of the new applicants without considering the impact on either neighboring farms or the rest of the community.

The council’s Planning and Public Safety Committee correctly went back to the work group’s recommendation.