Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Lawsuit over 'tourist destination' zoning echoes 40-year battle in county between preservationists and developers

By Melody Bailiff
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Longstanding tensions between Woodford County preservationists and developers are illustrated by a lawsuit filed by the Woodford Coalition and the Pisgah Historic Association against a new zoning rule that allows commercial activity in agricultural areas.

The suit, filed against the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Planning and Zoning Commission, the Woodford County Fiscal Court and the Versailles City Council, echoes the plaintiffs’ arguments against the bodies’ approval of two amendments to the county zoning ordinance.

The amendments added definitions of “tourist destination” and “tourist destination expanded,” to the ordinance. These definitions allow certain properties in the Agricultural (A-1) District and Heavy Industrial (I-2) zones to open restaurants, provide public tours, and hold special events with music.

The proposal was favored by the CastlePost, a luxury bed-and-breakfast east of Versailles, in the A-1 zone.

The suit, filed March 14, alleges that the amendments are special legislation for the CastlePost, in violation of the Kentucky Constitution, and that they conflict with the county's Comprehensive Plan.

The Planning Commission, in a response filed March 27, generally denied the lawsuit's allegations.

As the amendments were approved by each body, preservationists spoke against them.

They argued the definitions were not appropriately phrased to protect the A-1 zone. In the lawsuit, they argue that the lack of protection will leave residential property in this area susceptible to urban development.

The suit contends that the amendments’ definition of “landmark” as “any site, building structure, or natural feature that has visual, historic or cultural significance” is “unconstitutionally vague in that the amendment for not adequately defining 'landmark' such that an ordinary person could determine what locations were within the statutory definition.”

The lawsuit argues that the vagueness would allow “arbitrary or discriminatory decision making.”

It also argues that a more general law, more agreeable with the Comprehensive Plan, could be passed to protect horse farms in the A-1 District.

Generally, the plaintiffs seek to maintain a separation of urban activities from rural activities, a recurring theme of the county’s 40-year battle between preservationists and developers.

They seek a “declaration of rights ... that the action by the Planning Commission, the Fiscal Court and the City Council of Versailles ... was illegal and improper where it was contrary to the existing Kentucky law, Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Ordinance.”

The Midway City Council has opted to not pass the amendments, since they do not affect any areas of the city. All areas of Midway that could possibly be affect by the amendments fall short of the 30-acre minimum size tract required by the amendments. For more background, click here.

The suit says the amendments conflct with the mission of Midway and Versailles to aid in the advancement of each city’s restaurant offerings, as laid out in the Comprehensive Plan.

The suit contends that “every existing home (or barn) in Woodford County on at least 30 acres ... now has the right to operate a restaurant of up to 75 seats ... without the need for any further Planning Commission ... or Agricultural Advisory Review Committee review and approval.”

One of the commission's justifications in approving the amendments was that the Comprehensive Plan says “The legislative bodies and appointed agencies of Woodford County should take heed of the public demand for more shopping and dining options and accommodate such projects.”

The lawsuit argues that is a misinterpretation of those goals, which the suit says is applicable to only urban areas, not to agricultural areas.

The suit says the Comprehensive Plan states the that commercial use of land outside the Versailles and Midway urban areas would generally not be allowed under zoning regulations, and those areas is where retail and dining establishments are to be located.

The commission's response generally denied that allegation and the others in the suit.

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