Officials Seek More Changes On Agritourism Bill

SNOW HILL– County officials sent agritourism regulations back to the drawing board after expressing concerns regarding proposed changes.

When presented with the latest version of the agritourism bill that’s been under discussion for the past several months, the Worcester County Commissioners this week voted unanimously to have staff refine the proposal. The decision came after several commissioners said the changes would hurt traditional agriculture.

“This is wrong,” Commissioner Jim Bunting said. “It shouldn’t be in any agricultural zone. We have plenty of commercial property in Worcester County.”

Jennifer Keener, deputy director of development review and permitting, told the commissioners she’d met with members of the county’s economic development and tourism departments to draft the agritourism text amendment being reviewed Tuesday. She said it would create a definition for agricultural alcohol production.

“It includes wineries, farm breweries, distilleries, anything you can get a state manufacturing license for,” she said.

It also eliminates the special exception requirement previously associated with agritainment facilities and wineries in the agricultural zones.

Bunting said removing that requirement would mean neighbors no longer had a chance to go to the board of zoning appeals to share any concerns. He also questioned the specifics of the festivals permitted in the agritourism bill as well as limits on potential attendance and parking. He felt it weakened the county’s agricultural districts and asked Keener her professional opinion.

“I think it gives some value added agricultural benefits but yes there are some commercial aspects that it does open up,” she said.

Bunting also criticized what he said were insufficient setbacks included in the proposal as well as the amplified entertainment permitted until 10 p.m.

“I haven’t had one farmer say it’s a good idea,” he said. “I don’t know why we’re weakening our agricultural zoning. We put a lot of work in it over the years. This is just opening the doors to make a lot of people angry.”

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic didn’t like the fact the bill said an agritourism facility would be the use of not more than 30% of gross acreage actively used for agricultural purposes on a lot.

“The 30% rule opens up these type things to your department’s interpretation,” he said.

Commissioner Chip Bertino suggested the bill undergo further refinement.

“This seems like it could certainly change the complexion and the ambiance of the agricultural area within our county,” he said. “It’s basically throwing all the regulations, everything that makes the character of our agricultural areas what they are and what attracts people, right out the window its seems.”

Keener said it could be adjusted and pointed out that the county already had some agritainment regulations but that no property owners had made use of those.

Commissioner Josh Nordstrom said he thought there were some great aspects to the proposed regulations and that they could help prevent some farmers from losing their land. He suggested another work session.

Mitrecic said that unless the commissioners provided staff with specific guidance there was no reason to have another work session.

“There are going to be people up here that won’t vote for this either way,” Mitrecic said. “I get it. We can’t just keep sending it back.”

Bunting said the specific issues he wanted to see addressed included the elimination of the special exception requirement, the addition of substantial setback requirements and an increase in the minimum acreage required for agritourism uses. He said he also thought attendance limits and parking requirements needed to be considered.

The commissioners voted unanimously to have staff continue to refine the proposed agritourism bill.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.