County Planning Commission Supports Agritourism Bill; Public Hearing Set For Next Week

SNOW HILL – A bill that would allow for more agritourism throughout the county received a favorable recommendation from the Worcester County Planning Commission last week.

A bill that would permit agritourism facilities as a special exception in the A-1 and A-2 districts received support from the planning commission last Thursday. It is now set to be discussed in a public hearing hosted by the Worcester County Commissioners Aug. 17.

“I see this as a very positive thing for Worcester County,” commission member Mary Knight said. “I’m excited for it.”

County officials have been working for months on a bill that would allow more agritourism uses—things like farm breweries—in Worcester County. After various revisions, the commissioners introduced a bill in July and it was presented to the planning commission last Thursday. Melanie Pursel, director of the Worcester County Office of Tourism and Economic Development, told commission members she was excited to see the bill moving forward.

“The public hearing will be important to hear from the existing farmers and how it affects them as well as for us, looking at future growth with regard to economic development and people being able to diversify use of their farms,” she said.

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Pursel said the agritourism bill would allow farms to offer additional products and services.

“That’s kind of what we’re looking for, helping existing ones operate and grow but then also maybe encouraging farms to add some of these components,” she said.

Michele Burke, the county’s business development and retention specialist, agreed.

“We definitely want them to grow in whatever capacity they need to offset the price of things or the changing world,” Burke said. “We want to back the farmers no matter what.”

When asked how many farms might pursue agritourism concepts, Burke said she was currently only working with one who wanted to establish a distillery. She added, however, that existing operations—which are currently permitted because they’re categorized as ‘similar to wineries’—might want to expand and wanted the code to allow that.

“As they grow they’re morphing,” she said. “They want that ability, to be able to make those changes.”

Bob Mitchell, the county’s director of environmental programs, added that even if a farm wanted to develop something like a brewery, it might be limited by more than zoning.

“Different properties have different capabilities,” he said.

He added that the commissioners who’d voiced concerns with the bill were worried about potential conflicts with adjacent farms.

“We want people to be able to use their properties but to be good neighbors too,” he said. “We want good operators too.”

Pursel said she thought the changes would allow for potential growth in the south end of the county and provide farmers with another option to generate revenue.

“We get eight million visitors a year to Ocean City so we’re always trying to encourage them to experience the county,” she said.

Knight said she volunteered in the information booth in Ocean City and was frequently asked about what there was to see in the area.

“I’ll say Assateague, I’ll say Berlin,” she said. “I never get to really say anything cool in Pocomoke…. I look at this as let’s get as many as we can to bring something new and different to Worcester County.”

The commission voted unanimously to provide the bill with a favorable recommendation as it moves forward to the commissioners for consideration.

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.