Douglas County commissioners finally reached a consensus Wednesday night on language for a new set of zoning regulations that would make it easier to launch certain kinds of tourism-related businesses on property normally used for agricultural purposes.
The new zoning regulations, which commissioners plan to formally adopt Jan. 2 after the final documents are drafted, would allow property owners in unincorporated parts of the county to obtain permits to operate certain businesses that would otherwise require rezoning or a conditional use permit.
The new regulations would also allow those businesses to engage in ancillary retail sales of things like T-shirts and souvenirs without having to obtain commercial zoning.
The permits would be available to businesses that are registered as “agritourism” businesses with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
County planning officials have been working on the proposal for more than three years, according to some who’ve been involved in the process. One of the key sticking points near the end has been deciding at what point those businesses, and the buildings in which they operate, should have to comply with regular commercial building codes.
Commissioner Jim Flory, a Republican who normally favors limited government regulation, found himself in the odd position of arguing stricter regulations than were originally proposed. Last week, he suggested that building codes should apply whenever a barn, outbuilding or other structure is used to host “assembly type” events such as weddings, banquets and receptions.
But that raised questions about what should qualify as an assembly event. For example, Natalya Lowther, owner of Pinwheel Farm in North Lawrence, said last week that she uses a building on the farm to shear sheep. But if she hosted a tour group of school children to come out and watch a sheep-shearing event, she might then fall under building code requirements.
After further discussion Wednesday, commissioners agreed to drop the reference to assembly type events and instead require building code compliance whenever the building is used for nonagriculture events, and then only when more than 100 people are present at a time.
With that agreement, planning officials said they would draft a formal resolution to adopt the new standards, which commissioners plan to adopt as part of their consent agenda Jan. 2.