Douglas County commissioners on Wednesday balked at a proposal that certain codes that apply to other businesses in unincorporated areas of the county should be loosened for those that are operating as agritourism businesses.
In January, commissioners adopted new codes that allow people to operate certain kinds of commercial businesses on land zoned for agricultural use, as long as they are registered with the state as an "agritourism" business.
Those can include such things as hosting wedding receptions and parties, operating a small bed and breakfast, or staging demonstrations of farm activities like sheep shearing or dairy operations. The new rules provide a simpler permitting process instead of requiring those property owners to seek a zoning change or obtain what's called a conditional use permit.
During those discussions, however, several people noted that it would be difficult to apply the same fire and safety codes to a farm or other outbuilding that also apply to hotels and public arenas. So commissioners agreed to have staff go through the codes and identify regulations that might be hard for an agritourism business to comply with.
On Wednesday, officials from Lawrence-Douglas County Planning and Development Services gave a report identifying two areas of the building codes where the county might consider relaxing the rules, but they did not recommend that commissioners do so.
Those included thresholds for when a facility must be equipped with fire alarms and sprinklers, and when they must have exit doors that swing open in the direction of travel.
But Linda Finger, the county's director of zoning and codes, said changing those codes would entail changing them for all businesses, not just agritourism businesses, unless commissioners wanted to adopt a separate set of standards just for agritourism.
But Commissioner Jim Flory said he wasn't prepared to do that.
“I'm not sure I understand why we're trying to make it less safe for people involved in agritourism,” he said.
Flory and Commission Chairman Mike Gaughan also said the new agritourism rules have only been in place about three months, and so far the building codes haven't created a conflict, and they preferred to let the new process operate for at least a year before considering changes to the building codes.
In other business, commissioners approved a contract with McCown Gordon Construction to serve as the project manager to supervise design and construction of a new facility for the Public Works Department.
Commissioners also signed a proclamation designating April as Child Abuse Prevention Month in Douglas County.