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Archive for Wednesday, November 6, 2013

County struggles with agritourism permits

November 6, 2013

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Douglas County commissioners appeared to agree Wednesday night on what generally separates an "agritourism" business from a large commercial enterprise that warrants stricter zoning regulation, but they continued to struggle over how to translate those ideas into a law that makes sense.

And until they do find language that a majority can accept, the agritourism process that commissioners approved as recently as January will remain on hold.

"The question is, what activity level triggers the need for scrutiny by this body," said Commissioner Jim Flory, who called for a moratorium on issuing new permits following a controversy over one recent proposal.

The process was intended to make it easier for people to operate certain, limited kinds of tourism-related businesses on property zoned for agricultural use.

Most of the permits issued so far under the process involve "ancillary retail sales," such as a self-pick berry farm that also sells souvenir plates, or a farmer who operates a corn maze for children and also sells hot cider or tee shirts.

But in drafting the new rules last year, commissioners drew a line on "assembly-type businesses," those intended to draw crowds of 100 or more people at a time. Largely at Flory's urging, the codes adopted in January require a public hearing and specific approval by the county commission.

One problem, according to the county's zoning and codes staff, is that people don't always know in advance how many people may show up at a given time, and the county doesn't have the resources to take attendance at those events to enforce that kind of a rule.

That problem came to a head in September when a Johnson County couple applied for a permit to operate a commercial pumpkin patch operation, with plans showing a proposed parking lot that could accommodate more than 800 vehicles.

After a lengthy discussion during an informal study session Wednesday, commissioners directed the zoning and codes staff to try to come up with more acceptable language.

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