Supporting agritourism ventures in Douglas County is a good goal, but county commissioners also were right earlier this month to take a step back from a policy approved about a year ago.
To give planning officials time to review and draft changes to the county’s agritourism zoning codes, commissioners passed a resolution that imposes a moratorium on new agritourism permits until April 30, 2014. The action was taken after commissioners ran into some unexpected issues while considering a permit for a large commercial pumpkin patch in southeast Douglas County.
Six permits had been issued without controversy under the new agritourism policy, county officials said, but the permit for the new pumpkin patch raised concerns among nearby residents. That’s not surprising considering that the plans included a parking lot that could accommodate more than 800 vehicles for people participating in a variety of events at the site. Residents understandably were concerned that activities that drew that much traffic could be disruptive to their rural area.
When agritourism zoning codes were approved in December 2012, the goal was to allow people to operate certain kinds of commercial businesses on land zoned for agricultural use. The types of businesses they envisioned included wedding receptions and parties, operating a small bed and breakfast inn or inviting members of the public to observe farm activities like shearing sheep or milking cows. In April, county commissioners revisited the regulations and turned down a proposal that would have loosened some of the fire and safety codes for buildings used for agritourism.
After wrestling with the pumpkin patch proposal, commissioners wisely decided to take another look at the code to better define when applicants need to seek specific approval from the commission and what power the commission had to attach special conditions to a permit.
Douglas County has many rural residents who have operated well-run and popular commercial ventures on their property for many years. It’s important, however, to make sure that commercial businesses operating under the “agritourism” umbrella are compatible with their surrounding areas and don’t create a nuisance for their neighbors. Accommodating agritourism is a good idea for Douglas County, but it’s also a good idea to take the necessary time to properly craft the codes and policies governing those ventures.