Regulation on agrotourism wedding venues questioned

At the County Commissioners Council (BOCC) meeting on November 16, 2021, the Council requested

the county attorney’s office to compare local regulations against state law regulating agritourism. A legal memorandum dated November 23, 2021 from Deputy County Attorney Kyle Benda was discussed with the commissioners regarding the state’s Agrotourism Act, regarding land use planning requirements and regulations. land. The discussion is the result of a recent owner of a wedding venue who asked the board to look at over-regulation. Wedding venues on agricultural land meet the definition of agrotourism.

Discussion regarding current and pending legislation took place on December 14, 2021, however, no issues were put to a vote.

To be considered an agritourism destination, the land must be agricultural zoned (AG) and must be used primarily for agriculture or a “bona fide farming activity”. This is commonly referred to as the “greenbelt law”. Current state law also specifies that agrotourism must be the secondary goal of such ownership, however, according to Benda, this language could be removed from the law, qualifying any agrotourism income.

Commissioner Steve Champion asked Benda, given that wedding venues are specified in the agritourism, “Should we regulate these wedding venues or should we just allow them to do whatever they want?” “

According to Benda’s legal opinion, the BOCC has the power to regulate wedding venues and other agritourism businesses based on Florida Statute § 570.85 (1), which states in part: “… a government local cannot make or enforce an ordinance, regulation, rule or policy that prohibits, restricts, regulates or otherwise restricts agri-tourism activity on land classified as agricultural land under section 193.461. This paragraph does not limit the powers and duties of a local government to deal with significant off-site impacts of agri-tourism activities or an emergency… ”

Benda suggested that a special use exemption be given to these locations on a case-by-case basis, as each property is unique.

Champion disagrees, except for code enforcement or violations of the law.

Commissioner John Allocco has said he would like to see actual farming activities taking place on the AG zoned properties and loopholes not being used to evade taxes and regulations.

“If you think it’s a farm, it’s probably a farm,” Benda said.

The Hernando County real estate appraiser’s office will be the likely arbiter of what qualifies properties for agritourism status.

Florida State Law, § 570.86 (1) defines agritourism as: “Any farming activity consistent with a bona fide farm, ranch or ranch or in a forest in good faith. activity that enables members of the general public, for recreational, entertainment or educational purposes, to view or enjoy activities, including agriculture, animal husbandry, historical, cultural, civic, ceremonial, training and exhibit, or harvest your own activities and attractions. An agri-tourism activity does not include the construction of new or additional structures or facilities intended primarily to house, shelter, transport or otherwise accommodate members of the general public. An activity is an agri-tourism activity, whether or not the participant has paid to participate in the activity.

The memo points out that the activities do not include the construction of structures to accommodate members of the general public. Benda asked questions that could challenge the rules, such as renovating an older building or changing the purpose from a farm equipment storage building to primary use by humans. For these reasons, Benda advised to evaluate each property, so as to take into account each unique characteristic.

Champion mentioned that since the law is pretty specific, “Why don’t we just follow the law and say, ‘If you have a real farm, you can do these things’. Who are we to tell (owners) how many events they can organize? If they want to run one every weekend, who cares? “

Benda responded that the special exemption process covers more than wedding venues and would not eliminate the process entirely. His concern is that prohibited uses may “slip under the radar” and that maintaining the current process gives the county the power to ensure laws are followed.

Special exception use permits are permitted in all zoning districts. The process comes to the BOCC after a hearing with the Planning and Zoning Commission. When granting a special exception, it must be established that the permit will not prejudice the public interest. Certain factors must be taken into account when granting a special exception;

– all uses are subject to the general regulations of the Code of uses, lofts, yards and vehicles as well as specific regulations on the dimensions and area of ​​lots in the underlying zoning districts of the property

– the proposed use must not attract inappropriate volumes of traffic, noise or congestion, must have proper property access to rights-of-way and must have a minimum lot frontage

– all buildings must be located at an adequate distance from all property lines and street rights-of-way

– the property must comply with the Hernando County Community Appearance Ordinance, including appropriate filtering or buffering of adjacent properties.

– the use must be of an architectural scale similar to the layout of the existing district

– the visual and functional conflict between the proposal and the uses of the neighboring neighborhood, if it exists, must be minimal; and

– for exceptional uses on local streets, traffic generation rates and traffic distribution rates should be monitored to ensure that exceptional use does not exceed the traffic generally associated with local streets

The Hernando Sun will follow up on any modification of the statutes and ordinances in force.

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