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Regulations on Agritourism Wedding Venues Questioned

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At the November 16, 2021 Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting, the Board asked 

the County Attorney’s Office to compare local regulations versus state law regulating agritourism.  A legal memorandum dated Nov. 23, 2021 from Assistant County Attorney Kyle Benda was discussed with the commissioners regarding the state law on agritourism, with respect to land development requirements and regulations.  The discussion is a result of a recent wedding venue owner asking the board to look into overregulation.  Wedding venues on agricultural land meet the definition of agritourism.

The discussion regarding current legislation and pending legislation took place on December 14, 2021, however, there was no issue up for a vote.

In order to be considered an agritourism destination, the land must be zoned as agricultural (AG), and must be primarily used for farming or “bona fide agricultural activity.” This is commonly referred to as the “Greenbelt Law.”  The current state law also specifies that agritourism be the secondary focus of such a property, however, according to Benda, this language could be deleted from the statute, qualifying any income from agritourism.

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Commissioner Steve Champion asked Benda since wedding venues are specified in agritourism, “Should we be regulating these wedding venues or should we just allow them to do their thing?”

In Benda’s legal opinion, the BOCC does have the authority to regulate wedding venues and other agritourism businesses based on Florida Statute  § 570.85(1), which states in part, “…a local government may not adopt or enforce a local ordinance, regulation, rule or policy that prohibits, restricts, regulates or otherwise limits an agritourism activity on land classified as agricultural land under section 193.461.  This subsection does not limit the powers and duties of a local government to address substantial offsite impacts of agritourism activities or an emergency…”  

Benda suggested that a Special Use Exemptions be granted to such venues on a case by case basis, since each property is unique.

Champion disagrees, with the exception of code enforcement or law violations. 

Commissioner John Allocco commented that he would want to see that actual agricultural activities are being practiced on properties zoned AG, and that loopholes are not used to evade taxes and regulations. 

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

The Hernando County Property Appraiser’s office will be the likely arbiter of what qualifies properties eligible for agritourism status.    

Florida state statute § 570.86(1) defines agritourism as: “Any agricultural related activity consistent with a bona fide farm, livestock operation, or ranch or in a working forest which allows members of the general public, for recreational, entertainment, or educational purposes, to view or enjoy activities, including farming, ranching, historical, cultural, civic, ceremonial, training and exhibition, or harvest-your-own activities and attractions. An agritourism 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 agritourism activity regardless of whether the participant paid to participate in the activity.”  

The memo emphasizes that activities do not include construction of structures to accommodate members of the general public. Benda posed questions that could challenge the rules, such as remodeling of an older building or changing a building’s purpose from storage of farm equipment to primary use by humans.  For these reasons, Benda advised assessing each property, so as to address each unique feature.

Champion mentioned that since the law is fairly specific, “Why wouldn’t we just uphold the law and say, ‘If you have a genuine farm, you can do these things.’  Who are we to tell (property owners) how many events they can hold?  If they want to hold one every weekend, who cares?”

Benda answered that the Special Exemption process covers more than wedding venues, and would not get rid of the process totally.  His concern is that disallowed uses could “fly under the radar,” and keeping the current process gives the county the authority to ensure that the laws are being followed. 

Special Exception Use Permits are allowed in all zoning districts.  The process comes to the BOCC after a hearing with the Planning and Zoning Commission.  When granting a Special Exception, there must be a finding that the permit will not adversely affect public interest.  Certain factors must be considered when granting a Special Exception;

— all uses shall be subject to general regulations in the Code for uses, lofts, yards and vehicles as well as specific dimension and area regulations for lots in the underlying zoning districts for the property

— the proposed use shall not attract inappropriate traffic volumes, noise or congestion, shall have appropriate access from the property to the rights of way, and shall have minimum lot frontage

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

— the property must comply with the Hernando County Community Appearance Ordinance, including appropriate screening or buffering from adjoining properties.

— the use shall be of similar architectural scale to existing neighborhood development

— visual and functional conflict between the proposal and nearby neighborhood uses, if existent shall be minimal; and 

— for special exception uses on local streets, traffic generation rates and traffic distribution rates must be followed to ensure that the special exception use does not exceed the traffic typically associated with local streets

The Hernando Sun will follow up on any changes to the current statutes and ordinances.

Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil is a reporter for the Hernando Sun as well as a business technology developer, specializing in website development, content management systems, and data analysis.
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