Business

Follow-Up File: County hits snag on ag tourism rules

Names: Karen Nall

Job: Senior planner

Organization: San Luis Obispo County Planning and Building Department

What she said then:

In September 2008, The Tribune reported that San Luis Obispo County officials had been grappling for several years to devise regulations to govern agricultural tourism.

The first step was to adopt an ordinance with new rules for temporary events — such as weddings and festivals — held on non-winery agricultural lands.

After completing that ordinance, the county could address other agritourism issues, including recreation, lodging, farm sales and signage, said senior planner Karen Nall. She has overseen the agritourism project since it began in 2005.

The county has updated event rules for wineries, but regulations for farms, orchards and other ag properties date to 1980 and are minimal.

Work group meetings including farmers, neighbors and environmentalists led to little agreement. After a few years the county Planning Commission was still reviewing the matter.

“We expected to be a lot further than we are now, but that’s part of the process,” Nall said. “It’s a complicated ordinance.”

What she says now:

While the county continues to grow as a wedding and agritourism destination, the Planning Commission has made no progress in passing an ag event ordinance.

Rather, they’ve handed the matter to the Board of Supervisors for “better direction,” Nall said. A hearing is scheduled for July 13.

“We (originally) modeled this ordinance after the winery event ordinance,” she added. “We thought it had been tested and numbers were similar. It’s gone crazy. It’s not what we expected.”

Currently, property owners wishing to conduct occasional commercial events on rural property must seek a minor use permit. Approval is at the discretion of a hearing officer, based on an evaluation of the property and neighbor input.

A new ordinance could standardize rules and simplify the process for agriculturists, perhaps creating a tiered system of requirements based on the size and frequency of events per year.

One idea is to create a basic events permit available over the counter.

Officials are concerned about the safety of roads to and from properties, as well as the impacts of traffic, noise — such as amplified music — and lighting on neighbors.

Wedding planners are primarily concerned with the impact of permit fees on their profits, Nall said, but the local agricultural community is divided on a more fundamental level.

“The wedding industry is huge in the county right now,” she said. “Some believe that a wedding in an ag area is supporting agriculture. Others believe that (it’s) taking land away from agriculture because the wedding becomes more important and you’re creating parking lots.”

The staff report for the July 13 hearing will be available at www.slocounty.ca.gov/bos/bosagenda.htm by July 7.

Those wishing to give input may attend the meeting or contact Nall at knall@co.slo.ca.us or 781-5606.

Nall hopes the events question will be settled by the end of the year.

“We had an ag tourism package of other things we wanted to address: bed-and-breakfasts, roadside stands, olive oil processing and tasting. We had a lot of changes we wanted to make,” she said.

“We splintered off events and it’s taken so much time we haven’t gotten back to other things.”

— Raven J. Railey

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