In a recent push to expand their businesses, farmers across North Carolina have been turning to agritourism, hoping to get additional revenue from their lands.
Agritourism brings people who otherwise might not come to the countryside to visit farms for weddings, wineries or other non-conventional uses.
“In our county, the primary concerns that have risen to the legislative level have been about wedding facilities and the use of farms for major public gatherings,” NC General Assembly representative Graig Meyer said.
These types of gatherings can be loud and burdensome for neighbors surrounding the farms.
In a meeting held September 11, the Orange County Board of Commissioners examined their options for regulating this type of commerce.
County attorney John Roberts said these options are rather limited.
“Agritourism is an agricultural activity so long as it occurs on a bona fide farm,” he said. “That in particular makes regulation from local governments extremely difficult.”
According to North Carolina law, local governments are prohibited from enforcing zoning regulations on properties that qualify as bona fide farms.
This, along with a broad legal definition for agritourism, makes it extremely difficult for the county to regulate commercial action on these properties.
Roberts said despite the difficulty, county staff should still be on the lookout for the impact these properties have on surrounding residents.
“There will be, on occasion, a use on a farm that will not qualify as agriculture or agritourism,” he said.
“It’s incumbent on staff to try to rectify that because the surrounding property owners undoubtedly moved into a rural area not expecting an agribusiness operation right next to them.”
Board chairman Mark Dorosin said the meeting was the first step in figuring what the county could do to balance the economic desires of farmers with the needs of their neighbors.
“We want to hear from you,” he said. “We want to learn as much as we can about how these issues are affecting folks in the community and what we need to do make the process work better.”
Dorosin said the commissioners came away from the meeting with a list of questions to investigate further.