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Farmers say new York Co. rules for winery, event venues may be 'over-regulating'

Strawberries are a familiar part of the agricultural landscape in York County. Tourists come here from around the region to pick them. York county officials want to expand agritourism to include wineries and venues for special events. Local farmers want to make sure the laws are written properly.
Strawberries are a familiar part of the agricultural landscape in York County. Tourists come here from around the region to pick them. York county officials want to expand agritourism to include wineries and venues for special events. Local farmers want to make sure the laws are written properly.

Farmers are accustomed to working hard, sweating the details and waiting for a good result. York County Council members say farmers have one more opportunity to do that.

Council members voted May 7 to move forward with changes that would allow wineries and event venues but, amid concerns from the farming community, delayed a final decision until June 18.

The delay will give farmers time to meet with county staff to discuss the details.

Council members brought up new rules for wineries and event venues because no current laws allow for such sites. However, in an effort to boost tourism in areas that include agricultural sites — agritourism — council members want to create business opportunities. Council has shown considerable support for agritourism in recent months. There is a study committee set up for it, with funds approved last year by council members.

The question is, would a new law have unintended consequences?

“There’s lots of regulations that could involve a lot of us that are already in the farming business,” said Bob Hall of York. “Maybe step back and give us time for input.”

Dickie Harper, representing the York County Farm Bureau, said farmers “should be involved as a stakeholder” when new rules could affect agritourism.

“We are concerned (about) all these different folks that are farmers now, that want to be involved in agritourism,” Harper said. “We may be heading toward over-regulation. I don’t want these farmers to be swept up in this net that y’all are casting with agritourism.”

Councilwoman Allison Love said there may be confusion, but the thinking behind adding wineries is to allow, not restrict.

“Right now we do not have any language in our ordinance that allows for a winery, and we’re trying to resolve that,” she said. “I don’t think this is government overreach. I think this is government allowing a use that is currently not available.”

Councilman Robert Winkler said he is aware of multiple properties where a sale depends on being able to use them for special events. He said he also is aware of several sites in his district being used for special events, despite county code not allowing the use now.

“Right now our county codes say that’s illegal,” Winkler said. “You can’t do that in the county, you can’t have a place to do that in the unincorporated area. That’s crazy in my opinion.”

Farmers said they want the details of the law done right.

Harper sees issues for rodeos or farms that bring in students on field trips. One issue is parking, which the new rules require based on the size of an event venue.

“What if they have a corn maze?” Harper said. “Say that corn maze is 5 acres. If you had a 5-acre corn maze and you considered that a venue, you’d have to have 2,175 parking spaces for that. So what are you going to consider a venue?”

Then there are details like, proposed at one point, having 10 a.m.-8 p.m. hours for agritourism.

"Mr. (Bob) Hall has people come out and pick strawberries a lot of times before 10 o’clock in the morning, because that’s when they want to get out there, before it gets so doggone hot,” Winkler said. “So does Black’s Peaches and Windy Hill (Orchard) or whoever.”

Councilman Michael Johnson said, in some cases, conditions on land use can be helpful. Allowing event venues without rules, like how far one has to be from a home, could lead to problems.

“They can be outside all night long, with a band,” Johnson said. “And you’re going to call the sheriff’s department at some point and you’re going to say, 'hey, this band’s playing. I can’t sleep at night.' If people were good to each other, we wouldn’t need a lot of these rules. But we have to create the rules to stop someone from doing that.”

Council members say farmers aren’t the only people worried, as council members too have offered concerns.

“We did have a workshop on this and it was three hours long, and a lot of the things that you’re talking about were concerns that we had with over-regulation,” said Councilwoman Christi Cox.

Some council members say the intent of simply allowing wineries and event venues grew into a longer list of regulations than they anticipated.

“It has morphed into a lot more than we asked for,” Winkler said. “Our goal was to make sure that you could do this and that everybody was kind of on the same playing field.”

That's why council members didn’t mind delaying a final decision. The goal is to meet with farmers or anyone else who may have concerns.

“I’d rather slow down the process than have a bad ordinance,” Johnson said.

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