Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Augusta County shuts down Rocket Boys ... 3

Part 3: What is agri-tourism?

See part 1 and part 2.

I received an email in mid-December from Charles Neff, president of Valley AeroSpace Rocketry Club, who questioned Augusta County's desire to bring in agri-tourism when they appeared to contradict themselves by shutting down the rocket club. He wrote:
I listened to the “Agri-tourism Brings Boost For Augusta County” story on WHSV this morning with great fascination … especially since an activity that would be considered Agri-tourism was shut down in Augusta County by the Board of Zoning Appeals.
The December 17, 2009, TV-3 story was about Augusta County supervisors' desire to bring agri-tourism into the area:
Agritourism may be helping to generate income in Augusta County during a time when farmers are struggling the most.

While farm land may be vanishing in Virginia, in Augusta County, it's still increasing. Officials believe that agritourism may be bringing in a boost.

Weddings and horseback riding may seem unrelated, but they're both a part of what's bonding tourism and agriculture in Augusta County.
Augusta County Board of Supervisors member Nancy Sorrells believes this is just the beginning for agritourism.

Sorrells says, "There's no doubt it's bringing in money but I just don't think it's reached it's full potential."

The money agritourism is bringing to the county may be worth just a little bit more. "If I take a dollar and spend it in the community, that's just a dollar. But this community has to build roads that I use, has to build schools. But, if a visitor comes here and spends a dollar, it's really worth $5 because they go home," says Sorrells.

Del. Ben Cline (24th District) supports agritourism in Augusta County and is taking the message all the way to Richmond.

Cline says, "Agriculture is our top industry and in Augusta County, it's extremely important. So, we want to encourage all aspects of farming, including agritourism."

While agritourism is getting a lot of attention, Sorrells says if it's bringing in money, it's a good thing. Sorrells says, "I think we need to explore all kinds of ways to bring money into our area and the money that would come in that has the least impact on our tax bases is good money. So, if we need to find ways to hype that up, I say go for it."

The Augusta County Board of Supervisors has delayed any decision about rezoning its exclusive agriculture district until its meeting in January 2010.

From 2002 until 2007, Augusta County farmland increased two percent.
At that meeting in January the Augusta County Board of Supervisors voted to eliminate exclusive agriculture and, yes, open it up for agri-tourism, as reported by the Staunton News Leader:
County leaders hope by eliminating a restrictive agriculture zoning district, it will provide farmers more freedom to pursue alternative business options on their property.

The Board of Supervisors informally voted Wednesday to preliminary approve eliminating the county's exclusive agriculture district and convert that land to a general agriculture designation.

The move would open up more agriculture land to be able to have additional operations, which range from small business to agritourism uses. Unlike those on general agriculture-zoned land, residents in the exclusive agriculture district cannot apply for special-use permits to allow non-farming business.
Two comments were left on the WHSV TV-3 website about agri-tourism. The first:
The Augusta County Board of Zoning Appeals disagrees with Ms. Sorrells and Mr. Cline. The BZA effectively shut down the activities of a safe, educational, and family oriented model rocket club in Sep 09. They sided with a small group of residents who were terrified that a cardboard rocket from a 10 yr old might land on their property once or twice per year. The County has lost a free educational resource and agritourism income as a result.
The second comment:
This is very interesting! Someone needs to inform the Augusta County Board of Zoning Appeals about this! Our club, which had held monthly rocket launches in a Swoope (Augusta County) farm pasture for 14 months, was notified that a Special Use Permit was required which the Zoning Board subsequently denied. Although not huge, our events brought people to the County. They stayed at local hotels, they ate at local restaurants, and they shopped at local stores. If you think rocket launches shouldn't be considered Agri-tourism since it's unrelated to agriculture (other than the farm field), you should know that Hot Air Balloon Rides, Hang Gliding, Cross-Country Skiing, Music Festivals, Biking, etc. are all considered Agri-tourism. None of them have any closer relationship to agriculture than our activity. I believe the County is contradicting itself...
In Colorado agri-tourism is recognized as a growing industry and includes all the above-mentioned activities plus fishing, hunting, wildlife photography, horseback riding, farm and cannery tours, cooking classes, wine tastings, cattle drives, harvest festivals, corn mazes, roadside vegetable stands, and much more.

Does Augusta County want agri-tourism?

Next -- Part 4: Francis Chester ... the only lawyer willing to represent VAST in Augusta County?

Cross-posted at Virginia Virtucon

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