Saturday, February 13, 2010

Del. Landes' agri-tourism bill passes House

Augusta County's Del. Steve Landes (R-25th House) has seen his agri-tourism bill, designed to promote rural business and expand opportunities for farmers, pass the House:

House Bill 582 related to the expansion and promotion of agricultural opportunities and sponsored by Del. R. Steven Landes, R-Weyers Cave, continues his goal of helping small businesses and in particular farmers in the rural areas of our state.

“After a constituent approached me regarding many ideas and suggestions to promote agri-tourism, I decided to submit two bills to promote agri-tourism and farm businesses” Landes said. “Receiving input from a number of interested organizations, the ideas were incorporated in HB 582 to move forward through the legislative process.”

House Bill 583, related to farm businesses, was stricken from the docket after it was decided to incorporate some of its language into HB 582 and move forward with one bill.

The legislation adds responsibility to the Center for Rural Virginia (CRV) to help create a rural enterprise opportunity task force to develop strategies that will promote economic opportunities of the agricultural industry throughout the Commonwealth.

The task force will be made of representatives from the Virginia Farm Bureau, the Virginia Agribusiness Council, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Virginia Association of Counties, and the Virginia Chapter of the American Planning Association, plus at least one owner of a farm business or rural enterprise interested in expanding economic opportunities. Landes is Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees for CRV.

The task force will have to consider issues related to the expansion of farm businesses and rural enterprises to include such items as local ordinances and laws/regulations that may be unreasonably restrictive, new approaches for these farm businesses with consideration given to preserving the rural character of the surrounding area, best management practices, tax and regulatory incentives, plus other issues deemed relevant by the task force.

The work of the task force will be completed and provide recommendations by November 2010, to the chairmen of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation, and Natural Resources.

The bill was reported from the Agriculture, Chesapeake, and Natural Resources Committee on a 22-0 vote and has passed the House on a block vote of 99-0.

Augusta County has expressed an interest in increasing agri-tourism. However, the county's recent denial of a Special Use Permit from the Board of Zoning Appeals for VAST, a local rocketry club, brings into question the fairness of deciding who is allowed to participate in agri-tourism and who is not.

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