Posted: January 10, 2013
By JEREMY HUNT
HARRISONBURG — Leaders of Virginia’s largest farming county want to leave no doubt where they stand on proposed legislation to regulate local agricultural zoning laws.
The Rockingham County Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday — the first day of this year’s regular General Assembly session — to send a resolution to lawmakers expressing “strong opposition” to a bill by Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge.
Lingamfelter, a candidate in this year’s race for lieutenant governor, introduced a bill in response to a dispute between Fauquier County zoning officials and Martha Boneta, who claims she was fined last year by the county for selling items made at her 70-acre farm in Paris and hosting a children’s birthday party for a friend’s daughter.
Fauquier officials, however, say Boneta was never fined and that she was issued a corrective order last year because she sold items not produced on her farm without a permit and also hosted and sought to host special events and nonfarm activities, also without a permit.
Lingamfelter’s legislation would amend Virginia’s Right to Farm Act to allow by right the sale of items “incidental” to operations at a farmer’s property, including art, literature and artifacts, and to allow for free assembly.
Many farm-related activities are allowed by right on property zoned for agricultural use in both Rockingham and Fauquier counties, as well as many others, including the sale of produce from the farm.
Special-use permits are required in Rockingham County for other farm-related operations, including some food processing and special events.
Rockingham County officials outlined a number of concerns with Lingamfelter’s bill.
“What this bill does is basically remove all local control of agriculture retail,” said Billy Vaughn, director of community development.
It would also allow by right year-round retail operations, Vaughn said, for which the county requires permits to ensure that safety and other accommodations are met.
Supervisor Bill Kyger and County Attorney Tom Miller said the section of the bill allowing for county employees to be sued for enforcing local zoning laws is problematic.
“There’s just tons of conflict here,” Kyger said.
Another section of Lingamfelter’s bill says any local zoning ordinance would be nullified if it violates either the Virginia Constitution or U.S. Constitution.
“Paragraph D is basically useless,” Miller said of the section, referencing the fact that any law found in violation of the Constitution is null, thus making that language superfluous.
Supervisor Pablo Cuevas said the legislation would allow anyone with a farm to set up a business with none of the oversight that owners of commercial property are subject to.
“You’re allowing competition with a lot of other businesses that have to go through a bunch of hoops and say the farmers can do it by right,” he said.
County officials also said farm buildings are not subject to building or fire codes, and the legislation would essentially allow such structures to be used as retail space even though they could be dangerous to the public. And again, it puts retail stores in business districts at a disadvantage because they must meet basic building code requirements, officials say.
Rockingham County’s resolution will be provided to Lingamfelter and the Valley’s delegation of lawmakers. The legislation has been referred to the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources.
Contact Jeremy Hunt at 574-6273 or firstname.lastname@example.org