Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Agricultural operations bill up in Senate Committee this afternoon
VACo opposes SB 51 (Stuart), which would amend the code of Virginia to make it nearly impossible for localities to ensure activities that occur on agricultural operations do not negatively impact other farms, businesses and the larger community.
The bill is scheduled for consideration by the Senate Local Government Committee today sometime after 1pm.
Please call Senate Local Government Committee members this morning to oppose SB 51.
The patron has the good intention of trying to expand agricultural opportunities. Unfortunately, the unintended consequences of these bills are vast. County elected and appointed officials are some of our Commonwealth’s biggest proponents of expanding the agricultural economy through increased production, expanded agritourism activities and additional value added sale, preparation and processing opportunities. Creating a one size-fits-all land use policy regarding agricultural operations in a state as geographically diverse as Virginia poses numerous challenges and creates inflexibility at the local level. It also curtails local ordinances that are designed to encourage value added agriculture while ensuring compatibility with other agricultural operations, businesses and residences.
A House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Subcommittee met yesterday and reported HB 268 (Orrock) as the vehicle for this legislation in the House after a substitute amendment was passed that addressed some local government concerns but VACo testified that while improved the legislation will still curtail local flexibility.
The bill up for consideration before the Senate Local Government Committee today has multiple components, including a provision that forces localities to allow all usual and customary agritourism activities unless the activity causes substantial impact on the health, safety, or general welfare of the public. The legislation also gives agricultural operations the right to sell, process and prepare food products by-right, unless the locality enacts a restriction that bears a relationship to the health, safety or general welfare of the public. The bills also include a by-right use of any other activities or events that are usual and customary at Virginia agricultural operations, which could provide an open door to allowing any activity depending upon legal interpretations. The health, safety and general welfare language sounds helpful to maintaining some local protections, but a final provision strips localities of all local regulatory tools available to protect the public such as special exceptions, administrative permits and special use permits.
• Local economic developers and land use staff have successfully worked with agricultural operations in all corners of the state to expand value added agriculture opportunities in Virginia while maintaining local authority to ensure this expansion takes into account the rights of existing agricultural operations, businesses and residences.
• The bills would continue the trend toward more land use decisions being made in Richmond, rather than localities, where land use issues are more appropriately worked out
• The bills’ forbid the use of all local regulatory tools available to protect the health, safety and general welfare of the public such as special exceptions, administrative permits and special use permits. They also open the door to many by-right uses with very little local flexibility for local communities to consider the impacts on the broader community.