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Bill Expanding Farm Building Exemption from Building Code Passes Senate

SB 400 (Hanger), in its current form, would greatly expand the farm building code exemption to include existing, as well as new buildings, that are primarily used to host events. Specifically, the legislation defines an “agritourism event building” to mean  … a building or structure located on property where farming operations or agritourism takes place, which is primarily used for holding events and entertainment gatherings open to the public of 300 people or less.  This would allow entertainment spaces that would otherwise have to be built to Building Code standards for the safety of the public to be exempt like farm structures.

Buildings used primarily for farm operations are exempt from building code. Some of these farm buildings have been used for other purposes including farm and agritourism activities such as wine tastings, live music events and other types of gathering of the public. One concern is that these buildings do not need to be built to the building code and the general public attending these events may not be aware of this. There are public safety concerns that may not be addressed. This issue has been considered by farm and agritourism groups as well as building, fire, and other local government groups to determine whether minimum standards should apply to these farm buildings with other non-farm uses.

The study portion of this bill would address those issues by creating a technical advisory committee to promulgate regulations through the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) that limits application of building and fire safety standards to the following items:

  • Requirements for outward swinging doors with panic hardware, emergency lights, and exit signs on designated emergency exits;
  • Emergency vehicle access to the agritourism event structure;
  • At least one restroom with handwashing facilities;
  • Portable fire extinguishers for the purpose of fire suppression;
  • A manual unmonitored fire alarm system with pull stations; and
  • A fire evacuation plan.

While the study considerations above may be appropriate measures for farm structures, they fall short of critical component for suppressing fire, and other structural concerns  that would be required under the building code for an assembly or entertainment space with more than 50 persons.

SB 400 has passed the senate and will now be taken up by the House for further consideration.

VACo Contact: Joe Lerch, AICP

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