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Afton commission continues discussion of agritourism

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Afton Planning Commission came one step closer to regulating agritourism uses during its June 3 meeting.

Planning commission has been discussing the topic of how to regulate agritourism businesses - such as wineries, event venues, farmers markets, apple orchards and other types of businesses - for the past several months.

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"In the (agricultural) zone, unless you're doing (agriculture), we don't really allow any commercial activities," City Administrator Ron Moorse said.

City Council directed the panel to discuss agritourism as a way to keep large agricultural properties within the city viable.

During last week's meeting, Planning Commission reviewed the regulation parameters identified by City Council.

"They think these are uses that should be allowed because they feel there are significant benefits," Moorse said. "The most important piece is protecting adjacent properties."

The parameters identified by City Council include: providing a buffer space to adjacent properties; limiting agritourism to accessory uses from a residence; and requiring the businesses to be operated by the occupant of the home. Other regulations include limiting the size and number of events, the hours of operation, requiring a traffic management plan and prohibiting overnight accommodations.

"How do we encourage it and how do we protect the neighbors from the nuisance of it," Commissioner Sally Doherty said. "It's a balancing act."

During the June 3 meeting, Planning Commission discussed how best to draft an ordinance regulating agritourism uses.

Rather than regulating each agritourism use individually, at the risk of leaving something out, Commissioner Adam Smerud suggested drafting a more generic ordinance.

"Let's frame it first and then poke holes in it," he said. "We need to find a practical way of defining what's in and what's out."

Planning Commission members said they should look at drafting an ordinance that includes regulations on lot size, buffers, parking, sanitation, noise levels and a definition of agritourism.

The specific uses could be addressed through conditional-use permits.

"We should start with a general ordinance," Commissioner Kris Kopitzke, who served as chairman during the meeting, said. "That will help us get our arms around it; then we'll delve into some of the more specific problems."

Doherty suggested trying to find ties to current ordinances rather than creating an entirely new set of rules.

Commissioner Dick Bend recommended that the ordinance should be drafted in such a way that agritoursim uses are "permissive."

"I think our current ordinances would prohibit most of these activities," he said. "These need to be permissive, otherwise they're prohibited. This has to be a permissive ordinance with careful safeguards."

Planning Commission will review a draft ordinance at its July meeting.

"I think it's useful to take time to tackle this," Koptizke said.

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Amber Kispert-Smith
Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.
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