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Nothing to 'wine' about

Afton is getting closer to identifying how to regulate what's known as agri-tourism.

The city's Planning Commission discussed the issue, specifically farm wineries and vineyards, during its May 6 meeting.

For the past several months Planning Commission has discussed how to regulate agri-tourism businesses such as wineries, event venues, apple orchards and other types of businesses as a way to keep large agricultural properties within the city viable. Commissioners had focused on the wedding venue aspect, but last week's meeting shifted gears in favor of the farm wineries and vineyards.

Planning Commission looked at a Murray County ordinance regulating farm wineries during last Monday's meeting.

The ordinance regulated small farm wineries, wineries with a minimum parcel size of 10 acres, through a number of requirements including: operation will occur 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. three days per week for nine continuous months out of the year; the number of special events being limited to nine per calendar year; facility rental events being prohibited; special events being limited to a capacity of 60; no food preparation being allowed on site; and a stipulation that 50 percent of the grapes used for wine have to be grown on site.

The Murray County ordinance requires large wineries of at least 20 acres, have a few added regulations including: special events, including facility rental events, to have a capacity of 100; and the floor area designated for wine tasting and retail not to exceed 40 percent of the total floor area of the principal building or 1,000 square feet, whichever is less.

"I believe this is a fraction of what we had hoped to address," Commissioner Kitty Kilmer said.

City Administrator Ron Moorse said he provided Planning Commission with the Murray County ordinance because he felt it included some helpful information to look at, rather than be an ideal ordinance for Afton.

Commissioner Dick Bend said he could foresee farm wineries, if the city should choose to allow them, to be run more as a hobby, rather than a commercial enterprise.

"I've gone through wine country in Europe and it looks nothing like Minnesota," he said. "I can't help thinking that we won't get someone who wants a real wine business.

"As cropland, or as dairy property, Afton is not commercially competitive."

However, Bend said he would still like to encourage farm wineries within Afton as a way to help keep large parcels within the city.

"This is something that we should strongly encourage," he said. "A winery is going to put a lot less noise in the environment than the cows and chickens that I grew up with. We need to accept some adverse impacts for some positive impacts."

Planning Commission Chairwoman Barb Ronningen made the motion during the meeting to begin work on drafting an ordinance to regulate agri-tourism at its June meeting.

Ronningen said commissioners should plan to bring suggestions of what they would like to see from the ordinance.

City Council will also be discussing agri-tourism later this month at a workshop, so their suggestions will also be brought to next month's Planning Commission meeting.

Moorse said some of the areas Planning Commission can look at regulating are: wedding venues, wineries, apple orchards, organic farms, "lunch at the farm" facilities and other similar businesses.

"Once there's enough land involved, I can see things going that way," Commissioner Kris Kopitzke said.

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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