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Rules for barn gatherings still up in the air
Commission to vote Thursday on agri-entertainment ordinance
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Hall County Board of Commissioners meeting

What: Vote on agri-entertainment ordinance

When: 6 p.m. Thursday

Where: Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville

Hall County commissioners debated the pros and cons of a proposed “agri-entertainment” ordinance, including amendments by staff, at the board’s work session Monday.

The ordinance would regulate gatherings at agricultural venues such as barns, among other things.

The amendments to the version the commission considered on June 27 are suggestions for commissioners to review, but they will consider the original version at Thursday’s meeting.

Much of the discussion centered around whether the law was too general or too narrowly drawn.

“I’ve a problem with this,” board Chairman Richard Mecum said. “This is way too general in its scope. I think there’s things on here that don’t require the acreage this particular ordinance requires.”

The county defines agri-entertainment as a gathering of individuals for social, celebratory or entertainment purposes at an agricultural location in an agricultural district. A change to the definition adds “wherein a fee is charged for the use of the venue.”

The ordinance would help regulate agricultural businesses within agricultural residential zoning districts. Under the proposal presented in June, hosts must have a business license for events such as corn mazes, pumpkin patches, wine tastings and fundraisers, even if they’ve been zoned for agri-entertainment.

The building for the event must be at least 200 feet from any property line and parking must be 30 feet from property lines. The draft ordinance also included limiting noise and the number of attendees. The minimum lot size would be 15 acres.

In the marked-up version discussed Monday, several of the conditions had changes, including raising the minimum lot size for an event to 50 acres. The building would have to be 500 feet away and parking must be 200 feet from any property lines. Two additional conditions were added, one requiring a staggered double row of trees at least 5 feet in height as a buffer to the parking area. The other condition cautioned that the proposed agri-entertainment use on conservation land must not violate the covenants of the property.

Commissioner Billy Powell asked about a condition that refers only to private parties and didn’t address public gatherings, although the types-of-events section does list public gatherings. Powell suggested changing the definition to include that the fee is charged by the property owner.

Powell said he wasn’t sure yet what he thought of the proposed ordinance, but he would have an opinion on Thursday. He said he was in favor of the change in the definition he suggested.

Commissioner Craig Lutz said the acreage portion isn’t as relevant as the setback limits. Lutz said people would be able to ask for variances on the setbacks.

County Administrator Randy Knighton said smaller properties could ask for commercial zoning. He said he’s concerned that there might be event venues in the county that don’t have building permits or meet fire codes.

LL Farms in Clermont, which held events in an onsite barn, was cited in March because of similar concerns. The property was denied commercial zoning at the June meeting.

Commissioner Scott Gibbs said he didn’t think the proposed ordinance was limiting, which Mecum argued, and said the owners who made the request last month could come back in six months and ask again for commercial zoning.

Mecum said the law could be narrowed by the event type.

“My question is ‘Do you need a 200-foot setback with wine tasting?’” Mecum asked.

“This is still a conditional permit,” Gibbs said. “It still has to be voted on by the commission. So whatever we do, if we make it with no acreage requirement, it still has to voted on by the commission on a case-by-case basis.”

“Then it becomes very subjective,” Mecum said. “I would rather see something much more objective than this.”

Mecum said he’s not in favor of the original version or the amended one.

“There needs to be more teeth in this, by event, and right now it’s just too wide open,” he said.

Lutz said he hopes they will pass an ordinance.

“Something needs to be done,” Lutz said.

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