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Legislature Weighs into the Agri-Tourism Debate

July 1, 2011

The legislative session just ended was not particularly active for land use issues, but there is news of note.  Commercial uses (e.g., weddings) on rural lands have increased in popularity of late, particularly in counties west of the Cascades.  Through the resulting land use cases, many have observed both a lack of clear state regulations on the issue and inconsistency between counties in the freedom they accord such uses.

If, as expected, the governor signs it, SB 960 will jump into the fray with both feet.  It sets forth a long list of rules for uses that fall under the umbrella of “agri-tourism.”  It is well beyond the present scope to detail the contents of the bill.  For now, readers should simply understand the following basic parameters.

1. The bill sets forth permit criteria that differ for each of the following:

a) A “single agri-tourism or commercial event or activity” occurring within a calendar year;
b) A “single-event license;”
c) Up to six activities or events occurring within a year; or
d) Up to 18 activities or events within a year.

2. These permit allowances do not overlap.  A permit issued under the criteria in subsection b), precludes issuance of a permit under a) or c); a permit issued under subsection c) precludes one under subsections a) or b).

3. Unlike most other land use entitlements, permits issued under the bill do not pass upon conveyance of the land to a new owner.  

Addressing a nettlesome issue, implementation of SB 960 seems likely to prove challenging.  Applying different criteria to different proposed agri-tourism uses will make consistency difficult.  Each county might then be left to explain to wondering rural property owners why one farmland site is allowed to undertake a use far more intensive than that allowed on another site.

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