OLYMPIA — A county ordinance intended to encourage agritourism that some farmers criticized when it was adopted 18 months ago will face public review in a hearing Sept. 4.
The Thurston County Planning Commission has proposed expanding the Agritourism Overlay District, a zoning measure that eases restrictions and expenses for farms, wineries and breweries that want to participate.
The county’s intent was to authorize agricultural landowners to earn additional income by attracting visitors to their farms and ranches. It would also introduce those visitors to the role of agriculture in the county’s economy and the rural way of life.
Scott McCormick, with the Resource Stewardship Department, said the zoning will help preserve farm culture, conserve open space, develop the local economy and increase employment opportunities in rural areas.
He said the proposed expansion will embrace 10 to 15 percent more land than the original district.
Farmer Jim Goché said farmers criticized the overlay districts when they were first proposed, asking why the ordinance was not applied countywide.
“There is broad support for the concept of agritourism and local efforts to promote local agriculture and economic development,” he said. “The ordinance, however, is a different proposition.”
The ordinance was “poorly conceived and badly written,” he said, and it treated farmers unequally.
In a letter to the planning commission, county Farm Bureau President Raul de Leon said the county should review the entire ordinance, not just the overlay districts. The ordinance, he said, subjects landowners outside the districts to regulations and fees not applied to those inside the districts.
“There is no logical or legal reason for applying the ordinance to only part of the county,” he said. “Its current boundaries exclude many farms, notably in the northern portion of the county, which are popular agritourism attractions and are listed on the county farm map.”
The county would be better served by including farms of all sizes and by recognizing charitable and subsistence farming, not just commercial operations, de Leon said. He said charitable farms like the Kiwanis Gardens and the Food Bank project bring hundreds of volunteers and agritourists to local farms every year.
The commission will convene at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 4 at the courthouse complex, 2000 Lakeridge Drive SW, Building 1, Room 280.