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Forsyth County updates ordinances to boost agritourism

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FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — The Forsyth County Commission voted to update its ordinances related to agritourism July 8 in a move it hopes will allow farms to stay economically viable.

The board voted unanimously, with Commissioner Molly Cooper absent, to update the county’s agritourism definition and related regulations that will give farmers added abilities to run supplementary ventures on their properties.

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The updated ordinance allows for farmers to receive an agritourism use-permit provided their property is zoned as an agricultural district. The property must be at least 20 acres, and the agritourism offerings must relate to or support the agricultural activities taking place on the farm.

The county’s new definition deletes a requirement that visitors to a farm must be charged admission. The updated language states an agritourism “allows the public to visit the farm for education, entertainment, relaxation, hospitality, shopping or dining.”

County Manager Kevin Tanner said some examples of uses that would be allowed for any property given agritourism status include a restaurant on the property selling food grown on the farm, Christmas tree sales or a petting zoo.

Commissioners were on board with the regulations proposed by city staff, but two issues were discussed at length — the 20-acre minimum property size requirement and a proposal banning overnight guests on agritourism properties.

Commissioner Todd Levent suggested the county consider lowering the property size threshold to 10 acres, arguing the county’s growth is bound to shrink farms. The board also discussed the prohibition of overnight guests, specifically relating to whether it should allow overnight RV sites like those offered on the Harvest Hosts app. The company allows RVs to stay on farms, usually without any utility hookups and for free provided they purchase items from the farm, according to a public commenter during the meeting.

Tanner said the new ordinance does not include an outright ban on overnight guests or that an agritourism farm must be 20 acres, and the County Commission could approve variances for a smaller farm.

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He said the ordinance would allow farmers of larger properties to add other uses on their farm, such as a petting zoo, without having to go before the county for approval. Meanwhile, it would allow the county to review plans for agritourism activities on smaller farms to minimize potential impacts to neighbors.

“It also doesn’t prevent overnight guests,” Tanner said. “If someone wants to have overnight guests, they can come in and get a special events conditional use on their property for agriculture, they can have overnight guests. It does allow (the County Commission) the opportunity to make sure that you and the folks who live in the area are okay with that first.”

After added discussion, the board voted to move ahead with the ordinance as written. However, several commissioners said they would like to reconsider the regulations if they see a trend of smaller properties applying for agritourism status, or if owners come forward wanting to allow overnight guests.

Several people spoke in favor of the updates, including State Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black.

Reach Joe Parker at 770-847-8334. Follow him on Twitter @joeparkerga.

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