Agri-tourism accomodation: weeding out the unforeseen implications

The concept of agri-tourism is a relatively new idea. Economically, it’s purpose is to enable farmers to supplement their farm income by providing agricultural experiences to tourists.

With vast farmlands located within the community, Lake Country would seem to be a good candidate for these kinds of activities. With that in mind, council passed zoning amendments several years ago that allow tourist accommodation on properties with farm status.

The first of these RV campgrounds are now set to open in Oyama this summer and it’s causing some unrest in the ward. Residents who live near the RV parks fear that the bylaws are going to drastically change the character of their neighborhoods.

At last weeks council meeting several Oyama residents voiced their concerns to their elected representatives.

“I’ve started a petition and about 95 per cent of the people I’ve talked to were happy to sign it,” Nancy Netting told council. “The consensus is that people have invested too much in their homes and we just don’t want to live next to a trailer park.”

Another resident, Paul Kulig, believes the campgrounds could affect enrolment at Oyama Traditional School to a degree that might force the school district to consider closing the school again.

“There will be more traffic on the roads and it will be a safety issue. Parents who choose to send their children to a traditional school won’t want their kids so close to those trailer parks,” said Kulig.

Netting says that the community doesn’t mind accommodation on farms during the agricultural season. The concern is that the bylaws allow the RV campsites to exist year round.

The maximum length of stay is limited to 90 days, but Netting points out that there is nothing to stop the occupants of two units on different farms from trading spaces.

Another concern residents expressed relates to the loss of actual farming activity to make room for accommodation sites. While farm status is required to set up a campsite on an agricultural property, weaknesses in current provincial legislation would make it easy for farmers to stop agricultural production, but continue to operate their campgrounds.

At the council meeting Director of Development Services, Mike Riley, told council that if a property had farm status and farming stopped after setting up a campground, then the campground becomes a non-conforming use. Under provincial legislation, non-conforming uses are permitted in municipalities.

Coun. Barbara Leamont identified another complication with the agricultural campgrounds.

“Agricultural properties pay for their water at a reduced rate. The community supports that but I think residents would be unlikely to support subsidizing water for what is essentially a commercial operation on agricultural land,” said Leamont.

The agri-tourism issues were first brought to council’s attention at a meeting last month. At that time, council asked District staff to prepare some recommendations to help deal with the residents concerns.

The recommendations presented and given first reading last week include: increased buffering requirements including planted vegetation and a solid fence, and a 15 metre setback for agri-tourism accommodations.

With urging from Netting, council is also considering limiting the operation of agri-tourism accommodations to the tourism season (likely May to October).

Staff will now gather community input on the issues before making revisions to the recommendations and presenting them to council for further readings.

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