A consensus appears to be forming around the topic of agritourism accommodation in Lake Country. At an open house on the subject held last week, the comments gathered suggest that farmers and the residents who live near to them are in agreement that some form of regulation is needed when tourist accommodations are established on properties in the agricultural land reserve.
“Agriculturalists and non-agriculturalists both commented that some sort of control is needed,” said Mayor James Baker. “The agriculturalists I talked to said that they see agritourism as something to provide a working farm experience. Accommodation is not intended to be the sole purpose.”
The open house provided those in attendance with information on the history of agritourism accommodations in the province and in Lake Country, as well as four options that look at how to handle future applications for agritourism accommodations.
The options suggested by staff are to continue to make permanent the current moratorium on new applications. (Council put the moratorium into effect during the summer to reconsider agritourism accommodation in the community after residents living nearby such an operation brought forward a number of concerns).
Staff’s second option is to implement a number of as of yet undetermined zoning bylaw amendments based on public opinion. The amendments could affect details such as building setbacks, length of stay, and the number of accommodations units allowed on a property.
Option three suggests creating a development permit for agritourism. All ALR lands in Lake Country would fall into such a permit area. The effect in controlling agritourism accommodation development would be essentially the same as in option two, however, unlike option two, council would have an opportunity to help shape the policy.
The last option presented at the open house is to require a rezoning of a property on which an applicant wishes to set up an agritourism accommodation. This process would entail a public hearing on each individual property.
“Essentially we’ve presented the four options to the public starting with the least amount of public process and finishing with the option that offers the most public process,” said Development Services Manager, Mark Koch.
The whole issue of agritourism accommodation began in 2002 when the agricultural land commission decided that it would allow up to 10 accomodation units on ALR land as a way for farmers to boost and diversify their income. Municipal council then amended its agricultural zone to permit the new use allowed by the agricultural land commission without any regulations other than those imposed by the commission.
“It was a very simple process. Very little red tape,” said Koch. “An applicant would come in, fill out the paperwork, and as long as the criteria was met we could issue a building permit and that was all that was required.”
Last summer a group of residents living near an agritourism accommodation in Oyama brought forward a list of concerns arising from having such an operation in their neighbourhood. Items such as the ability of infrastructure to handle increased use, length of stay, and activities on the site where discussed.
“The concern is that we don’t want to see the farms become campgrounds,” says Baker. “People worry about having campfires right beside their homes.”