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FairfaxFairfax agritourism proposal raises red flags in Great Falls

Fairfax agritourism proposal raises red flags in Great Falls

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Proposed new Fairfax County agritourism rules might lead to more noise and traffic, the Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) leaders warned in a recent missive to members.

The Fairfax County Planning Commission on May 12 is scheduled to hold a public hearing on a zoning-ordinance amendment that would expand opportunities for agritourism, which the county defines as “any activity accessory to an agricultural operation that allows members of the general public to view or enjoy rural activities for recreational, entertainment or educational purposes.”

Among such activities are:

• Farm tours, including educational or entertainment programs, workshops.or demonstrations.

• Harvest-your-own activities (e.g., berry or apple picking).

• Seasonal festivals and attractions such as crop mazes and hayrides.

• Events such as corporate picnics, family reunions, farm-to-table dinners and weddings.

• Hiking, horseback riding and other activities in nature.

• Historical and cultural activities.

• Other activities that the zoning administrator determines as agritourism.
Under the proposed zoning-ordinance amendment, such activities would be permissible on sites with a minimum of 5 acres that already were being used for agricultural production.

The county is proposing to allow bed-and-breakfasts by-right on agricultural sites of at least 20 acres.

GFCA’s executive board has expressed concern about commercial operations in residential neighborhoods, noise from all-day events, waste disposal and food trucks.

GFCA leaders also worried about potential parking impacts on neighborhoods. The county’s proposed zoning amendment would require parking to be located on the same lot as the agricultural operation, prohibit parking on public rights-of-way and stipulate that parking need not be located on paved surfaces.

The county’s proposed amendment also would establish attendance categories for various-sized operations.

Tier 1, for properties with 5 to fewer than 10 acres would be permitted up to 75 attendees per day. Tier 2, with 10 to fewer than 20 acres, would be allowed 150 attendees per day. Tier 3 with 20 to fewer than 80 acres, would be permitted 300 total attendees per day.

The largest category, Tier 4, would apply to agritourism locations with 80 or more acres and be allowed up to 350 attendees per day.

The amendment would not allow helicopter rides, antique/flea markets, fireworks shows, go-cart or all-terrain-vehicle tracks, mechanized amusement-park rides, hot-air balloons, spa services or commercial-restaurant operations requiring Health Department approval.

GFCA leaders questioned whether the attendance limits would be effective.

“The wide range in the number of participants who would be allowed at events would be difficult to oversee and enforce, leaving that process, like the provisions of the recently adopted [county zoning modernization] revisions, to residents of the community to monitor,” they wrote.

Agritourism has become more popular in Virginia in recent years, with new wineries, distilleries and breweries popping up across the state. One possible reason: prominently posted signs warn visitors they are assuming risk by participating in agritourism activities.

“Under Virginia law, there is no liability for an injury to or death of a participant in an agritourism activity conducted at this agritourism location if such injury or death results from the inherent risks of the agritourism activity,” read the signs, which proprietors must post unless they wish to forfeit the immunity conferred by state law.

“Inherent risks of agritourism activities include, among others, risks of injury inherent to land, equipment, and animals, as well as the potential for you to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to your injury or death,” the signs also state.

Formerly the site of many farms, Great Falls is dotted with large and small agricultural-and-forestal districts, whose owners have forgone developing their properties in exchange for tax breaks.

Neighboring McLean is more densely populated and has fewer such districts. The McLean Citizens Association has not taken any position on the county’s proposed zoning amendment, said MCA president Robert Jackson.

The Planning Commission will forward its recommendation about the agritourism zoning-ordinance amendment to the Board of Supervisors, which is slated to hold a June 8 public hearing on the matter.

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