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Posted January 23, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Board opposes change to farm laws

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK - Shenandoah County leaders joined the opposition against a proposed change to Virginia's Right to Farm Act.

The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on Tuesday to adopt a resolution in opposition to House Bill 1430 that seeks to amend farm legislation.

The bill, sponsored by Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodsbridge, expands the definition of agricultural operations to include farm-to-business and farm-to-consumer sales. Art, literature, artifacts, furniture, food, beverages and other items incidental to the operation but constitute less than the majority of production, sales or annual revenue become included in the operation under the bill. The legislation also allows a proprietor to seek legal action against a locality or official for violations of the Right to Farm Act.

Supervisors tried to distinguish the aim of the resolution from their support of the Right to Farm Act and agriculture. Vice Chairman Dennis Morris noted his feelings on the bill.

"My personal thoughts are that it has some good things and it has some not-so-good things as the bill's introduced," Morris said.

The county plans to include comments made on the bill by Zoning Subdivision Administrator Joyce Fadeley and Director of Community Development Brandon Davis with the resolution.

County Administrator Douglas Walker clarified for the board that the bill before the House of Delegates seeks to amend the Right to Farm Act. The resolution expresses opposition to that bill and the proposed amendment.

"The focus is not on the right to farm, it was on the ... usurping of local ability to make these decisions at the local level appropriate within Shenandoah County, at least in our case," Walker said.

As the administrator explained, counties address agriculture in different ways but the power to do so lies with the locality.

"You know better than anyone how much you have done and how open Shenandoah County is to interpreting the Right to Farm Act and the ability of farmers to do all of those activities they possibly can," Walker said. "This seems to be big over-reach or reaction to one specific issue, one specific incidence in one specific county."

Supervisor Steven Baker described Shenandoah County as "ag-friendly" and the locality does what it can to enhance agriculture. Some localities require a permit to conduct some agricultural activities that Shenandoah County allows by right, Baker said.

But the resolution goes too far in its expressed opposition to the proposed amendment to the state law, according to Baker. The supervisor suggested the board draft its own, more localized resolution.

"There's some good things in this [bill] and there are some things in it that I don't like at all," Baker said.

Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli alerted the board that another bill before the legislature also appears to undercut local authority over farm wineries. The bill seeks to establish certain hours of operation for events held at farm wineries. Baroncelli suggested the board add House Bill 2142 to the resolution.

"There's another bill that needs to stay at the local level," Baroncelli said.

Walker advised the board that House Bill 1430 comes up in committee on Jan. 28. The farm wineries bill comes before a committee this Thursday, Baroncelli said. The board did not add the bill Baroncelli referenced.

Morris noted after the vote on the resolution that the board should look at the bill Baroncelli mentioned. Supervisors continued to comment on the resolution and the pertinent bill.

"I really feel that we're able to do things in this county that other counties can't," Baker added. "It's not uniform. That's what's really put us in this predicament."

Supervisor John "Dick" Neese explained the resolution states opposition to House Bill 1430 in its entirety.

"I think we need to leave it up to local control," Neese said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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