Archive for Wednesday, October 16, 2013

County commission sends agritourism issue back to planning commission

Douglas County Courthouse

Douglas County Courthouse

October 16, 2013

The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission will soon take up the task of drafting changes to Douglas County's "agritourism" zoning codes.

County commissioners voted today to send the matter to the planning group after passing a resolution that imposes a moratorium on issuing any new permits until April 30, 2014.

The code, which is less than a year old, was intended to make it easier for people in rural, unincorporated parts of the county to operate certain kinds of tourism-related businesses on land zoned for agricultural use.

But the process commissioners had set up became controversial last month when a Johnson County couple sought a permit to run a large commercial pumpkin patch operation on a 40-acre site in southeast Douglas County.

Nearby residents became upset when they saw plans for that operation that called for, among other things, a parking lot that could accommodate more than 800 vehicles.

The owners withdrew their application, with the intention of resubmitting it later, after county officials proposed attaching conditions that would have reduced the size of the parking lot and tightly limited the size and scope of the business.

Prior to that, according to Linda Finger, the county's zoning and codes administrator, the county had issued six other agritourism permits, virtually without controversy.

But following the pumpkin patch controversy, Commissioner Jim Flory called for a moratorium on accepting any more applications pending a review and possible revision to the existing code in order to clarify when an applicant will need specific approval from the commission, and what powers the commission has to attach conditions to a permit.

"My request for a moratorium and further review of our regulations is not geared toward eliminating a program that's been largely successful," Flory said today. "There needs to be more clarity as to what applications need commission review. The last process taught us a lot about what we hadn't clarified in our original legislation."

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