By Sean Tubbs

Charlottesville Tomorrow

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A plan to give Albemarle County farmers more options to sell their goods has been endorsed by the county Planning Commission at their meeting Tuesday evening.


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Last year, the Board of Supervisors


directed county planners to study farm sales

following a complaint about a produce stand operated for many years by farmer Nathan Yoder at the corner of Free Union Road and Garth Road. Yoder’s sales were not legal because he does not own the property from which he sold his goods.





This table shows the additional uses allowed under the proposed zoning text amendment.

Click for a .PDF

.


We’ve learned from farmers that their farm is not always the best location for them to sell from,” said county zoning administrator Amelia McCulley. She added that a review of the zoning code revealed there were only limited locations in which agricultural products could be sold.

The Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of a zoning change that would allow farmers to sell their produce at stands operated on land they do not own. The amendment would also permit farmers to sell more products on their land, and would allow farmers’ markets to be operated in more zoning districts throughout the county.

If approved by the

Board of Supervisors

, farm stands could be set up off-site in rural areas, as long as sales are restricted to local produce. Farms with their own stores could be expanded to as much as 4,000 square feet, and owners would be allowed to sell accessory products and non-local produce.  Farmers’ markets could be held year-round, and could be operated in more zoning districts including light industrial and residential zoning districts.





Joe Jones

Joe Jones, the president of the

Albemarle County Farm Bureau

, thanked the county for listening to concerns of farmers, many of whom had not known they were in violation of the zoning ordinance.

“As a group of farmers, we can support this,” Jones said during the item’s public hearing.

Morgan Butler of the

Southern Environmental Law Center

said the changes struck a balance between boosting local agriculture and preserving the rural area. However, he asked why it was decided that non-local products could be sold at farm stores and farmers’ markets.

McCulley said the ordinance amendment originally included a requirement that farm stores only stock local products. However, the agricultural community suggested dropping that provision in order to help farmers break even.

“These are people who have invested in buildings that are open five [or] six days a week as a regular on-going commercial enterprise,” McCulley said. “What we heard from them is that they need the flexibility to fill in other products out of season.”

Planning Commissioner

Duane Zobrist

said he wanted the ordinance to require farmers to post the origin of all produce in order to prevent fraud.

“You might think you’re getting an Albemarle County tomato when it came from Mexico,” Zobrist said.  “We have a lot of very good people in this county who don’t know how to protect themselves from these sorts of things.”

However, Jones said he thought the market would take care of itself.

“Your good sales-people will put up ‘local-grown here in Albemarle,’” Jones said. “If you don’t see the sign up, it’s kind of buyer beware.”

Other Commissioners agreed and the recommendation was not added into the zoning text amendment.

The item will go before the Board of Supervisors on May 5. At the same meeting, Supervisors will consider another zoning amendment

that will allow farm wineries

to hold more frequent and larger events.

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