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El Paso County to nurture 'agritainment'

August 8, 2017 Updated: August 8, 2017 at 10:16 pm
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photo - FILE - Rowan Hill keeps busy picking carrots at Venetucci Farm on Tuesday, August 7, 2007. (Gazette file photo)
FILE - Rowan Hill keeps busy picking carrots at Venetucci Farm on Tuesday, August 7, 2007. (Gazette file photo) 

New changes to El Paso County land development code will make following the rules easier for providers of pumpkin patches, hay rides and petting zoos.

Commissioners have approved amendments that will add a new land use designation: "agritainment".

"Is this a real word?" asked Darryl Glenn, president of the Board of County Commissioners, when the item was introduced at Tuesday's regular meeting.

The term is a new moniker for an age-old form of entertainment that blends aspects of farming and recreation, county staff members explained. Also known as "agritourism" and "agribusiness," the form of pastime has long been trending in Colorado, where state officials have taken steps to foster industry growth. Census data shows that more than 860 farms in Colorado offered agritourism and recreational services in 2012, accounting for nearly $30 million in farm income, according to the state's Department of Agriculture.

The added land use definition will not only create formalized standards for agritainment, but will also be more cost-effective for property owners interested in hosting year-round or seasonal agritainment activities. The change is expected to save them between $1,400 and $2,400 each in fees, said Mindy Madden, county code enforcement supervisor.

"It's going to greatly simplify the process for property owners looking to establish an agriculturally-related activity on their property," Madden told commissioners before the vote. She added that agritainment activities were subject to the same land use approval standards as amusement parks, golf courses, go-kart tracks and water parks.

Under the amended regulations, effective Tuesday, property owners seeking approval for agritainment uses will only have to apply for a site development plan. Previously, they were required to apply for a special use or variance, which costs more than $4,000.

County code enforcement officials don't patrol rural areas of the county looking for illegal corn mazes to bust, but they do investigate properties that are the subject of complaints. Objections from neighbors have been enough to put an end to some agritainment activities in the county.

Chris Schade, co-owner of C2 Alpacas, held open farm days at his Black Forest property until the county received complaints about the events. He received notice that he was in violation of the code and was forced to discontinue the festivities. Getting proper approval would have cost him more than $7,500 before the code was amended, he said.

"It is important to change it. It makes it more reasonable for us smaller businesses," he said. "I'm a big proponent of land use rights. It's my property, I pay taxes on it, and I should be able to use it how I want to as long as it's something reasonable."

The agritainment designation will be available to lots at least 35 acres in size in certain agricultural, forestry and residential zoning districts. The amended code will limit the properties to 50 vehicles at a time, prohibit overnight accommodations and require building permits for any structures, such as barns or pavillions, that are open to the public.

Regulators are flexible, however, said Nina Ruiz, a project manager for the county's Community Development Department. Property owners who do not meet the requirements may discuss their circumstances with county development officials or apply for an exemption from the rules, Ruiz told commissioners.

The board expressed support for the code tweaks, conducive to what Commissioner Mark Waller called "wholesome family activities." The vote was unanimous, with Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez Jr. absent and excused.

Commissioner Peggy Littleton recalled a recent high school reunion at Anderson Farms in Longmont, which prompted a question about the new rules: Will portable toilets be allowed?

That's up to the health department, Ruiz said.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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