Agritourism Bills Propose Mandatory Definition, Building Standards Exemption

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp offered MACo’s thoughts on two agritourism bills before the House Environment and Transportation Committee on February 28.

HB 1120

HB 1120 would require a local jurisdictions to authorize “agritourism activities” on farms through a local ordinance, resolution, law, or rule. The bill’s definition of “agritourism activity”
encompasses an extensive list of activities, including: farm tours; seasonal petting farms; farm museums; classes related to agricultural production or skills; bed and breakfast accommodations; festivals; weddings; and outdoor recreation activities such as swimming, paintball, and non-motorized off-road bicycling. Delegate Deborah Rey is the sponsor of the bill.

In her testimony, Rey stated her intent to have the bill amended to make the bill authorizing for local jurisdictions. Knapp stated MACo’s opposition to the bill, based on the local mandate and the broadness of the agritourism definition, but noted that MACo could drop its opposition if the bill were made authorizing instead.

Land use decision-making is a primary county government responsibility and the bill would unnecessarily infringe on local autonomy. Counties already have the authority to determine which agritourism activities are appropriate for their jurisdictions. In reaching these decisions, counties consider the effects the proposed activity would have on the primary agricultural purpose of the property, adjacent properties, local infrastructure, and the historical and cultural heritage of the region. HB 1120 ignores these important local considerations in favor of an ill-fitting “one-size-fits-all” solution.

Additionally, the bill’s agritourism definition is overbroad and includes activities that have little or no direct connection with agriculture. For example, water skiing, tubing, paintballing, and mountain biking are all expressly included in HB 1120’s definition of “agritourism activity.” Requiring such non-agricultural activities to be permitted on farms risks undermining their inherent agricultural nature.

The Maryland Farm Bureau testified in support of the bill with amendments that would make local adoption optional and remove the outdoor recreation portion of the agritourism definition. There is no Senate cross-file to HB 1120.

HB 1141

HB 1141 would expand an exemption from the Maryalnd Building Perforance Standards for the construction, alteration, or modification of an agricultural building for which agritourism is an intended subordinate use. Currently, the exemption applies to 11 counties: Calvert, Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Frederick, Garrett, Harford, Prince George’s, St. Mary’s, Somerset, and Talbot. The bill would expand the exemption to cover all remaining counties. Delegate Jay Jacobs is the sponsor of the bill.

Knapp supported the bill with an amendment to have the exemption apply to the remaining counties only if a county opts-in to the exemption. From MACo’s testimony:

MACo believes that deciding whether or not to be subject to the exemption should be left to each county governing body. While it is MACo’s understanding that the bill sponsor intends that the application of the exemption be optional for the counties not currently subject to the exemption, the bill’s provisions do not clearly specify how a county should make the choice.

Therefore, MACo supports a clarifying amendment to the bill that would create an explicit “opt-in” provision by allowing a local legislative body of a county to decide whether or not the exemption should apply within its jurisdiction. This allows counties that want the exemption to have it while those counties that do not want it are held harmless.

Jacobs stated he had no objection to the MACo amendment. Grow and Fortify testified in support of the bill. There is no Senate cross-file to HB 1141.

Useful Links

HB 1120 of 2018

MACo Testimony on HB 1120

Delegate Deborah Rey Webpage

HB 1141 of 2018

MACo Testimony on HB 1141

Delegate Jay Jacobs Webpage