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Cautiously, advisory group weighs weddings for land in Virginia Beach’s agricultural reserve program

BY JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE

VIRGINIA BEACH – The Virginia Beach Agriculture Advisory Commission is still discussing the possibility of adjusting allowed uses on properties enrolled in the city’s farmland preservation program to permit assemblies such as weddings — though no recommendation on the idea is expected to go forward anytime soon.

The agricultural reserve program, or ARP, which purchases development rights to keep land in use for farming, carries certain restrictions for those who enroll in it. Owners of land zoned for agriculture can obtain conditional use permits to allow assembly uses such as weddings and reunions, but such properties enrolled in the program are restricted from doing so.

Changing have been discussed over the past several months, and a Pungo farmer, Mike Cullipher, has sought the option to hold weddings on property enrolled in the ARP. State Del. Barry Knight, R-81st District, introduced a bill [HB 2364] during the recent General Assembly session to include weddings under the definition of agritourism, though the bill was defeated in February.

David Trimmer, the city’s agriculture director, said the bill’s reception included concern about enforcing such a change, and it was unlikely it would receive more more support if it came back next year.

The Independent News first reported the discussions in Virginia Beach in August, along with a request by another farm market on land in the ARP to sell Virginia beer and wine. The latter idea does not have support on the commission, and its members are proceeding cautiously about adjusting uses in the ARP.

Kay Wilson, the deputy city attorney for land use, briefed the commission about prior discussions and approaches to the issue during its meeting in April. Wilson said assemblies would need to be defined as an agricultural use by amending the ARP, so long as a conditional use permit was issued, and there could be restrictions.

“To do something in the ARP, it has to be an agricultural use,” Wilson said. “ … We’re just changing the definition of agricultural use for the ARP and adding in an assembly use.”

“It’s kind of the chicken and the egg kind of thing,” Cullipher said during the meeting. “You don’t know if something works until you have an opportunity to try it.”

Cullipher said he’d like the chance to have options for ARP land that other agriculturally zoned landowners enjoy. He also said he’d like to see the city enforce standards if the idea ultimately goes through.

City Councilmember Barbara Henley and Planning Commission Don Horsley supported the idea of ensuring applicants are the owners of the property and run a “bona fide” farming operation. Both are farmers. 

“I really think we’re going to see more and more of these small parcels that are zoned agricultural coming in to do all kinds of things,” said Henley, who represents the Princess Anne District.

“It could get out of hand pretty quick,” Agriculture Commissioner Jason Dawley noted.

Other ideas discussed included acreage stipulations, and previous ideas suggested events be limited to 12 per year and 250 people per event, numbers also in Knight’s bill.

Discussion included whether an application for a conditional use permit for assembly uses could go before the commission so the body can make a recommendation to the Planning Commission and City Council.


© 2019 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

The Independent News

One Comment

  1. Members of the agricultural f the agricultural advisory committee have land enrolled in the agricultural reserve program. This is a prime example of conflict of interest. Allowing themselves to have wedding venues is another conflict of interest. Competing with farmers that did not prosper from the ARP gives them an unfair advantage. Millionaires can offer wedding venues with less mark-up.

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