Land-Use Dilemma

By Hannah Hoffman

In August, Donna Delikat faced denial of her request to host weddings and other events on her Yamhill County lavender farm. She sought authorization for 26 a year, which was simply too many for the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners.

The board encouraged Delikat to reapply seeking authorization for four events each summer, after commending her for adhering to the rules when some local wineries don't.

But those rules aren't sharply defined and often prove hard to interpret.

Yamhill County isn't the only location struggling with them. Counties around the state are also grappling with the issue.

But the Oregon Farm Bureau and the Oregon Board of Agriculture have taken note. They have developed resolutions on commercial extension of traditional agricultural uses for legislative consideration next session.

The Oregon Winegrowers Association has also gotten involved, preparing draft legislation at the request of two Salem republicans, Sen. Jackie Winters and Rep. Kevin Cameron.

Current law already makes provision for some farm-direct sales on land zoned for exclusive farm use, according to Jim Johnson, land-use coordinator for the Oregon Department of Agriculture. For example, farms can sell crops raised in their fields at roadside stands and vineyards can serve samples of the finished product in on-site tasting rooms.

It also sets an upper limit for off-site additions to the product line, according to Katherine Daniels, farm and forestlands specialist with the Department of Land Conservation and Development. She said Oregon law stipulates an outlet association with an agricultural enterprise can't generate more than 25 percent of its total sales from incidental items not produced on the premises.

From there, however, the law becomes vague.

Johnson said different counties have been interpreting it different ways, which can give operations in some counties, where restrictions are interpreted more loosely, an unfair advantage, he said.

While Yamhill County boasts an array of farm stands, most of the issues here have arisen over winery operations.

The county typically allows rural wineries to operate a small tasting room, stage one to three events a year and host wine tours, said Assistant County Counsel Rick Sanai, who handles the land-use docket.

The rules aren't hard and fast, he said, nor are compliance and enforcement.

As Commissioner Leslie Lewis noted in the Delikat hearing, wineries don't always seek county permission when they should. And while the county does follow up on violations when they are brought to its attention, its planners don't go out and patrol for them, Sanai said.

Commercial activity at rural farm and vineyard sites often creates tension among neighbors, Sanai said.

In Delikat's case, her neighbors, Jane and Derek Scott, objected to her plan to host weddings and other events. They were concerned about noise, traffic and parking, among other things.

"For every farmer who wants to do these activities, I'll show you 10 that don't want to farm next to them," Johnson said.

“Local farmers sometimes feel wineries and vineyards get special treatment because they represent a booming tourism industry,” Sanai said. “That makes the issue particularly contentious.”

What's unfolding in Yamhill County is also happening around the state. The Oregon Board of Agriculture articulated its view this way in a resolution adopted by unanimous vote on Dec. 16: "Be it resolved (that the board) does not support the use of agricultural lands for activities related to entertainment and tourism, and other events, except under strictly defined circumstances."

Among "strictly defined circumstances" cited by the board are compatibility with other farm and ranch operations in the area and direct correlation between the events and the "commercial farm use or processing activities occurring on a farm or ranch operation."

Both the Oregon Farm Bureau and Oregon Board of Agriculture also want to clarify that any such activities should be secondary to the main use of the land in question, not primary.

The winery association has yet to firm up the language of its proposed legislation, but is hoping to produce something capable of earning broad support.

"Speed isn't the issue," a spokesman said. "The question is the quality of the consensus." 

Hannah Hoffman is a reporter for the News-Register in McMinnville.

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