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Calaveras County Agriculture Zoning Under Study

By Vanessa Turner

Tuesday, July 5, 2005 10:38 AM CDT

Calaveras County officials this week will get a new look at a set of regulations that would make it easier for farmers to stay in business.

A revision to the agriculture section of the zoning code is set to go before the Planning Commission at 9 a.m. Thursday.

So far, there´s little opposition to what´s being described as the key to survival for agriculture in the county.

The new code provides clarification and, in some cases, lifts restrictions on agricultural businesses capability to diversify their products and services if and when the market gets tough.

The proposed changes would apply to A1-General Agriculture, AP-Agricultural Preserve, RA-Residential Agriculture and RR-Rural Residential zoning districts. A public review and comment period on the proposed code lasted from May 27 to June 27

“It will assist in the survival of the wine industry as it´s known in Calaveras County,” Bill Broll of Broll Mountain Vineyards said.

A new term included in the code is agritourism, which is defined as a farm-related activity that generates income through visitor enjoyment and education.

Examples of agritourism operations include horseback riding, gold panning, and historical reenactments.

The revised code also entails the expansion and itemized description of permitted and conditional uses in the affected zones.

For example more than 40 new uses would be permitted in the General Agriculture zone. They include agriculture employee housing, roadside stands, “u-pick” operations and private special events.

New conditional uses in the General Agriculture zone would include a farmers market, and public special events of fewer than 1,000 people. An administrative use permit, subject to the planning director´s approval, would be required for such uses.

Many items included in the revised code are meant to clear up ambiguity.

Currently, Broll said, the code is unclear as to whether tasting rooms can sell anything other than wine, like openers and glasses.

“These revisions will clarify to make the obvious that it should be allowed,” he said. “If it were not allowed, the tasting rooms would have to close in Calaveras.”

Other changes related to the wine industry would allow tasting rooms on agricultural land without a vineyard.

“The new proposal does not require that tasting rooms be associated with a vineyard,” Broll said.

The reason, according to Broll, “is wineries today, due to expenses, are combining to have a common tasting room. … In order to locate that in a proper place, it may not be on land that´s totally suitable for vineyards. So, instead of planting a vineyard, they would plant whatever n olive trees, roses.”

For farmers who don´t make enough money off of their raw products, the code provides options that would allow them to stay in business.

Supervisor and farmer Steve Wilensky gave the example of an apple farmer, which he happens to be, who couldn´t make money off his apples by being able to produce and sell jellies and jams.

It remains to be seen if there are any opponents to the revised code. One thing is for certain, the proposal completely redefines agricultural operations as they are known today and are being counted on to preserve the county´s rural character for years to come.

“If these changes are not enacted, agricultural land is going to be sold for residential subdivisions,” Broll said. “I don´t think that´s what people want.”

Reprinted with permission from The Calaveras Enterprise