BEDMINSTER — The seed is there, but it will be a little longer before a proposed agritourism ordinance allowing things such as weddings and concerts as accompanying uses at farms is harvested.
After a public hearing at the June 12 Bedminster Township Board of Supervisors' meeting, the board decided to table the matter and consider making some changes before bringing the ordinance back for another hearing and a vote.
"It sounds like there are some issues here that ought to be addressed," John Rice, the township's solicitor, said.
Under the proposed ordinance, agritourism would be allowed as an accessory use on farms.
"The principal use must be an existing and operating working farm or winery/brewery/distillery," the ordinance says. "The Agritourism Use must be incidental to and directly supportive of the agricultural use of the site and will not have significant impacts on the agricultural viability or rural character of neighboring properties."
The list of allowed uses include seasonal u-pick operations; Christmas trees; community supported agriculture (CSAs); farmers markets; cider mills, wineries, breweries or distilleries; food sales and food processing for onsite sales; gift shops for the sale of agricultural related products; picnic areas; wagon, sleigh or hayrides; seasonal outdoor mazes of agricultural origin; petting farms, animal displays and pony rides; community events such as car shows or art fairs; educational tours; classes, lectures, seminars or workshops; historical agricultural exhibits; nature trails; recreation related operations such as cross country skiing, fishing, hunting or bird watching; short-term overnight accommodations; kitchen and catering facilities to provide food for only onsite community events or special events; and special events such as parties, weddings, receptions and concerts.
The agritourism uses would only be allowed after a conditional use hearing, Rice said.
"There would have to be plans, detailed plans presented in terms of the operation, the parking, traffic controls," he said.
Resident Jesse Berdinka said he has no issue with agritourism, but does have concerns about some parts of the proposed ordinance and the effects on neighboring properties.
"I want this to succeed for farmers. At the same time, I just want to balance it out," he said.
He and his wife currently hear music and people shouting at weddings held at a nearby farm, he said.
Under the proposed ordinance, special events would be limited to 24 per year. Most of those, however, would be on summer weekends, Berdinka said.
"It may be 24 events a year, but I can guarantee you those 24 events are gonna be when the weather's nice. It's most likely when people are gonna be outside enjoying their yards," he said.
He said he's looking for a compromise so the agritourism is fair to all the residents.
Berdinka also suggested that the number of special events allowed be reduced, at least initially, with the possibility of allowing more in later years if things work out.
Resident Kevin Roberts, who has approval through the zoning hearing board for weddings at his farm, said if noise is the concern, the number of allowed weddings and certain other uses could be reduced without reducing the total amount of special events.
"Maybe you limit the number of noise-making events versus clipping the wings of total events," he said.
Other issues to be considered before the ordinance is approved are comments from the Bucks County Planning Commission, which included how the township plans to monitor attendance at the agritourism activities, Rice said.
Under the proposal, educational tours, classes, lectures, seminars and workshops would be limited to 50 attendees. Community events, which would be limited to four per year and could last two days, would be limited to 5000 attendees, not including staff, presenters or performers. Special events, limited to 24 per year and one day only, would be limited to 250 attendees, not including staff, presenters or performers.
Along with the agritourism accessory uses, the proposed ordinance also adds the new winery/brewery/distillery use to the township's zoning ordinance.
Under the proposal, wineries would be allowed to produce up to 100,000 gallons per year and distilleries up to 50,000 gallons. Breweries could produce up to 14,000 barrels of beer per year.
That's more than 450,000 gallons, which sounds like an industrial operation, not an accessory use, Berdinka said.
"I would not want to live next to a brewery that's making 450,000 gallons of beer a year," he said.
Chris Burns, of AGA Farms, said he put in 300 grape plants three years ago with plans to start a winery in the future.
"We're interested in adding it as another piece of what we already do," he said.
The farm already includes corn mazes, hay rides, pumpkin sales and Christmas trees, he said.
Township rules require that at least 50 percent of retail sales at farms be of items from the farm.
Grapes cannot be used for wine until the plants mature, though, so the township may want to consider allowing wineries to use grapes or grape juice from other sources in the initial years until the grapes grown at the farm can be used, board member Mark Schmidt said.
In order to be classified by the state as a Pennsylvania wine, at least 50 percent of the grapes used must come from within the state, but not necessarily from the property on which the winery is located, Burns said.
"You can have a Pennsylvania winery located in New Jersey if you're bringing in 50 percent of the grapes from Pennsylvania," he said.
No date was given for when the ordinance in its revised form will be voted on. Another public hearing will be held at that time, Rice said.