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County commissioners approve agritourism study

October 31, 2018 GMT

MOUNT VERNON — The Skagit County Board of Commissioners approved a study Monday that will look into the potential impacts of agritourism in the county.

Beginning in January 2019, the study — which is set to span 18 months to two years — will identify stakeholders and facilitate conversation and public engagement.

Stakeholders and planning staff will then propose amendments to the county Comprehensive Plan, land use map and development code to address agritourism.

The study was recommended in lieu of passing a county code amendment requested by Roger Wechsler of Samish Bay Cheese. The code amendment would have allowed farms to offer limited on-site food service.

The decision to do a study came about after talking to others in the agriculture community, Senior Planner Stacie Pratschner said.

The study will address all forms of agritourism, she said. That could include uses such as wedding venues and temporary event spaces.

“I never want to see something that’s going to take two years to work though, but I think it’s important to have this conversation now,” Commissioner Lisa Janicki said. “I thought this was a good solution.”

Janicki said she hopes the study can find a balance between small farms that can use agritourism to be financially sustainable and those working to keep farmland in production and traffic at a minimum.

“I think some of the ag community wants to have more (agritourism) and some of the ag community says ‘We’ve got too many cars driving around anyway, we don’t want any more cars driving around,’” Commissioner Ron Wesen said. “So those are the different sides and one of my concerns is spending 18 months on this and you still have a split.”

Wesen also highlighted the need for enforcement of any code that results from the study. The county has a hard time enforcing the code in place today, he said.

Pratschner confirmed the study will look into ways to enforce any changes to county code.

In 2020, the planning commissioners and county commissions will then review and potentially adopt any changes.

“There’s not 100 percent agreement on what ag would like to see,” Commissioner Ken Dahlstedt said. “So I think hopefully having an analysis and trying to get the ag community to come together will be really helpful for us.”