By GAIL OBER, LACONIA DAILY SUN
CONCORD — A legislative committee voted last week that a bill that would redefine agritourism and incorporate it directly into the state definition should move on to the full Senate with a recommendation that it passes with amendments.
The bill would eliminate Article VI from the current definition of agritourism of RSA 21:34-a and incorporate it into Article II which will read:
"Agritourism means attracting visitors to a farm to attend events and activities that are accessory uses to the primary farm operation, including but not limited to eating a meal, making overnight stays, enjoyment of the farm environment, education of farm operations, or active involvement in the activity of the farm."
An amendment suggested to the original SB-345 would change the Article II(b)(5) to include the new definition of agritourism in the clause incorporates marketing or selling at wholesale or retail, on site and off site,and where "not prohibited" by local regulations.
The key change in the amendment is adding the words "not prohibited," which means that if a community has no local zoning ordinances, agritourism would still be allowed in areas where the primary use is agriculture, but only according to the state definition.
Should this bill pass into law in its current form, as amended, it changes addresses the 2015 state Supreme Court ruling in [Stephen] Forster v. town of Henniker, which said because the town had no ordinance regarding agritourism, the state law would prevail.
As of now, state law defines agritourism as separate from agriculture. In a 4-to-1 ruling, The state Supreme Court determined that because the state legislature deliberately separated agritourism from agriculture, Forster would not be allowed to host weddings and other agritourism activities at his tree farm. In the court's interpretation, agritourism is not agriculture and is not an accessory use to agriculture.
A second amendment to Senate Bill 345 states that agritourism shall not be prohibited on any property where the primary use is for agriculture.
The proposed bill still leaves it to local governments to require site plans, special exceptions and other land board reviews for any proposed agritourism uses. Last week, Gilford voters passed their own agritourism ordinance, meaning their new ordinance would allow agritourism by right and gives the town of Gilford's land board's control over how it will regulate it.
SB-345 as amended must be approved by the full Senate after which it will move on to the State House of Representatives for deliberation and possible passage. It then goes to the governor's desk for approval.
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