DURHAM — Tired of seeing tourism dollars and visitors going to surrounding towns, town officials are trying to make it easier for farmers to promote agritourism.
“We don’t have a vehicle that facilitates events,” said Frank DeFelice, chairman of the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission. “If we want to maintain our agricultural brand like Wallingford, Guilford, Clinton... Durham is a town that has not moved forward.”
DeFelice was referencing Lyman Orchard’s pioneering efforts to attract visitors by offering events in addition to pick-your-own produce. He also pointed to the popular wine vineyards in Wallingford, as well as farm-to-table events, tastings, and retail sales.
A public hearing on the proposed regulations was held last week and continues when the commission meets again Sept. 5. Once closed, the commission will vote to adopt or modify the proposed regulation.
The Planning and Zoning Commission has researched regulations in other towns for a year and has had two workshops with local farmers, members of the Agricultural Commission, members of the regional agricultural board and the Economic Development Commission. A lawyer reviewed the language before presenting it to the public.
“It’s a special permit,” DeFelice said. “It allows the the Planning and Zoning Commmission unlimited latitude. They would have to identify what they want to do to get the permit.”
The permits would require town agencies, including health and fire officials, to review the application for potential impact. State police would review traffic impact if necessary.
“We would want those reports from those entities,” DeFelice said.
There are local farms that concentrate on horseback riding, classes and competitions, and the Kalmia Garden at Gastler Farm is converting part of the venue for arts, music, local gardening lessons. It also hosts weddings, art shows, and a readers’ theater.
“They all do different things,” said Janet Morganti, chairwoman of the town’s Economic Development Commission. ”This opens up the possibility of events.”
The Christmas tree farmers can branch into selling ornaments, wreaths, etc. or they can choose to maintain their current operations, Morganti said.
“The state’s definition of agriculture is broad intentionally,” DeFelice said. “It’s designed to facilitate everything from hay to fishing.”
Several farmers raised concerns that people would apply for the special permit for non-agricultural uses and abuse the regulations.
But DeFelice countered the commission would review all applications to determine if it’s agricultural use.
The town is still reeling over the closing of one of its biggest farms, Greenbacker Farm, and realized it needed to embrace agritourism to give farmers alternative streams of revenue.
“I don’t want to see another farm close,” Morganti said.