HB1849: Agri-tourism Incentives Act; created.

HOUSE BILL NO. 1849
Offered January 10, 2007
Prefiled January 3, 2007
A BILL to amend the Code of Virginia by adding in Title 3.1 a chapter numbered 3.5, consisting of sections numbered 3.1-18.26 through 3.1-18.32, relating to the Agri-tourism Incentives Act; penalty.
Patron-- Saxman

Committee Referral Pending

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:

1.  That the Code of Virginia is amended by adding in Title 3.1 a chapter numbered 3.5, consisting of sections numbered 3.1-18.26 through 3.1-18.32, as follows:

CHAPTER 3.5.
AGRI-TOURISM INCENTIVES ACT.

§ 3.1-18.26. Definitions.

As used in this chapter, unless the context requires a different meaning:

"Agricultural production" means the production for commercial purposes of agricultural products, and includes the processing or retail sale of agricultural products produced by a qualified farm business.

"Agricultural products" means field crops, fruits, grapes, vegetables, horticultural specialties, and forestal products.

"Department" means the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

"Farm business" means any sole proprietorship, corporation, partnership, electing small business (Subchapter S) corporation, or limited liability company engaged primarily in the business of agricultural or forestal production in the Commonwealth.

"Forestal production" means the production for commercial purposes of forestal products and includes the processing or retail sales of forestal products produced by a qualified farm business.

"Forestal products" includes but is not limited to, saw timber, pulpwood, posts, firewood, Christmas trees and other tree and wood products for sale or for farm use.

"Full service restaurant" means any establishment wherein meals with substantial entrees are regularly sold to the public and that has adequate facilities and sufficient employees for cooking, preparing, and serving such meals for consumption at tables in dining areas on the premises of the establishment.

"Limited service restaurant" means a restaurant serving only individually portioned prepackaged foods prepared offsite by a licensed food service provider.

"Local administrator" means the chief executive officer of the county, city, or town in which a qualified farm business is located, or his designee.

"Qualified farm business" means a farm business designated as a qualified farm business by the Department pursuant this chapter.

"Secretary" means the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry.

§ 3.1-18.27. Purpose.

The purpose of this chapter is to preserve farmland, strengthen the rural economy, and encourage agricultural and forestal production in the Commonwealth by providing incentives for qualified farm businesses to increase investment in their farms and generate ancillary revenue from agri-tourism.

§ 3.1-18.28. Administration.

The Department shall administer this chapter and shall have the power and duty to:

1. Establish eligibility requirements for farm businesses to be designated as qualified farm businesses in accordance with this chapter;

2. Monitor the implementation and operation of this chapter;

3. Conduct a continuing evaluation of the effect of this program on agricultural and forestal production;

4. Assist counties, cities, and towns, in reducing unnecessarily burdensome regulations within agricultural and forestry zoned areas; and

5. Establish conditions under which a designation as a qualified farm business may be suspended or revoked, and provide for the termination of the activities permitted under this chapter.

§ 3.1-18.29. Eligibility for designation as qualified farm business.

Any farm business may be designated a qualified farm business for purposes of this chapter if it:

1. Establishes or maintains within a rural or agricultural zoned area a farm business with a net investment of at least $100,000;

2. Increases the average number of employees employed at the farm business' establishment by at least 10 percent over the lower of the preceding two years' employment. Current employees of the farm business who are transferred directly to the qualified farm business facility from another site within the Commonwealth owned by the farm business resulting in a net loss of employment at that site shall not be included in calculating the increase in the average number of employees employed by the qualified farm business;

3. Has existing agricultural or forestal plantings meeting the minimum acres as set forth in § 3.1-18.32; and

4. Has submitted an application for designation as a qualified farm business to the Department.

§ 3.1-18.30. Application required; notice to local administrator; redesignation.

A. The Department shall review each application upon receipt and shall secure any additional information that the Department deems necessary for the purpose of determining whether the farm business described in the application qualifies to be declared a qualified farm business.

B. The Department shall complete a review of the application within 60 days of its receipt. After review of the application, the Department shall forward those applications that meet the requirements for a qualified farm business to the Secretary with a copy to the local administrator in whose jurisdiction such qualified business is located. If an application is denied, the applicant shall be informed of that fact together with the reasons for the denial.

C. After initial designation as a qualified farm business pursuant to this section, each qualified farm business shall submit every two years to the Department a statement requesting redesignation as a qualified farm business. Such a statement shall be in a form approved by the Department or, upon request of the Department, completed by an independent certified public accountant licensed in accordance with Chapter 44 (§ 54.1-4400 et seq.) of Title 54.1, certifying that the farm business meets the definition of a qualified farm business and continues to meet the requirements for eligibility as a qualified farm business in effect at the time of its designation. Each qualified farm business shall also provide a copy of the statement to the local administrator.

D. Actions of the Department relating to the approval or denial of applications for qualification under this chapter shall be exempt from the Administrative Process Act (§ 2.2-4000 et seq.).

§ 3.1-18.31. Confidentiality of information; penalty.

Except in accordance with proper judicial order or as otherwise provided by law, no employee or former employee of the Department shall divulge any information acquired by him in the performance of his duties with respect to the tax liability, employment, property, or income of any farm business making application to the Department pursuant to this chapter. Any person violating this section shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor. The provisions of this section shall not apply to:

1. Acts performed or words spoken or published in the line of duty under law;

2. Inquiries and investigations to obtain information as to the implementation of this chapter by a duly constituted committee of the General Assembly, or when such inquiry or investigation is relevant to its study, provided that any such information shall be privileged; and

3. The publication of statistics so classified as to prevent the identification of particular farms or agricultural businesses.

§ 3.1-18.32. Agri-business Incentives; permitted activities; local control.

A. A qualified farm business that grows agricultural products on:

1. Fifty or more contiguous acres, but less than 100 contiguous acres, shall be entitled to operate either a limited service restaurant or a facility to provide overnight lodging with of not more than five rooms;

2. One hundred or more contiguous acres, but less than 200 contiguous acres, shall be entitled to operate either a full service restaurant or a facility to provide overnight lodging of not more than 10 rooms; or

3. Two hundred or more contiguous acres shall be entitled to operate either a limited service or a full service restaurant and a facility to provide overnight lodging of not more than 10 rooms.

B. The operation of restaurants and overnight lodging facilities authorized by this chapter shall be permitted notwithstanding the provisions of any local zoning ordinance. However, a locality may establish requirements for the:

1. Resolution of demonstrated conflicts with existing forestry or farming practices on adjacent lands to minimize the adverse impact of the operation of a qualified farm business to adjoining property owners:

2. Establishment of setback requirements for any restaurants and overnight lodging facilities authorized by this chapter; and

3. Direct road access, internal circulation, and parking.

C. Except as provided in subsection B, nothing in this chapter shall be construed to exempt any qualified farm business from other state or local requirements necessary to protect the public health, safety or welfare, including but not limited to the Uniform Statewide Building Code, Statewide Fire Prevention Code, or any program administered by or regulations of the State Board of Health, the State Health Commissioner, the State Health Department, or any local health departments.