RD418 - 2018 Virginia Agritourism & Building Codes Review

  • Published: 2018
  • Author: Virginia Cooperative Extension
  • Enabling Authority: Rules of the Senate of Virginia 20(o) (2018)

Executive Summary:

Following the 2018 General Assembly session, the Virginia House and Senate General Laws Committees requested a review of agritourism enterprises and building code application “in order to better understand the issue and its potential negative impact on rural economic development." The Committees asked four questions:

1. Is there a legitimate need to undertake the development of this type of specialized building code?
2. What would be the economic impacts on agritourism and rural businesses?
3. What groups could be impacted by such a change?
4. If necessary what items should be considered in such a building code?

Throughout the discussion, the four review questions were always under consideration. Pulling from data collected and discussion comments, the questions were addressed.

• Is there a legitimate need to undertake the development of this type of specialized building code? Virginia agritourism operations are diverse and complex. At this time, it appears to be premature to legislate the application of existing building codes or to develop legislation for any specialized building codes.

• What would be the economic impacts on agritourism and rural businesses? Requirements for commercial building code compliance for farm buildings hosting agritourism activities may be prohibitive for the majority of Virginia farms and result in the end of agritourism functions and/or the closure of small farms. Ultimately, the termination of one farm revenue source negatively impacts the entire farming operation especially during years of production instability.

• What groups could be impacted by such a change? The major group impacted by any change in building code application would be the Virginia farmer who is using agritourism events and activities to generate alternative farm revenue.

• If necessary, what items should be considered in such a building code? No new items should be considered as part of the Virginia USBC. However, the group requested that discussion on this issue continue to held with agritourism stakeholders.

Because of the conversations held during this review, critical outcomes were realized. Agritourism stakeholders engaged in discussions on significant agritourism issues in an environment where decision-makers listened to the concerns and potential impacts proposed changes would have on Virginia agritourism. Rapport and partnerships were established between agritourism owners and local officials with the hope that conversations would continue. Stakeholders agreed that educational materials would increase the awareness and engagement of agritourism stakeholders in continuing to offer the highest level of safety for agritourism visitors and workers and to build trust and collaborative relationships between agritourism operators and officials.

The highly engaged group were invested in uncovering any opportunity for strengthening the agritourism industry and continuing to provide safe conditions for guests who are seeking a memorable experience on a farm. The stakeholder group asked that discussions continue to be held with an inclusive group of representative stakeholders who would be charged with:

• Developing a definition for an agritourism gathering space that is separate from the current Code of Virginia farm structure or building definition. It would be only this defined farm space, venue, and/or assembly area and not the entire farm that would be considered for compliance with any agreed upon public safety standards.

• Clarifying the specific safety attributes; how the safety attributes would apply to a) existing agritourism business/buildings, b) new agritourism business/construction, and/or c) new use or a change in use for buildings not previously under the building code; and the process for incorporating any recommended attributes within the Virginia USBC.

• Supporting the work of Virginia agritourism stakeholders as the group designs educational materials on a) fire safety practices, b) safe building attributes, and c) general building code resources and the building code appeals process.