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Bedminster okays agritourism use


Completing a two-year process, including two public hearings, Bedminster Township has finalized a new ordinance that provides for a new principal property use for winery/brewery/distillery, and a new accessory use for agritourism. The action was taken as a unanimous vote of the board of supervisors at its Jan. 8 public meeting.

Both the new principal use and the new accessory use were designed as pro-active measures, toward complying with state law regarding permitted uses, while offering the township some measure of control through conditional use, when development applications are made to the township.

Supervisor Chair Glenn Wismer summarized the agritourism measure as recognizing that “farmers are continually looking at value-added ways to run their farms,” but “having some controls so we don’t end up with amusement park” uses.

During discussion, that spirit was especially noted as referring to avoiding more retail-intensive and traffic-intensive activities, in favor of those more directly related to agriculture. All present accessory activities are to be considered grandfathered, while farming continues as a permitted principal use.

Proposals for new accessory uses not listed in the new ordinance could appeal to the township’s zoning hearing board for a variance, rather than have to go through the conditional use process. Asked if a bill regarding accessory uses that was recently introduced on the state level would supercede the new ordinance, Solicitor John B. Rice said he doubted that it would, but “if it does change something, we will revisit” the ordinance.

The new ordinance says that the agritourism accessory use “can only be established as an accessory to a principal general farming, equestrian, or winery/brewery/distillery use,” with operators “limited to the owner of the principal use on the site, his/her immediate family, and no more than the equivalent of 10 full-time employees.”

Within a variety of restrictions, including floor area, sound, lighting, and parking, specific activities allowed include 15 types, such as u-pick operations; Christmas trees; farmers’ market; gift shops for sale of agricultural and agriculturally-related products; cider mills and maple sugaring; wagon, sleigh, and hay rides; petting farms, animal displays and pony rides; and agriculturally-related educational activities.

For the new winery/brewery/distillery principal use, restrictions include minimum lot area; maximum impervious surface ratio; building setbacks; production limits; and others.

Also at their Jan. 8 meeting, supervisors approved a conservation easement agreement of sale for a 97-acre property on Bedminster Road (Route 113) that also has frontage on Swamp Road (Route 313). The $1.362 million sale, brokered by the Heritage Conservancy, is made up of contributions of $541,000 each by the county and state, $180,000 by Bedminster Township, and $100,000 by the conservancy, which also led the effort.