An open letter to the Geneva City Council, the Geneva Urban Planning Council and the Geneva Urban Planning Council:
It is disappointing to say the least with the methodology and urgency that our elected City Council members are using to determine the rationality of the amendment to Local City Law 165-3 governing the definition of agricultural tourism.
NY Gen. Oblig. §§ 18-301 to 18-303 § 18-301.
Definitions: “agricultural tourism” means activities, including the production of maple sap and pure maple products derived therefrom, visits to farms and vineyards, equine activities both outdoors and indoors, but excluding horseback riding, U-pick Christmas trees, hiking, hunting and other forms of outdoor recreational activities offered to farm visitors, conducted by a farmer on the farm for public enjoyment and/or education, the primary purpose of which is to promote the sale, marketing, production, harvesting or use of farm produce and to enhance public understanding and awareness of agriculture and life on the farm.
Definition proposed by the City of Geneva:
An agriculture-related business, operated as an incidental use to an active agricultural operation, which brings together tourism and agriculture for the education and enjoyment of the public, and which may include: hay rides, mazes of corn, hay mazes, petting zoos (farm animals only), farm tours and agriculture themed festivals and other public or private events. “Furthermore, these businesses can combine tourism and agriculture for public education and enjoyment and therefore the agricultural business must include special events, farm tours, agriculture, outdoor music and other public or private events associated with these events. previously identified retail or wholesale businesses.
1. The first question is “What is the definition of a farm”? The definition in AML §301(11) “agricultural operation” – “…means the land and buildings, equipment, … and practices which contribute to the production, preparation and marketing of crops, livestock and livestock products as a business enterprise.”
Therefore, does the same definition of agricultural tourism apply to a large dairy farm (say over 200 acres) and a property of approximately 3.6 acres, zoned agricultural, with a “historic” building but no “farm” visible?
2. Rather than opening a Pandora’s box to any type of recreational activity on any “farm” in the City of Geneva zoned agricultural, shouldn’t there be guidelines, rules and regulations pre-established attached to events organized under the “Agricultural Tourism” definition? These criteria were put forward and discussed during the last public hearing on the subject, but the recommendation was to first adopt the new definition and then solve the problems that arise from it! Haven’t we learned from past mistakes? “…special events, agriculture-themed festivals, outdoor music, and other public or private events associated with these previously identified retail or wholesale businesses” will grant carte blanche to any type of recreational gathering, including large wedding receptions, outdoor concerts, etc. on any farm in the City of Geneva zoned for agriculture.
3. Even if new and current regulations are enacted or amended, does the City of Geneva have adequate personnel to monitor and enforce violations? Does the infrastructure (traffic patterns, drainage, sewers) support large gatherings in zoned farmland in residential neighborhoods?
4. Why do we put the cart before the horse? Can we not proceed with caution and try to cross all our “T”s and dot all our “I’s” before embarking on this endeavor which could set a precedent in our community. What is the rush? Personally, I don’t see the train leaving the station any time soon. And YES, agribusiness is essential for farmers and the farming community, especially in these difficult times. Support agricultural trade that is “for the enjoyment and/or education of the public, which primarily promotes the sale, marketing, production, harvesting or use of farm produce and enhances the understanding and awareness of the public to agriculture and farm life.” That it is not exploited as a business/entertainment loophole under the guise of agricultural trade.
Geneva aspires to be the “Gateway” to the Finger Lakes. Supporting legitimate agritourism benefits the farmer, their business and the community alike. Let us not use hasty definitions, protocols or guidelines that will fail, but rather employ well-discussed and reasonable procedures and processes that will be fair and equitable for all. Let us remember and learn from our past oversights and embark on this slippery slope with both feet firmly anchored. After all, it’s for the good and safety of everyone involved.
Peter D’Silva lives in the city of Geneva.