FRESH & LOCAL: York County vs. the Oyster Farmers - Star Exponent: Columnists

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FRESH & LOCAL: York County vs. the Oyster Farmers

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Posted: Friday, May 17, 2013 12:00 am

The FauquierFreeCitizen.com web site currently has a link to an interesting story involving York County and the Virginia Right to Farm Act.  The story was written by Amanda Kerr on the Hampton Roads DailyPress.com web site.  Gregory Connolly has also written about this story on the Williamsburg Yorktown Daily website WYDaily.com.

Here is the story.  Two York County residents, Greg Garrett and Anthony Bavuso, commercially farm and harvest oysters from their rural homes.  York County does not have any jurisdiction over harvesting oysters in the water.  That jurisdiction belongs to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, and both oyster farmers have obtained those permissions.

This dispute is over whether Greg Garrett and Anthony Bavuso are allowed to use their land to facilitate their aquaculture.  The York County zoning czar decided that the county code requires that if Garrett and Bavuso are going to dock their workboats and offload seafood on their property, then a special use permit is required.

Ah, special use permits again.  This column’s readers will remember that Fauquier zoning czar Kimberley Johnson used the requirement for special use permits to put Martha Boneta’s farm out of business.  Obviously special use permits are now the weapon of choice.

Garrett applied for a special-use permit in September 2010, but he withdrew his application in November 2010 when it became apparent that it was not going to be approved.

In January 2011, the Board of Zoning Appeals decided Anthony Bavuso would also need a special use permit for his oyster farming business.  He applied for one and the request was denied.

In July 2011, “somebody” sent the county photographs of workers unloading oysters on Garrett’s property.  That “somebody” is obviously a disgruntled neighbor with too much time on their hands – just like in Fauquier.  Hold that thought, because I am going to come back to it.

York County issued a violation notice to Greg Garrett.  In November 2011, the county made several changes to the zoning ordinance, including the exclusion of aquaculture from the definition of agriculture allowed in residential zones.

In January 2012, the Board of Zoning Appeals heard Garrett’s appeal of the violation notice and decided Garrett was in violation.  With that, both Garrett and Bavuso hired lawyers and went to York-Poquoson Circuit Court.

Garrett, in his appeal to the Circuit Court, argued his property is zoned for agriculture and he does not need a special use permit because aquaculture is agriculture.  He went on to argue that his agricultural activities are protected by Virginia’s Right to Farm Act.

Bavuso's appeal to the Circuit Court stated the county's table of land uses allows agriculture and aquaculture on his property.

Last October, in a ruling that must have surely struck terror in the hearts of zoning czars all over the Commonwealth, York-Poquoson Circuit Court Judge Alfred Swersky found in favor of both plaintiffs and issued a ruling that Garrett and Bavuso did not need any stinkin’ special use permits to commercially farm and harvest oysters.

York County appealed Swersky’s decision to the Virginia Supreme Court, and last week the Supreme Court decided to accept York County’s petition and hear the case.  The case will probably be argued before the Supreme Court sometime after Labor Day.

There is a lot of interest in locally grown food right now.  The number of local market farms is growing, but not everyone is happy to have new working farms as neighbors.  Take Fauquier as an example.

This problem with unhappy farm neighbors has always existed, but it is getting worse with the increasing number of new local market farms.  I used to think that the Right to Farm Act settled the case law on this matter, but it is apparent now that the existing law needs some strengthening if local market farming is going to continue to expand and grow.

Bryant Osborn and his wife Terry own Corvallis Farms in Culpeper County.  His column on fresh and locally grown food runs every Friday. He can be reached at bryant@corvallisfarms.com.

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