BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County is preparing to change some of the rules regarding how the owners of agricultural land can use their property.
The regulations need to be updated, according to the county staff, partly because of the changing business of agriculture and partly to put to use some lessons learned in recent years.
The proposed changes, for which a public hearing has been scheduled Tuesday, will primarily affect roadside retail stands, wineries, the spreading of domestic septage on land and the growing interest in new farming technologies such as hydroponics.
For the owners of agricultural land who want to sell agricultural products from their property, the proposed rules will make that easier.
Currently, a landowner must go through a Planning and Zoning Commission hearing to obtain a special exception use permit to sell the products they are growing on their land at a roadside stand on site. There is no current provision for selling agricultural products grown or produced elsewhere.
Under the proposal, selling one's own agricultural products on site would become a right and would no longer require a permit or a hearing. For the sale of products grown elsewhere, a property owner would need to seek a conditional use permit from the Planning and Zoning Commission.
The rules would also be eased for those who want to have a winery or distillery on an agricultural site. Currently, the use is only allowed on tracts 20 acres or larger; the county planning staff is proposing dropping the acreage requirement.
That move would accommodate the recent trend on having wineries and craft distilleries on smaller parcels, Ron Pianta, assistant county administrator for planning and development, told county commissioners during their initial public hearing on the ordinance changes.
Aquaculture on agricultural land is defined in the new rules for the first time, and specialty farms including hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics are also added to the allowable agricultural uses.
While running a fruit stand or growing blueberries for wine will be easier under the changes, the spreading of domestic septage on land will be subject to tighter rules.
The Health Department, rather than the county's Planning Department, issues the permits for land-spreading, and the activity is regulated by the Health Department. But Pianta said the county coordinates with health officials and they are aware of the new regulations the county staff is recommending.
When Pianta presented the changes to the Planning and Zoning Commission in October, he explained that the new rules were requested by the County Commission after issues were raised by some county residents who complained about septage-spreading operations.
Under the new rules, only parcels larger than 40 acres would be eligible for the spreading of septage, which is defined as the liquids and solids removed from a septic tank cesspool or portable toilet.
While a 100-foot setback from other properties was required previously, the new rules would require a 200-foot setback.
Another change would be that the spreading could only happen on land that is zoned exclusively for agriculture. Current rules allow the spreading on agricultural residential property, and it has been residents near land-spreading operations who have raised issues about the smell and flies.
Also required if the new rules are approved would be an underlying "rural" designation for the site on the county's future land-use map.
During the review by the Planning and Zoning Commission, members raised questions about whether 40 acres was the right size or if an even larger parcel should be required. Pianta said setting the rules is a balancing act, and that the county set rules that would, in effect, prohibit the land use.
The new rules would not apply to any current land-spreading operations.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.