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Zoning – Agritourism Exemption – Shooting Activities & Structures

The statutory definition of agritourism – any activity carried out on a farm or ranch that allows members of the general public, for recreational, entertainment, or educational purposes, to view or enjoy rural activities, including farming, ranching, historic, cultural, harvest-your-own activities, or natural activities and attractions – does not contemplate activities such as shooting ranges.

We affirm the superior court’s order ruling that the intervenor respondents’ shooting activities were not statutorily exempt from countywide zoning.

When this case originated, the statutes in G.S. Chapter 153A that exempted agritourism from countywide zoning regulation did not define agritourism. While this case was pending before this court, the General Assembly provided the above-cited definition, adopted verbatim from G.S. Chapter 99E, which governs special liability provisions.

The new definition also says, “A building or structure used for agritourism includes any building or structure used for public or private events, including, but not limited to, weddings, receptions, meetings, demonstrations of farm activities, meals, and other events that are taking place on the farm because of its farm or rural setting.” G.S. § 153A-340(b)(2a).

This statutory amendment, which incorporated verbatim G.S. § 99E30(1)’s “agritourism activity” definition into the § 153A-340 and provided guidance on what buildings or structures might constitute agritourism buildings or structures, provides strong evidence that the General Assembly intended to shield from zoning regulation the same agritourism activities it intended to shield from liability, and that the amendment intended to clarify what sorts of activities it contemplated might constitute agritourism. Therefore, we conclude that the addition of § 153A-340(b)(2a) served merely to clarify, rather than alter, the substance of the statutory farm exemption by providing further guidance on what constitutes zoning-exempt agritourism activities. Accordingly, we rely on the clarifying language of subsection (2a) to guide our interpretation of whether the legislature intended the intervenor respondents’ shooting activities to constitute “agritourism” activities shielded from zoning regulation under the statutory farm exemption.

Applying interpretative canons to the language of the statute, we conclude that commercial shooting activities involving continental shooting towers, 3D archery courses and ranges, sporting clays, skeet and trap ranges, rifle ranges, and pistol pits do not fit squarely within traditional notions of hunting, the definition of a “rural” activity, or the category of a “natural” activity. Even when such activities are performed on a bona fide farm and even when done in preparation for hunting, they were not contemplated by our legislature as types of “agritourism” activities intended to be shielded from countywide zoning under the statutory farm exemption. These shooting activities do not constitute “agritourism” and are subject to zoning.

Affirmed.

Jeffries v. County of Harnett (Lawyers Weekly No. 011-164-18, 41 pp.) (Rick Elmore, J.) Appealed from Harnett County Superior Court (C. Winston Gilchrist & Tanya Wallace, JJ.) Gavin Parsons for petitioners; John Walter Bryant and Amber Ivie for intervenor respondents. N.C. App.

 

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