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Douglas County tinkers with agritourism plan

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) -- After a controversy erupted over a proposed pumpkin patch, Douglas County officials are considering changes to a new policy that was designed to promote tourism in agricultural areas.

County commissioners voted Wednesday to ask the Lawrence-Douglas County Commission to draft changes to new "agritourism" zoning codes. The commission also imposed a moratorium on new agritourism permits until April 30, 2014, The Lawrence Journal-World reported (http://bit.ly/1fFiL5j ).

The codes were intended to promote certain kinds of tourism businesses in land zoned for agriculture use. But they came under fire last month, when residents objected to a plan from a Johnson County couple to run a large commercial pumpkin operation, with a parking lot that could accommodate more than 800 vehicles, on a 40-acre site east of Baldwin City in southeast Douglas County.

The owners, Kirk and Julie Berggren of Overland Park, withdrew the application after county officials imposed conditions to reduce the parking lot's size and limit the size and scope of the business. The couple said they intend to submit the proposal again.

Linda Finger, the county's zoning and codes administrator, said before the controversy over the pumpkin patch, the county had issued six agritourism permits, virtually without controversy.

Commissioner Jim Flory sought the moratorium on new agritourism applications to clarify the permit process.

"My request for a moratorium and further review of our regulations is not geared toward eliminating a program that's been largely successful," Flory said. "There needs to be more clarity as to what applications need commission review. The last process taught us a lot about what we hadn't clarified in our original legislation."

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Information from: Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World, http://www.ljworld.com