The Orange County Commissioners unanimously approved more opportunities Tuesday night for farmers in the county’s rural buffer to make money from their land.
Carrboro and Chapel Hill already approved changing the buffer, nearly 38,000 acres designated in 1987 for farming and low-intensity housing. The area does not receive water, sewer or other town services, which further limits what can be built there.
The county started looking in 2000 at adding more commercial options for rural farmers. The county commissioners approved changes in May for rural areas outside of the buffer.
All three governments had to agree to change the rural buffer, which is part of the joint planning area.
Some commercial uses, such as daycares and kennels, are allowed now by zoning or with a permit. The changes add farmers markets, small processing facilities and other uses by zoning, while requiring a permit for more intensive uses, such as wineries and farm supply stores.
The rules say new businesses should be low intensity, county planner Perdita Holtz said, and require an annual update to the governments on how they are affecting the rural buffer.
Carrboro and Chapel Hill also approved a revision to require all three governments to hold public hearings and vote on future land use changes, Holtz said. The aldermen were concerned that the county might be able one day to change what’s allowed without the towns’ input, she said.
He’ll accept a minor limitation, Commissioner Barry Jacobs said, if it fulfills the county’s longtime commitment to rural buffer property owners “to allow them to actually farm and to allow them to stay on their land if they wanted to.”
“Some people have have fought for this for 10 or 15 years, so I’m not worried about a little bit of restriction on us to achieve the greater goal,” he said.