(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Celeste Riley and Paul Moriarty to promote agricultural tourism in New Jersey gained final legislative approval unanimously by the General Assembly on Thursday.
“There is a reason why New Jersey is called the Garden State,” said Riley (D-Cumberland/Salem/Gloucester). “In addition to its great industrial past, New Jersey has a proud farming heritage that deserves to be showcased. This bill will give our vineyards a competitive edge and boost our economy by providing guidelines to allow special events on protected farmland wineries.”
In concurring with the Governor’s conditional veto, the bill would also direct the State Agriculture Development Committee to begin a pilot program permitting special occasion events to be conducted on wineries located on preserved farmland under carefully prescribed rules and under certain circumstances. By limiting this pilot program to wineries located on preserved farmland, wineries that are not located on preserved farmland will remain free from any new regulations.
The bill (A-1272) was introduced in response to a municipality prohibiting the owner of a vineyard, which is a preserved farm, from hosting large social gatherings such as weddings and fundraisers. Subsequently, the State Agricultural Development Committee, which administers the farmland preservation program, ruled that the ability to host special events on preserved farms is not protected by New Jersey’s Right to Farm Act, because such events fall outside of the law’s definition of agricultural use.
“We’ve taken great steps to preserve farmland in our state, but in an increasingly competitive economy, it’s important that we give our farmers the tools they need to grow and succeed,” said Moriarty (D-Camden/Gloucester). “Allowing our wineries to entice visitors with special occasion events will help drive our economy.”
Under the pilot program, special occasion events would be permitted to be conducted at a winery on preserved farmland provided that:
- The gross income generated by the winery from all special occasion events conducted for the calendar year together account for less than 50% of the annual gross income of the winery;
- The special occasion event uses the agricultural output of the winery, to the maximum extent practicable, to promote agricultural tourism and advance the agricultural or horticultural output of the winery;
- The special occasion event is conducted on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or federal or State holiday, except that a special occasion event may be conducted on any other day of the week with the approval of the State Agriculture Development Committee (SADC). The SADC may delegate its authority in that regard to a county agriculture development board (CADB);<
- The special occasion event is conducted in: (a) a temporary structure, such as an enclosed or open canopy or tent or other portable structure or facility, and any temporary structure would be put in place for only the minimum amount of time reasonably necessary to accommodate the special occasion event; (b) an existing permanent agricultural building; (c) a farm or open air pavilion; or (d) another structure used in the normal course of winery operations and activities;
- The special occasion event complies with applicable municipal ordinances, resolutions, or regulations concerning litter, solid waste, and traffic and the protection of public health and safety;
- The winery is subject to a site plan review and any applicable development approvals as may be required under an ordinance adopted pursuant to the “Municipal Land Use Law;”
- The special occasion event is subject to the noise standards set forth pursuant to the state “Noise Control Act;”
- The special occasion event complies with any applicable municipal ordinance that restricts performing or playing music to inside the winery’s buildings and structures;
- The special occasion event ends at a specific time, if required pursuant to a curfew established by a municipal ordinance;
- The special occasion event would not knowingly result in a significant and direct negative impact to any property adjacent to the winery; and
- The winery hosting a special occasion event enforces State and federal requirements concerning the legal drinking age.
Under the bill, a “special occasion event” is defined as a wedding, lifetime milestone event, or other cultural or social event as defined by the appropriate CADB, and conducted pursuant to the requirements set forth in the bill.
An owner or operator of a winery found in violation of the bill’s provisions will subject to a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for the first offense, up to $2,000 for a second offense, and up to $3,000 for a subsequent offense, to be collected in a civil action commenced by the SADC.
Additionally, the SADC will, after a hearing, suspend the owner or operator of a winery in violation of the bill’s conditions from conducting special occasion events for a period of: up to six months for a second offense; at least six months, but not more than one year, for a third offense; and at least one year, but not more than two years, for a fourth or subsequent offense.
The bill now heads back to the Governor’s desk for consideration.