Just as Wagner Farms, 5895 Old Oneida Road, was announcing plans for upcoming performances for the summer and fall seasons, owner Ron Wagner announced his agribusiness that hit an unanticipated snag, namely a city codes issue that instead would force him to cancel the performances — although other events and farm attractions will go on as planned.
City officials said Wagner Farms would have received its full support if the owner applied for the needed variance to build an entertainment pavilion on his farm and followed the proper protocols for its construction.
“A previously overlooked zoning issue for two years — that is long overdue to be updated and changed as ‘agriculture’ — must adapt and change with the time, so must the city of Rome’s ordinances to meet today’s needs, not that of the 1980s,” Wagner said in a released statement. “The allowance of live bands anywhere in an F1 zone — private (home) or business — is not allowed; however, was overlooked by the Codes Department. Wagner Farms was using an alternative allowable use item for the bands under city Ag ordinances.”
Wagner said it was only after a story was published that included all the bands and information about the festivities that the city informed him he was in violation by having bands in an agricultural zone and “they were going to go after us for non-engineered structures on the farm (entertainment pavilion) for the public to be in,” he said.
Chief Code Enforcement Officer and Building Inspector Mark Domenico said under current zoning, Wagner would be allowed to build a structure on the farm to personally support his business — like a greenhouse or chicken coop — but not a structure that would be utilized by the general public.
Wagner said the concerts were generally “not a big money maker,” as it served as “background music” and was more of a “public service” for patrons of events, and that the playing of music actually helped as an “animal control device.”
“We are in a situation where we sit right next to two state shooting ranges, so additional animal control or a bang gun does not work for animal control at the farm, because the animals are so used to the shooting,” said Wagner. “But doing the events with a ‘human scent’ around and sound during the day time does have some effect on animal control” even for a few days following.
Wager said the construction of a solar farm near his property has added to his animal control issues, because it has forced animals like deer and coyote to migrate to his farm where there is a food source, resulting in a substantial crop loss.
“We lost 50% total crops on the main farm to deer mostly, and coyote can destroy corn in one night,” Wagner explained. “Anything that’s green — deer can destroy an acre a night. In 2019, we posted almost $50,000 in crop loss due to deer and coyotes. In 2020, we only lost 5% of our total crop land due to wildlife during the growing season” only because “the sounds of the bands did not travel to that point to prevent the damage from happening” in that part of the property.
“Last year each weekend event was done on a different section of the farm — we’d disrupt the animal feeding for those two nights and it would usually give you 3-4 additional nights of control because they were spooked,” he continued. “Bands were centralized in main the buildings because of convenience, and because it’s where the power source was, so it was easier to let the bands play out there.” But city officials, “don’t want to hear anything or listen to reason.”
While Wagner argues that having an entertainment pavilion and hosting bands is part of his ag business because of its use for “animal control,” and that the city is forcing him to “jump through hoops.”
Domenico said for Wagner to construct his pavilion, he first needed to follow the proper procedures so that it was built and inspected in compliance with building codes. Letters from the Codes Department were sent to Wagner and his attorney, including information to guide him in the process of applying for a variance, but Domenico said the city has received no response. The first correspondence was issued on March 3, and the second on April 13.
Domenico said a letter to Wagner’s attorney included information on the Zoning Board of Appeals application deadline dates and the corresponding meeting dates. The letter, also stated, “The other critical component of the project would be the submission of stamped documents as it relates to the use of agricultural buildings and other structures on the site that will support the commercial activity. Being of this profession, I wanted to again advise you that procuring these services and developing these materials may have an impact on your client’s schedule. As discussed, in the event of success at the ZBA, it is critical that building permits be issued based on theses documents, work be completed as per the approved plans and certificates of occupancy/compliance be issued prior to the intended use.”
Wagner said the loss of the concerts will have a ripple effect with a loss of money for local musicians as well, in addition to the opportunity to bringing tourism into Rome. “The economic impact of this whole thing is probably in the hundreds of thousands of dollars locally at this point,” said Wagner. “We’ll still be open for wagon rides — our new wagon will be here next month (that is handicap accessible) — and I guess I’ll just have to repurpose the stage materials. The sunflower fields, corn maze, sunflower maze, sorghum maze, soybean maze, wagon rides, farm museum, produce stand and other items all go as planned and fall under agricultural regulations.”