Chesapeake farmer, city go head-to-head over off-roading business


CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — James Lee never saw anything particularly special about his muddy farm roads. That was, until a friend suggested he open up the nearly 300 acres of Bon Bon Farms in Chesapeake to off-road vehicles.

The response shocked him.

“Blown away. I didn’t believe my friend when he said his friends would enjoy it. I didn’t believe his friends when they said everybody else would enjoy it. I still don’t believe it,” said Lee.

Typical operations at Bon Bon Farms include growing hemp and trees. Lee says he has all the necessary agriculture permits. Those permits, he argues, should also cover the new off-roading venture.

Lee says opening up the land to off-roading falls squarely into the “agritourism” category.

Virginia defines agritourism as “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, wineries, ranching, historical, cultural, harvest-your-own activities, or natural activities and attractions.”

“There’s nothing that I can find in this definition that says we’re not agritourism,” said Lee. “I understand that maybe it’s not as traditional as horseback riding, or strawberry picking, which this area knows all too well. But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t clearly fall under the definition.”

The City of Chesapeake disagrees, saying Lee needs additional permits to continue the off-roading business.

We reached out to officials, they sent us this statement:

“The City of Chesapeake has offered to assist the owners of the subject property (Bon-Bon Farms) in the process to seek a Conditional Use Permit for their proposed activity in the A1 Agricultural zoning district. This process allows the City to work with the property owner, while also addressing concerns received from neighboring property owners.

In addition, should the owners disagree with the findings of the City’s Zoning Administrator, they can appeal those findings to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). They may also seek relief through the courts, request a change in the zoning ordinance, or request a change to state code. The City will be pleased to assist the property owners with information on how to exercise any of these options, should they wish to do so.”

Permits are only part of the battle between the city and Lee. The city has a problem with one of the farm’s entrances. An entrance they permitted in 2019.

Last week, the city put up a barrier blocking the entrance.

The reason, according to Lee, was the city said it needed to be a “construction-style” entrance. Lee ordered the necessary materials to make adjustments.

“It seemed like from my end we were trying to work it out to find a mutually OK path forward,” said Lee. “As a show of good faith, I said ‘Why don’t you remove the barriers and I’ll have the rocks dumped.’ [The city official] responded ‘Go ahead and put the construction entrance in.’ So that was as of 4:09 Friday afternoon. I responded ‘OK thanks’ and that was the last I heard. Until this past Saturday when we were arrested. “

Lee says he was arrested by Chesapeake police and charged with a felony when he removed the barrier placed at the farm’s entrance to start work the city had requested.

Neither Lee nor the city could comment on the arrest.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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