For years, Matt Lisignoli's pumpkin patch and corn maze near Terrebonne have been a Halloween-season tradition with Central Oregon kids and their parents. They go there, wander through the maze, pet some farm animals, maybe pick out a future jack-o-lantern or two. A wholesome, non-noisy, non-intrusive good time is had by all.
But now, like Lucy sadistically yanking the football away from Charlie Brown, Deschutes County wants to kill all the fun. It's telling Lisignoli that his operation is a "commercial use" of agricultural land and is threatening him with a $720 fine if he doesn't jump over the requisite legal hurdles to get a permit for such a use.
Those hurdles could turn out to be pretty high. First there are the county fees, which (according to county officials) could run anywhere from about $400 to several thousand dollars. On top of that, as the county explained in a letter to Lisignoli in January, "there may also be building safety and waste disposal requirements related to the use which would not be known without an actual site plan review."
Lisignoli is fighting back by collecting signatures on a petition to the county. The petition makes it clear that by the time all the costs of complying with the county permit process are met, it won't be worthwhile to keep the pumpkin patch in business. And beyond those initial expenses, "an even greater obstacle is the endless regulation and costs associated with operating under [the county's] 'commercial' designation."
Fortunately, Lisignoli isn't alone in his fight. Besides the people who've signed his petition, the Deschutes County Farm Bureau has gone to bat for him.
In a letter to the county commissioners, Farm Bureau President Matt Cyrus argues that "Deschutes County staff has erred in their analysis" and that Lisignoli's pumpkin patch is exactly the sort of temporary, agriculture-related activity that state law specifically allows.
It's hard to dispute that interpretation. After all, Lisignoli is not operating a theme park on his farm. He's not holding rock concerts or stock car races. He's just trying to sell a seasonal farm product - pumpkins - by attracting customers with a temporary corn maze.
At a time when the State of Oregon and Deschutes County are trying hard to protect what remains of the state and county's farmlands and agricultural heritage, should the county be such a hardass about one farmer who's trying to make a go of it by having a corn maze?
Beyond that, as Cyrus's letter puts it, "overzealous citations like these should be avoided at all times, especially during these trying economic times." The county's action gives ammunition to those who cite intrusive and unwarranted government regulation at the local level to persuade people that any regulation at any level, even the necessary kind, should be scrapped.
Deschutes County's crusade against Matt Lisignoli's humble pumpkin patch looks to us like a classic example of a bureaucratic solution in search of a problem. The county needs to back off - and to encourage it in that direction, here's THE BOOT.