A Citrus County code hearing officer ruled Wednesday that a state law designed to shield agritourism from local regulations includes weddings but not receptions.
The difference is significant to Gregory Williams, whose Williams LTC Inc. owns Lakeside Ranch between Hernando and Inverness that was cited by the county for having an event and resort business in a low-intensity lakes district.
The county did not ask code special master Gregg Brennan to fine Williams because the alleged violation has already been abated. Williams last hosted a wedding on the property May 6 and has stopped marketing the property for weddings until the legal matter is cleared up.
Williams, a semi-retired real estate attorney, and his wife operate Lakeside Ranch, adjacent to the Lakeside Country Club. Until the code compliance case arose, Williams offered the site for rustic weddings, based on a 2016 law that Williams says includes wedding ceremonies as agritourism.
The law forbids cities and counties from enforcing ordinances against agritourism activities.
The county was called in by complaints from area residents about noise from bands or disc jockeys during wedding receptions.
Even as the county code case was pending, Williams sued the county, asking a judge to determine whether the ceremonial term in the law includes receptions.
He said in an interview Wednesday that a reception is an extension of a wedding and hands off for local land-use enforcement.
“They stipulated the wedding ceremony is agritourism,” Williams said. “The horse is out of the barn. They can’t limit it. The reception is as much a ceremonial activity as the wedding.”
The state doesn’t stop the county from enforcing off-site violations, such as the noise ordinance. He said that’s where the county should focus.
“Basically they want to turn the music off,” he said.
County Attorney Denise Dymond Lyn said Brennan ruled that the wedding ceremony and reception are separate events.
Although the case that was pending against Williams no longer exists, Lyn said Williams is on notice that the special master ruled wedding receptions as a business are not allowed on his zoned property.
“I can’t answer specifically what’s going to happen.” Lyn said. “Time will show.”
Williams said other counties, including Hernando, have thriving agritourism ranches that are beneficial to the local economy.
Williams has stopped marketing the ranch for weddings, though he says they usually don’t occur there in the summer anyway. And he does not plan to restart marketing until after getting direction from the courts.
But, he said, he isn’t dropping the issue.
“We’re going to keep fighting,” Williams said. “If someone makes a complaint they’ll file another case and the whole process will start over again.”
Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or email@example.com.