Zoning

Wedding sign
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, October 07th, 2020

When does the business of hosting weddings on a farm qualify as “agritourism” under Ohio law?  That was the question faced by Ohio’s Second District Court of Appeals in a legal battle between Caesarscreek Township and the owners of a farm property in Greene County.  The answer to the question is important because local zoning can’t prohibit the hosting of weddings and similar events if they fall under Ohio’s definition of “agritourism.”  Those that don’t qualify as “agritourism” are subject to local zoning prohibitions and regulations.  According to the court’s recent decision, the determination depends largely upon the facts of the situation, but merely taking place on an agricultural property does not automatically qualify a wedding or event as “agritourism.”

The case regards the Lusardis, who own a 13.5 acre property in Caesarscreek Township containing a pole barn and outbuilding, a one-acre pond, several acres of woods, and an eight acre hayfield on which the Lusardis had produced hay for several years.  Their plan was to offer corn mazes, hayrides and celebratory events like weddings and receptions on the property.  To do so, the Lusardis had to demonstrate to the township’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) that their activities fit within Ohio’s definition of “agritourism” and thus must be allowed according to Ohio law.   That definition in ORC 901.80 states:

“Agritourism means an agriculturally related educational, entertainment, historical, cultural, or recreational activity, including you-pick operations or farm markets, conducted on a farm that allows or invites members of the general public to observe, participate in or enjoy that activity.”

In applying the definition of agritourism to its local zoning, Caesarscreek Township requires an agritourism provider to explain how the “educational, entertainment, historical, cultural or recreational” activities it plans to offer are “agriculturally related” to the property and the surrounding agricultural community.  In their agritourism application with the township, the Lusardis explained that guests could use the property to celebrate an agriculturally themed event, enjoy the scenery, hay fields and woods, learn about plants and wildlife, have bonfires, play corn hole, fish, and get married outside, in the woods, or in the hayfield.  The township zoning inspector, however, testified to the BZA that he did not see a relationship between weddings and receptions and the Lusardi property itself.  A wedding or reception would not have a “basic relationship” to the existing agricultural use of the property or the surrounding area and the agricultural use of the property was incidental, at best, to the wedding and reception business, argued the zoning inspector.

The township BZA agreed with the zoning inspector.  It determined that the Lusardi’s corn maze and hayride activities qualified as agritourism, but held that any celebratory events such as weddings would not be “agriculturally related” to the property and thus did not fit within the definition of agritourism and could not take place on the property.  The Lusardis appealed the BZA’s decision to the Greene County Court of Common Pleas, whose duty under Ohio law was to determine whether the BZA’s conclusion was “unconstitutional, illegal, arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable or unsupported by the preponderance of substantial, reliable, and probative evidence on the whole record.”  The common pleas court found the BZA’s conclusion reasonable and upheld the decision.  The BZA’s determination that weddings don’t bear a general relevance to agriculture was understandable, whereas corn mazes and hay rides do bear a reasonable relationship to agriculture, the court stated.

The Lusardis appealed the common pleas court decision to the Ohio Court of Appeals.  Its duty in reviewing the case was to determine whether the common pleas court had abused its discretion by making a judgment on a question of law that is “unreasonable, arbitrary or unconscionable.”  The appellate court concluded that the common pleas court had not abused its discretion by affirming the BZA decision.  Agreeing that it was reasonable for the BZA to conclude that the celebratory events were not sufficiently related to the agricultural property, the court stated that “just because an activity is on agricultural property does not make it “agritourism” and is not, by itself, enough to make the activity “agriculturally related.” 

The “what does ‘agriculturally related’ mean?” question is one we’ve pondered since the Ohio legislature created the definition of agritourism in 2016.   An important rule to draw from this case is that the answer must be made on a case-by-case basis.  The Lusardis asked the court of appeals to decide whether any celebratory event on an agricultural property would be agriculturally related and would therefore constitute “agritourism” as a matter of law, but the court refused to do so.  “Whether a particular activity constitutes “agritourism” is an issue that shades to gray quite quickly,” stated the court.  “Given the great variety of factual situations, we decline to rule on whether celebratory events constitute “agritourism” as a matter of law.”

Also noteworthy is the court’s attention to the BZA’s analysis of the activities that were to take place on the Lusardi property.  The BZA pointed to a lack of evidence that any crops or flowers grown on the property would be used in the events.  Also remiss was evidence that the only agricultural crop grown on the property—hay—was somehow connected to the celebratory events that would take place.  The court observed that these evidentiary flaws supported the BZA’s conclusion that the Lusardis were proposing an event venue with an incidental theme rather than an agricultural activity with an incidental event. 

Wedding barn issues have been a cause of controversy in recent years.  The Lusardi v. Caesarscreek Township decision follows an Ohio Supreme Court case earlier this year regarding whether a wedding barn fit within the agricultural exemption from zoning for buildings and structures used “primarily for vinting and selling wine.”  In that case, the Supreme Court determined that making and selling wine was the primary use of the barn and that weddings and events were incidental, yet were related to the production because event guests had to purchase the wine produced at the farm.  Taken together, these cases illustrate the importance Ohio’s agricultural zoning exemption places on production activities.  Where agricultural goods are being produced and sold, additional incidental activities such as celebratory events that are related to agricultural production will likely fall under the agricultural exemption.  But as the Lusardi case illustrates, local zoning may prohibit celebratory events that don’t have a clear connection to agricultural production and instead appear to be the primary rather than incidental use of the property.

Read the case of Lusardi v. Caesarscreek Township Board of Zoning Appeals here.

USDA and National Agricultural Law Center logos

By: Ellen Essman, Wednesday, September 09th, 2020

Despite the fact that “pumpkin spice” everything is back in stores, it is still summer, and if you’re anything like me, you’re still dealing with weeds. In fact, we have been receiving many questions about noxious weeds lately.  This blog post is meant to be a refresher about what you should do if noxious weeds sprout up on your property.

What are noxious weeds?

The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) is in charge of designating “prohibited noxious weeds.”  The list may change from time to time, but currently, noxious weeds include:

  • Shatter cane (Sorghum bicolor)
  •  Russian thistle (Salsola Kali var. tenuifolia).
  • Johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense ).
  •  Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa).
  • Grapevines (Vitis spp.), when growing in groups of one hundred or more and not pruned, sprayed, cultivated, or otherwise maintained for two consecutive years.
  • Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense ).
  • Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum).
  •  Cressleaf groundsel (Senecio glabellus).
  • Musk thistle (Carduus nutans).
  • Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).
  • Mile-A-Minute Weed (Polygonum perfoliatum).
  • Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum).
  • Apple of Peru (Nicandra physalodes).
  • Marestail (Conyza canadensis)
  • Kochia (Bassia scoparia).
  • Palmer amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri).
  • Kudzu (Pueraria montana var. lobata).
  • Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum).
  • Yellow Groove Bamboo (Phyllostachys aureasculata), when the plant has spread from its original premise of planting and is not being maintained.
  • Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis).
  • Heart-podded hoary cress (Lepidium draba sub. draba).
  • Hairy whitetop or ballcress Lepidium appelianum).
  • Perennial sowthistle (Sonchus arvensis).
  • Russian knapweed (Acroptilon repens).
  • Leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula).
  • Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium).
  • Serrated tussock (Nassella trichotoma).
  • Columbus grass (Sorghum x almum).
  • Musk thistle (Carduus nutans).
  • Forage Kochia (Bassia prostrata).
  • Water Hemp (Amaranthus tuberculatus).

The list of noxious weeds can be found in the Ohio Administrative Code section 901:5-37-01. In addition to this list, Ohio State has a guidebook that will help you identify noxious weeds in Ohio, which is available here.  It may be helpful to familiarize yourself with the weeds in the book, so you can be on the lookout for noxious weeds on your property.

When am I responsible for noxious weeds?

The Ohio Revised Code addresses noxious weeds in different parts of the code. When it comes to noxious weeds on the property of private individuals, there are two scenarios that may apply: noxious weeds on private property, and noxious weeds in line fence rows.  

 Noxious weeds on your property

If your property is located outside of a municipality, a neighbor or another member of the public can inform the township trustees in writing that there are noxious weeds on your property. If this happens, the township trustees must then turn around and notify you about the existence of noxious weeds. After receiving a letter from the trustees, you must either destroy the weeds or show the township trustees why there is no need for doing so. If you do not take one of these actions within five days of the trustees’ notice, the township trustees must cause the weeds to be cut or destroyed, and the county auditor will assess the costs for destroying the weeds against your real property taxes.  If your land is in a municipality, similar laws apply, but you would be dealing with the legislative authority, like the city council, instead of township trustees.

What if you rent out your land out to be farmed or otherwise?  Are you responsible for noxious weeds on your property in that situation?  The answer is probably.  The law states that the board of township trustees “shall notify the owner, lessee, agent, or tenant having charge of the land” that they have received information about noxious weeds on the property (emphasis added).  Furthermore, the law says that the “person notified” shall cut or destroy the weeds (or have them cut or destroyed).  In all likelihood, if you own the land, you are going to be the person who is notified by the trustees about the presence of weeds.  If you rent out your property to be farmed or otherwise, you may want to include who is responsible for noxious weeds in the language of the lease.    

Noxious weeds in the fence row

The “line fence law” or “partition fence law” in Ohio requires landowners in unincorporated areas to cut all noxious weeds, brush, briers and thistles within four feet and in the corners of a line fence. A line fence (or partition fence) is a fence that is on the boundary line between two properties. If you fail to keep your side of the fence row clear of noxious weeds and other vegetation, Ohio law provides a route for adjacent landowners concerned about the weeds. First, an adjacent landowner must request that you clear the fence row of weeds and must allow you ten days to do so. If the weeds still remain after ten days, the complaining landowner may notify the township trustees of the situation. Then, the township trustees must view the property and determine whether there is sufficient reason to remove weeds and vegetation from the fence row. If they determine that the weeds should be removed, the township trustees may hire someone to clear the fence row.  Once again, if this occurs, the county auditor will assess the costs of destruction on your property taxes. 

Being aware of noxious weeds is key. 

As a landowner, it is really important for you to keep an eye out for noxious weeds on your property.  If you keep on top of the weeds, cutting them or otherwise destroying them as they grow, it will certainly make your life a lot easier. You will avoid awkward conversations with neighbors, letters from your township trustees, and extra charges on your property taxes. Additionally, you will help to prevent the harm that noxious weeds may cause to crops, livestock, and ecosystems in general.

 To learn more about Ohio’s noxious weed laws, you can access our law bulletin on the subject here.  While the bulletin addresses the responsibilities of landowners, it also goes beyond the scope of this blog post, addressing weeds on roadways, railroads, and public lands, as well as how to respond if your neighbor has noxious weeds on their property.  Additionally, the bulletin has a helpful section of “frequently asked questions” regarding noxious weeds. 

Forever Blueberry Barn, LLC
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Tuesday, April 21st, 2020

Who knew wedding barns could lead us to the Ohio Supreme Court?  Such is the case for a longstanding controversy over a barn in Medina County.  Litchfield Township so opposed the use of the barn for weddings that it initiated a lawsuit and eventually appealed the case to Ohio’s highest court.  In a unanimous decision issued today, the court ruled against the township and in favor of the wedding barn.

The case revolves around Forever Blueberry Barn, LLC (“Blueberry Barn”), whose owners built a barn in 2015 in Litchfield Township. The owners’ plans were to host weddings and other social events in the barn.  The owners believed their use qualified the barn as "agriculture" under Ohio’s broad “agricultural exemption” from zoning authority.  The township thought differently, and claimed that the use was not agriculture and instead violated the township’s residential district zoning regulations.  The township sought an injunction to prevent weddings and events from taking place in the barn. 

The Medina County Court of Common Pleas issued the injunction against Blueberry Barn, agreeing that the barn did not qualify as agriculture under the agricultural exemption.   But the court later withdrew the injunction upon receiving evidence that the owners of Blueberry Barn had planted grape vines on the property.  Doing so constituted “viticulture," which is within the definition of “agriculture” for purposes of the agricultural exemption, the court determined.  

On an appeal by the township, however, the Ninth District Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court should have examined whether the barn itself was being “used primarily for the purpose of vinting and selling wine.”  Ohio’s agricultural exemption prevents townships from using zoning authority to prohibit the use of land for “agriculture,” which includes viticulture, and also states that townships can’t prohibit the use of buildings or structures “used primarily for vinting and selling wine and that are located on land any part of which is used for viticulture.…”  The appellate court said that a determination must be made at the trial level whether the wedding barn structure was “used primarily” for wine vinting and sales.

At its second trial court hearing, Blueberry Barn brought forth evidence that it produced and stored wine and  winemaking equipment in the barn.  Blueberry Barn also explained to the court that persons could only rent the wedding barn if they purchased wine from Blueberry Barn.  Based on this evidence, the trial court concluded that the primary use of the barn was for vinting and selling wine.  On a second appeal by the township, the Ninth District Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court’s judgment.  The township appealed yet again, this time to Ohio’s Supreme Court.

The issue before the Court focused on one word in the agricultural exemption:  primarily.  In order for the agricultural exemption to apply, the wedding barn must be used primarily for vinting and selling wine.  The agricultural exemption does not define the word primarily, so the Court looked to the ordinary dictionary meaning of the word “primary,” which is “of first rank, importance, or value.”  The Court reminded us that whether a use is primary is a question of fact to be determined by the trial court. 

The township argued that the trial court’s conclusion that vinting and selling wine was the primary use of the barn was incorrect, because only 4% of the barn’s physical space involved vinting and selling wine.  The Supreme Court disagreed with such a conclusion, and clarified that “primary” does not mean “majority.” The Court stated that the amount of space or time devoted to vinting and selling wine would not determine whether the use is “primary.”  It would not be unreasonable for a new winery producing limited quantities of wine in its early stages of production to use its barn space for other purposes, reasoned the Court.

One never knows when the Buckeyes will pop up in a conversation or even a court case, and it happened in this one.  In a teaching moment, the Supreme Court used Ohio Stadium to illustrate its interpretation of the word “primary.” It would be hard to argue that football is not the primary use of Ohio Stadium even if the stadium holds 20 events a year and only 7 of those events are for Buckeye football, the Court explained.  The same concept applies to determining the primary use of a barn.  Additionally, the Court pointed to the fact that only those who purchased wine from Blueberry Barn could use the facility for weddings or events as further support for the trial court’s factual determination that wedding rentals contributed to the barn’s primary use of vinting and selling wine.  The Court affirmed the ruling in favor of Blueberry Barn, bringing an end to the six-year wedding barn controversy.

I’ve taught zoning law and Ohio’s agricultural exemption for many years.  One question I’ve received hundreds of times is this:  how do we know which use of a structure is “primary”?  The Court’s decision today sheds light on this seemingly minor but highly relevant question.  The answer is one that helps us interpret not only the “used primarily for vinting and selling wine” language in the agricultural exemption, but also relates to additional provisions that apply to “agritourism” structures.  Several references in the agricultural exemption prohibit zoning regulation over buildings “used primarily” for agritourism.  When next asked what “primary” means, I can now refer to the new “primary-use test” created today by the Supreme Court:  primary does not mean majority, but does mean of first rank, importance, or value.  That’s a primary contribution to Ohio’s agricultural zoning law.

Read the Ohio Supreme Court's decision in Litchfield Twp. Bd. Of Trustees v. Forever Blueberry Barn, L.L.C. here.

By: Ellen Essman, Tuesday, March 31st, 2020

Hello, readers! We hope you are all staying safe and healthy. Understandably, news related to agricultural law seems to have slowed down a little bit over the last few weeks as both the federal and state governments have focused mainly on addressing the unfolding COVID-19 outbreak.  That being said, there have been a few notable ag law developments you might be interested in.

Federal government extends the tax deadline.  The IRS announced on March 21 that the deadline for filing or paying 2019 federal income taxes will be extended to July 15, 2020. 

Ohio Coronavirus Legislation. The Ohio General Assembly quickly passed House Bill 197 on Wednesday March 25, 2020.  HB 197 originally just involved changes to tax laws, but amendments were added to address the current situation.  Amendments that made it into the final bill include provisions for education—from allowing school districts to use distance learning to make up for instruction time, to waiving state testing.  Other important amendments make it easier to receive unemployment, move the state tax filing deadline to July 15, extend absentee voting, allow recently graduated nurses to obtain temporary licenses, etc. Of particular note to those involved in agriculture, HB 197 extends the deadlines to renew licenses issued by state agencies and political subdivisions.  If you have a state license that is set to expire, you will have 90 days after the state of emergency is lifted to renew the license.  HB 197 is available here. A list of all the amendments related to COVID-19 is available here.

Proposed changes to hunting and fishing permits in Ohio. In non-COVID news, Ohio House Bill 559 was introduced on March 18.  HB 559 would allow grandchildren to hunt or fish on their grandparents’ land without obtaining licenses or permits.  In addition, the bill would give free hunting and fishing licenses or permits to partially disabled veterans.  You can get information on the bill here

EPA simplifies approach to pesticides and endangered species. Earlier this month, the U.S. EPA released its “revised method” for determining whether pesticides should be registered for use.  Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), federal agencies must consider whether an action (in this case, registration of a pesticide) will negatively impact federally listed endangered species. EPA is authorized to make decisions involving pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The revised method consists of a three-step process.  First, EPA will consider whether use of the pesticide “may affect” or conversely, have no effect on the listed species. If no effect is found, EPA can register the pesticide.  On the other hand, if EPA finds that the pesticide may affect the endangered species, it must examine whether the pesticide is “likely to adversely affect” the species. In this second step, if EPA decides that the pesticide may affect the endangered species, but is not “likely to adversely affect” the species, then the agency may register the pesticide with the blessing of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  Conversely, if EPA finds that the pesticide is likely to adversely affect the species, it must move on to step three, where it must work with FWS or NMFS to more thoroughly examine whether an adverse effect will “jeopardize” the species’ existence or “destroy or adversely modify its designated critical habitat.”  The revised method is meant to simplify, streamline, and add clarity to EPA’s decision-making. 

EPA publishes rule on cyazofamid tolerances. Continuing the EPA/pesticide theme, on March 18, EPA released the final rule for tolerances for residues of the fungicide cyazofamid in or on commodities including certain leafy greens, ginseng, and turnips. 

Administration backs off RFS.  In our last edition of the Ag Law Harvest, we mentioned that the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals had handed a win to biofuels groups by deciding that EPA did not have the authority to grant three waivers to two small refineries in 2017. By granting the waivers, the EPA allowed the refineries to ignore the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and not incorporate biofuels in with their oil-based fuels. The Tenth Circuit decision overturned this action. The Trump administration has long defended EPA’s action, so that’s why it’s so surprising that the administration did not appeal the court’s decision by the March 25 deadline. 

Right to Farm statute protects contract hog operation.  If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you may recall that many nuisance lawsuits have been filed regarding large hog operations in North Carolina. In Lewis v. Murphy Brown, LLC, plaintiff Paul Lewis, who lives near a farm where some of Murphy Brown’s hogs are raised, sued the company for nuisance and negligence, claiming that the defendant’s hogs made it impossible for him to enjoy the outdoors and caused him to suffer from several health issues. Murphy Brown moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the nuisance claim should be disqualified under North Carolina’s Right to Farm Act, and that the negligence claim should be barred by the statute of limitations.  The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina made quick work of the negligence claim, agreeing with Murphy Brown that the statute of limitations had passed.  North Carolina’s Right to Farm Act requires a plaintiff to show all of the following: that he is the legal possessor of the real property affected by the nuisance, that the real property is located within one-half mile of the source of the activity, and that the action is filed within one year of the establishment of the agricultural operation or within one year of the operation undergoing a fundamental change.  Since the operation was established in 1995 and the suit was not brought until 2019, and no fundamental change occurred, the court determined that Lewis’s claim was barred by the Right to Farm Act.  Since neither negligence or nuisance was found, the court agreed with Murphy Brown and dismissed the case. 

By: Evin Bachelor, Wednesday, March 20th, 2019

Agritourism continues to boom across the United States, with agritourism farms offering activities from apple picking to zip lining.  Literally A to Z.  Consumer interest in food and farming, along with an economic need to augment farm income through diversification, have combined to drive this boom.  As more farms delve into agritourism, their liability risks change.  Risk and liability are hard, if not impossible, to totally eliminate, but there are a number of steps that agritourism farms can take to reduce the chances of something bad happening.

Based upon the questions generated from our law bulletin on Ohio’s agritourism law, we wanted to take an in depth look at common legal issues and risks facing agritourism.  Created as part of a project for the Agricultural & Food Law Consortium, our new factsheet series does just that.  Specifically, these factsheets examine:

  • Legal risks of animal and human interactions
  • Selling food on the farm
  • Agritourism immunity laws across the country
  • Zoning laws across the country
  • Insurance coverage for agritourism

Each factsheet addresses common considerations and questions about starting and operating an agritourism farm, and provides links to helpful resources.  The factsheets are designed to have something for everyone in the industry.  From those just thinking about implementing agritourism who need to think about the basic risks, to those agritourism farms that are already well established and want a risk refresher.  Beyond the industry, those professionals who advise agritourism farms may find the considerations helpful.

Most of the new factsheets include a checklist.  The checklists include questions that an agritourism farmer should ask their attorney, zoning inspector, insurance provider, local health department, and more.  The checklists do not represent the only legal concerns that an agritourism farm must think about, but rather a starting point.  Every agritourism farm is unique, and must be treated as such when examining liability and risk.

The reducing legal risk in agritourism project is available on our website HERE, as well as the National Agricultural Law Center’s website HERE.  This material is based upon work supported by the National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

By: Evin Bachelor, Thursday, February 14th, 2019

The answer to the question in the title is still ‘it depends,’ but the answer is more likely yes when the barn is also a winery.  A recent court decision found that a barn in Medina County where weddings occur qualifies for the agricultural zoning exemption because of the barn’s use for wine production, marketing, and sales.

The decision represents the culmination of a battle between Medina County’s Litchfield Township and Forever Blueberry Barn, LLC that began in 2015.  The township filed suit that year, alleging that Forever Blueberry Barn was operating a rental facility for wedding receptions in violation of the township zoning ordinance.  At first, the trial court sided with the township and issued an injunction; however, Forever Blueberry Barn was able to lift that injunction by convincing the trial court that the agricultural zoning exemption’s vinting and viticulture provisions apply.

The first time the case went to the Ninth District Court of Appeals, the township won a brief victory when the appellate court ordered the trial court to review its decision and determine specifically whether or not the viticulture exception applied to the barn in question.  Essentially, the court of appeals believed that the trial court was convinced that the exemption should apply, but the trial court’s responsibility is to also explain why.

The second time on appeal, which resulted in the decision just recently issued, the Ninth District believed that the lower court appropriately examined and applied the agricultural zoning exemption’s vinting and viticulture provisions.  The Ninth District relied on case law from the Ohio Supreme Court instructing lower courts to “liberally construe” exemptions from restrictive zoning provisions.  The agricultural zoning exemption in Ohio Revised Code § 519.21 qualifies as an exemption from restrictive zoning provisions.  Specifically, it exempts “buildings or structures that are used primarily for vinting and selling wine and that are located on land any part of which is used for viticulture.”  That case, which is cited as Terry v. Sperry, 2011-Ohio-3364, is available here.

One of the big issues the second time on appeal involved what is known as the burden of proof.  The township argued that the barn owner had to prove that the barn’s primary use was vinting and selling wine by clear and convincing evidence.  This is a fairly high standard in civil cases, and courts often reserve the higher standard for accusations of things such as fraud or breach of fiduciary duties.  Essentially, the township wanted to see receipts and written business plans that the barn owner did not have.

However, the court said that determining the barn’s primary use must only be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, which asks simply whether it is more likely that the barn was used primarily for vinting rather than for some other purpose.

Here, the court was persuaded by testimony of the barn’s owner that the barn was primarily used for vinting and selling wine.  The member’s testimony included statements that:

  • Part of the barn will be used as a tasting room where wine will be sold directly to the public during established business hours;
  • The barn itself may be rented out for private events, including weddings, on the condition that a certain quantity of wine is purchased for the event;
  • Grapevines had been planted on the property and had started producing mature grapes.

As to this last point, the court noted that even one grapevine is sufficient to count as the growing of grapes.  The court again cited the Ohio Supreme Court’s Terry v. Sperry decision, which said that there is no minimum number of vines needed for a farm to qualify as engaging in viticulture.

It is important to note that this decision in Litchfield Twp. v. Forever Blueberry was not unanimous.  One judge dissented, believing that the primary use of the barn is as an event venue, with vinting activities being merely peripheral.  This dissent demonstrates the continued lack of a consensus on the application of this statute to wedding barns, even in cases with evidence of wine making activities.

What are our main takeaways from this case?

  • There is still no consensus on whether wedding barns are exempt from township zoning.
  • One producing grapevine can be sufficient to establish a viticulture activity.
  • Renting out barns for events must still be secondary to the barn’s vinting use.

The case is cited as Litchfield Twp. Bd. of Trustees v. Forever Blueberry Barn, L.L.C., 2019-Ohio-322 (9th Dist.), and the full text of the decision is available HERE.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Thursday, March 30th, 2017

Written by: Chris Hogan, Law Fellow, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

If you are an agritourism provider or are interested in learning more about agritourism, sign up for our AgritourismReady event on April 5th!  Details of the event are here.

Spring has sprung and many agritourism providers are busy gearing up for spring agritourism activities such as maple syrup production, school tours, and berry picking. Agritourism providers should take time this spring to review the key elements of Ohio’s new agritourism law and understand how the law affects the agritourism operation.  

Ohio’s new agritourism law applies to qualifying farms, including you-pick operations and farm markets, when an agritourism activity is conducted on that farm.  A qualifying farm under the law is either at least 10 acres in size or a farm under 10 acres that grosses an average income of $2500 from production (the same requirements for qualifying for Ohio’s CAUV property tax program).  Agritourism activities include agriculturally related educational, entertainment, historical, cultural, or recreational activities.  Below are two important benefits of Ohio’s agritourism law that agritourism providers should review this spring: liability protection and zoning protection.

Liability Protection

One of the main benefits of the law is liability protection for agritourism providers against claims by participants injured as a result of an inherent risk of an agritourism activity. The law defines inherent risks to be dangers and conditions that are an integral part of the activity, including surface and subsurface land conditions, actions of wild animals and domestic animals other than vicious or dangerous dogs, dangers of farm structures and equipment, illness from contacting animals, feed or waste, and the participant’s failure to follow instructions or use reasonable caution.

There are several limitations and requirements under the law that impact this liability protection. Most importantly, agritourism providers must post signs either at the entrance to the farm or at each agritourism activity in order to receive liability protection under the law.  The signs must meet the specifications of the law.  For more information about posting signs and the law’s liability protection, our previous post on agritourism is here.

Zoning

Ohio’s agritourism law also provides some zoning protections to agritourism providers. Under the law, township and county zoning authorities cannot prohibit agritourism activities on farms.  But, townships and counties can regulate some factors related to agritourism to protect public health and safety. These factors include the size of structures used primarily for agritourism, setbacks for structures, ingress and egress from the parcel, and the size of parking areas.  A township or county that wants to regulate these limited factors must have provisions addressing the factors in the local zoning code.  We explain the zoning provisions of the agritourism law in more detail in our law bulletin, here.

Preparing for the 2017 Season

As agritourism providers prepare for the 2017 season, providers should take a few actions to ensure the benefits of the agritourism law for their operations:

  • Post the required signs at the entrance to the agritourism operation or at each agritourism activity. Also, consider adding your own signs to give instructions, guide visitors safely around the property or warn visitors of potential hazards.
  • Even with the law’s liability protection, make sure the property is as safe and clean as possible.  Spring is a good time to walk the property to identify any dangerous conditions that might put a visitor at risk and fix those conditions before inviting guests on the property.
  • Farms under 10 acres in size should take time to brush up on good recordkeeping practices. Farms that are under 10 acres may be required to prove that they qualify as a farm under the agritourism law by showing $2500 in gross receipts.  Be sure to maintain all records of farm income.
  • If starting a new agritourism activity, check the local zoning code to see if the township or county has zoning requirements for the few agritourism factors it can regulate.  Be prepared for a visit by the local zoning inspector and be ready to show the inspector that the activity falls under the new agritourism law’s zoning protections because it is “agritourism” conducted on a “farm.”

A full description of the Ohio Agritourism Law is available via our law bulletin here

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Monday, May 09th, 2016

An agritourism bill first introduced over a year ago has finally received approval from the Ohio General Assembly. The Senate passed SB 75 last November, but the bill did not pass the House of Representatives until May 4, 2016. The House had passed a similar bill last May, but the Senate failed to act on that bill. If signed by Governor Kasich, SB 75 will be in effect in time for the fall agritourism season. (Update: Governor Kasich signed the bill, which becomes effective 8/16/16).

The legislation addresses civil liability risk, property taxation and local zoning authority for “farms” that provide “agritourism” activities. It’s important to understand several definitions in the law:

  • A "farm" is land that is devoted to commercial agricultural production, either at least 10 acres in size or grossing an average income of $2500 from such production.
  • "Agricultural production" means commercial aquaculture, algaculture, apiculture, animal husbandry, poultry husbandry; the production for a commercial purpose of timber, field crops, tobacco, fruits, vegetables, nursery stock, ornamental shrubs, ornamental trees, flowers, or sod; the growth of timber for a noncommercial purpose if the land on which the timber is grown is contiguous to or part of a parcel of land under common ownership that is otherwise devoted exclusively to agricultural use; or any combination of such husbandry, production, or growth; and includes the processing, drying, storage, and marketing of agricultural products when those activities are conducted in conjunction with such husbandry, production, or growth.
  • "Agritourism" is an agriculturally related educational, entertainment, historical, cultural, or recreational activity, including you-pick operations or farm markets, conducted on a farm that allows or invites members of the general public to observe, participate in, or enjoy that activity.
  • An "agritourism provider" is anyone who owns, operates, provides, or sponsors an agritourism activity, whether or not for a fee, including employees at agritourism activities. 

For agritourism providers on farms, the legislation offers the following protections:

Civil liability immunity.   The new law protects an agritourism provider from liability for injuries to agritourism participants in certain situations. The law states that a provider does not have a legal duty to remove risks that are “inherent” in agritourism activities and will not be liable for any harm a participant suffers because of such risks. “Inherent risks” are dangers or conditions that are an integral part of an agritourism activity, including surface and subsurface conditions of land; ordinary dangers of structures or equipment ordinarily used in farming; behavior or actions of domestic or wild animals , except for vicious or dangerous dogs; the possibility of contracting illness from physical contact with animals, animal feed, animal waste, or surfaces contaminated by animal waste; and a participant’s failure to follow instructions or exercise reasonable caution while engaging in the agritourism activity.

Warning sign requirement. An agritourism provider must post and maintain warning signs on the farm to receive the law’s civil liability protection, and a provider who fails to post or maintain these signs can be liable for a participant’s harm. At or near each entrance to the agritourism location or at each agritourism activity, a provider must post and maintain a sign that states: "WARNING: Under Ohio law, there is no liability for an injury to or death of a participant in an agritourism activity conducted at this agritourism location if that injury or death results from the inherent risks of that agritourism activity. Inherent risks of agritourism activities include, but are not limited to, the risk of injury inherent to land, equipment, and animals as well as the potential for you as a participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to your injury or death. You are assuming the risk of participating in this agritourism activity." This warning must be printed in black letters that are at least one inch in height.

Exceptions to immunity.  An agritourism provider will not be immune for harm caused by the provider’s willful or wanton disregard for a participant’s safety; if the provider purposefully caused harm to the participant; if the provider's actions or inactions constituted criminal conduct and caused harm to the participant; or if the provider had or should have had actual knowledge of an existing dangerous condition that is not an inherent risk and the provider did not make the dangerous condition known to the participant.

Property taxation. The new legislation ensures that agritourism parcels are eligible for Ohio’s Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) program, which provides reduced property taxation on qualifying agricultural lands. According to the new law, the existence of agritourism on a tract, lot, or parcel of land does not disqualify land that otherwise qualifies for the CAUV program.

Local zoning authority. The new legislation expands Ohio’s “agricultural exemption” from local zoning to include agritourism activities. The “agricultural exemption” limits the ability of townships and counties to use zoning to prohibit or regulate certain agricultural land uses in any zoning district. Under the new law, agritourism becomes part of the agricultural exemption and is an agricultural land use that zoning officials cannot prohibit by way of zoning.

The legislation does allow townships and counties to regulate some factors related to agritourism land uses if the regulations are necessary to protect public health and safety, however. These factors include the size of structures used primarily for agritourism and setback lines for such structures, egress or ingress into a parcel, and the size of parking areas. This limited authority does not include the power to require improvements such as drainage or paving for agritourism parking areas.

The legislation also clarifies that county and township zoning may not prohibit the use or construction of structures for vinting and selling wine if located on land where grapes are grown.

Implications of the new legislation

  1. Not everyone who engages in agritourism will benefit from the new law.  The law is designed to address agritourism activities that diversify an existing farm—where the activities occur on land that is otherwise engaged in agricultural production. For example, a person who purchases 10 acres of vacant land with the intent of creating a corn maze and petting farm will not benefit from the law because there is no agricultural production already taking place on the land. If the land is first involved in agricultural production, added agritourism activities will fall under the new law.
  2. Visitors to agritourism operations must take more responsibility for their own safety.  The law recognizes that there are inherent dangers on farms that can be beyond the control of agritourism providers. Visitors who wish to participate in an agritourism experience must be aware of these dangers and be prepared to protect themselves by following directions, paying attention to surface conditions, being cautious around animals and equipment, supervising their children and generally exercising reasonable care while on the farm.
  3. Agritourism providers must be prepared to meet the law’s signage requirements.  When the law becomes effective, agritourism operators should have proper warning signs posted. Providers who fail to post the right sign in the right place will lose the law’s immunity protections.
  4. Local officials must treat free and fee-based agritourism activities equally.  Unlike some agricultural laws, there is no distinction in the new law between commercial agritourism businesses and free agritourism activities like educational farm tours; the law applies in the same way regardless of whether the activity is fee-based or free, as long as it’s conducted on a “farm.”
  5. Counties and townships must identify public health and safety issues and develop appropriate zoning standards. Counties and townships must be prepared to recognize agritourism situations that pose health and safety concerns due to the size and location of a structure, ingress and egress on the property or the size of a parking area. If a public health or safety issue is identified and the county or township wants to regulate the issue, it must have enacted zoning standards that address the issue.

Read SB 75 on the Ohio General Assembly’s website here.

Post Script:  Governor Kasich signed this legislation on May 17, 2016; the new law becomes effective on August 16, 2016.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

A new bill in the Ohio Senate addresses several legal issues for Ohio agritourism operators.  Senators Jones (R-Springboro) and Peterson (R-Sabina) introduced S.B. 334 on May 7.  The bill would impact Ohio agritourism operators in regards to civil liability, property taxation, zoning regulation and amusement ride standards.

Civil Liability Protection

Following a similar trend in other states, the Ohio legislation would grant agritourism operators civil liability protection from claims for injuries that occur during agritourism activities.   An operator would not be liable for harm that an observer or participant sustains during an agritourism activity if the harm is a result of the following conditions, which the law defines as "risks inherent in an agritourism activity":

(a) The surface and subsurface conditions of land;

(b) The behavior of wild or domestic animals;

(c) The ordinary dangers associated with structures or equipment ordinarily used in farming or ranching operations;

(d) The possibility of contracting illness resulting from physical contact with animals, animal feed, animal waste, or surfaces contaminated by animal waste;

(e) The possibility that a participant may act in a negligent manner, including by failing to follow instructions given by the agritourism provider or by failing to exercise reasonable caution while engaging in the agritourism activity that may contribute to injury to that participant or another participant.

The law does not extend civil liability immunity if an agritourism operator purposefully causes harm or if the provider's willful or wanton disregard for the safety of an observer or participant proximately causes harm to the person.

Real Property Taxation
 
The proposal aims to ensure that agritourism land can qualify for Ohio's Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) real roperty taxation program.  The CAUV differential tax assessment formula would apply to agritourism property in two situations:
 
(1) Tracts, lots, or parcels of land of ten acres or more devoted exclusively to agritourism during the three years prior to a CAUV application, if the land on which the agritourism is located is contiguous to or part of a parcel of land under common ownership that is otherwise devoted exclusively to agricultural use according to ORC 5713.30.
 
(2) Tracts, lots, or parcels of land less than ten acres that were devoted exclusively to agritourism and produced an average yearly gross income of at least $2,500 during the three years prior to the CAUV application, or where there is evidence of an anticipated gross income of such amount during the tax year in which the applicant applies for CAUV.
 
Zoning Authority
 
The bill also contends with the issue of whether agritourism activities are subject to local zoning regulations, a question we often receive at Ohio State.  According to the proposal, counties and townships would not have any authority to utilize zoning to prohibit the use of land for agritourism in any district, whether zoned for agricultural, industrial, residential, or commercial uses.
 
Amusement Ride Standards and Inspections
 
In response to emerging questions about permits and safety standards for activities such as zip lines on agritourism operations, the bill grants authority to the director of agriculture (ODA) to adopt rules to establish standards for amusement rides at agritourism locations that are consistent with standards adopted by the American Camp Association.  If the ODA adopts such rules, the bill states that other regulations pertaining to permits, inspections and duties would not apply to agritourism amusement rides.
 
Definition of Agritourism
 
An important component of the bill is its definition of "agritourism," but the bill raises as many questions as answers in its attempt to clarify the activities and operations that would be subject to the proposed legislation.  For purposes of the above provisions, the proposal defines "agritourism" as:
 
"An educational, entertainment, or recreational activity that takes place on a working farm or agricultural or horticultural operation and that allows or invites members of the general public to observe, participate in, or enjoy that activity.  "Agritourism" includes historic and cultural agriculture activities, self-pick farms or farmer's markets when they are conducted in conjunction with farm operations." 
 
The Senate referred S.B. 334 to the Civil Justice committee on May 14.   Learn more about the bill here
 

Peggy Kirk Hall, Asst.  Professor, OSU Extension Agricultural & Resource Law Program

Spring brings an increase in agricultural land use activity and with it comes a surge of inquiries about Ohio's agricultural zoning laws.  Here at OSU, we repeatedly hear a common question from agricultural landowners and local zoning officials:  can zoning regulate this agricultural situation?  That's a question without a short and simple answer.   A review of Ohio Revised Code sections 303 and 519, which contain the "agricultural exemption" from county and township zoning authority, is the first step toward understanding whether a county or township can regulate an agricultural land use (note that different laws apply for cities and villages).   Here's a summary of Ohio's agricultural zoning laws:

Agriculture is exempt from rural zoning authority in many, but not all, situations.   While Ohio law grants counties and townships the authority to utilize zoning, the law limits how much authority these local governments have over agricultural land uses.  Generally, a county or township may not prohibit the use of any land for agricultural purposes in any unincorporated area, with a few exceptions that are noted below.  This exemption applies in any zoning district, whether residential, industrial, commercial, agricultural or otherwise.

An exempt activity must be in the definition "agriculture."   Ohio agricultural zoning laws apply to "agriculture," which the law defines to  include:  farming; ranching; algaculture; aquaculture; apiculture; horticulture; viticulture; animal husbandry, including, but not limited to, the care and raising of livestock, equine, and fur-bearing animals; poultry husbandry and the production of poultry and poultry products; dairy production; the production of field crops, tobacco, fruits, vegetables, nursery stock, ornamental shrubs, ornamental trees, flowers, sod, or mushrooms; timber and pasturage.  "Agriculture" also includes activities involving the processing, drying, storage, and marketing of agricultural products if those activities are conducted in conjunction with but secondary to actual production of those products.

Agricultural buildings and structures can also be exempt from zoning authority.   If a building or structure is directly related to an agricultural activity on the same parcel of land, then Ohio zoning law does not allow a county or township to require a zoning certificate or prohibit the construction or use of the building.  For example, local zoning cannot require a zoning permit or prevent the construction of a barn being built for housing cattle or storing farm machinery that is used for farming on the same property.  Also, zoning may not regulate or prohibit any building or structure that is used primarily for vinting and selling wine that is located on land where grapes are grown.

Special rules for farm markets.  Ohio law also says that local zoning cannot prohibit the use of land for a farm market in any industrial, residential, commercial or agricultural zoning district if 50% or more of the market's gross income is from produce raised on farms owned or managed by the farm market operator.   But where necessary to protect public health and safety, local zoning may regulate the size of the farm market building, parking area size, set back lines and access to the market.  This provision is commonly known as the "farm market 50% test."

Special rules for on-farm energy production.  Several energy production activities are not subject to local zoning if they occur on land qualified for CAUV (Current Agricultural Use Valuation).  These activities include biodiesel, biomass energy, electric and heat energy production, as well as biologically derived methane gas production of less than five megawatts.

Some agricultural activities can be regulated by local zoning.  There are a few exceptions to the agricultural exemption.  Local zoning may regulate agriculture in the following situations if the parcel of land is five acres or less and is located in a platted subdivision containing 15 or more lots:

  • On a lot that is one acre or smaller, zoning may prohibit or regulate all agricultural activities.
  • On a lot between one and five acres, zoning may regulate set back lines, height and size of buildings used for agriculture and may prohibit or regulate dairying and animal/poultry husbandry if 35% or more of the lots in the platted subdivision are developed.

Unfortunately, a summary of the zoning statute doesn't answer all questions about agriculture and zoning.  Look for our future articles for continued analysis of Ohio's agricultural zoning laws.  For additional zoning information, also see our zoning library, here.

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