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.
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.
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.
Tags: agritourism liability; agritourism; agritourism zoning; agritourism taxation; premises liability
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
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.
Tags: agritourism liability; agritourism; agritourism zoning; agritourism taxation; agritourism rides
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.
Court rules in favor of Myrddin Winery
The Ohio Supreme Court has clarified how the "agricultural exemption" contained in Ohio zoning law applies to wineries. The Court agreed with appellant Myrddin Winery in ruling today that Ohio law does not grant a township or county zoning authority over buildings or structures used for the vinting and selling of wine if they are on property used for viticulture, which is the growing of grapes.
The case before the Court, Terry v Sperry, involved a Milton Township property in northeast Ohio located in a district zoned as residential. Prior to establishing the winery on the property, the Sperrys asked the township whether a winery was a permissible use of the property. The township zoning inspector advised that the winery was an agricultral use that did not require a zoning permit pursuant to Ohio's "agricultural exemption" from zoning. The Sperrys proceeded to establish and operate Myrddin Winery, making wine from a small number of grape vines grown on the property and from grape concentrate purchased from other sources. The Sperrys sold the wine, as well as food items, to customers who visited the winery.
When the township later received complaints about the winery from neighbors, the township decided that the winery was no longer a permissible agricultural use. Rather, the township claimed that the use constituted a restaurant and retail business that was not permitted in the residential zoning district. The township sought an injunction to close down the winery. The Sperrys argued that the township could not exert zoning authority over the winery because of the agricultural exemption in Ohio zoning law.
Both the Mahoning Court of Common Pleas and the Seventh District Court of Appeals agreed with the township, and held that it could exert zoning authority over the winery. The courts examined the "agricultural exemption" contained in Ohio Revised Code Chapter 519, which limits township and county zoning authority over agricultural land uses. The courts concluded that the agricultural exemption did not apply to Myrddin Winery because the winery did not fit within the statute's definition of "agriculture." The definition includes "viticulture," but also states that the processing and marketing of agricultural products are included in the definition of agriculture only if those activities are secondary to agricultural production. Pointing to the small number of grape vines grown on the property, the township argued that the winery was not "agriculture" because the processing of grapes and marketing of wine were the primary uses of the property, and grape production itself was secondary to the processing and marketing activities.
The Ohio Supreme Court disagreed that the statute's definition of agriculture dictated the outcome of the case. The Court turned instead to additional language regarding wineries contained inORC 519.21(A), another part of the agricultural exemption. That provision states that a township has no power to prohibit the “use of buildings or structures incident to the use for agricultural purposes of the land on which such buildings or structures are located, including 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." (Emphasis added). That provision, stated the Court, is a "clear and unambiguous" exemption from zoning authority for winery buildings, as long as grapes are also grown on the property. Because of the unambiguous exemption, the township need not refer to the definition of "agriculture" or analyze the number of grapes or whether grape growing or processing and marketing are the primary uses of the property.
The Ohio Supreme Court's decision in Terry v Sperry brings much needed clarification to Ohio's agricultural zoning exemption, a complicated statute whose interpretation has long created headaches for local zoning officials. When Ohio legislators granted zoning authority to townships and counties years ago, agricultural interests expressed concern that agricultural land uses would be "zoned out" of many rural areas. The agricultural exemption addresses those concerns by limiting local zoning authority over agricultural land uses. The problem arises with the statute's attempt to determine what is or is not an agricultural land use. The distinction is often muddy, but today's decision provides some clarity: in regards to buildings used for making and selling wine on property where wine grapes are growing, the township or county has no zoning authority.
Read the Terry v Sperry opinion here.
Court has agreed to review appellate decision to close winery
A controversial split decision on agricultural zoning from the Fifth District Court of Appealswill go before the Ohio Supreme Court. The court has agreed to review Terry v. Sperry, 2010-Ohio-1299 (March 23, 2010), an appellate decision that endorsed a township's desire to close down a winery in an exurban residential area. The court agreed with the township's assertion that Myrrdin Winery could not utilize Ohio's "agricultural exemption" from township zoning authority because the winery imported more grapes than it grows on the premises and thus does not meet the statute's definition of "agriculture." Because the winery did not qualify as "agriculture," the court held that the township could enjoin its operation. We disagree with the court's reliance on the definition of "agriculture" because the statute also includes specific exemption language for wineries that bypasses the agriculture definition. See our earlier post, Ohio court allows township to use zoning to prohibit winery.
The Supreme Court's decision to review the case should result in much needed clarification of township zoning authority over wineries, a recurring issue in Ohio. With more and more wineries developing in Ohio, many will be anxious for the Supreme's Court's interpretation of the statute. The court should reach a decision in early 2011.
Proposal would ensure that on-farm bioenergy activities qualify for CAUV and are exempt from zoning regulation.
A legislative proposal in the Ohio House of Representatives would include on-farm bioenergy production activities in two key provisions of Ohio law: qualification for differential tax assessment under the Current Agricultural Use Valuation program and exemption from local zoning authority. Representatives Pryor and Domenick introduced House Bill 485 in mid-April with assistance from the Ohio Department of Agriculture. The bill was referred to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, but no other action on the bill has taken place.
The proposal addresses "biodiesel production, biomass energy production, electric or heat energy production and biologically derived methane gas production" where at least 50% of the starting material or feedstocks are from the same tract, lot or parcel on which the energy production takes place. This 50% requirement targets on-farm energy production, where a farm is producing and processing the energy inputs, as long as no more than 50% of the supplementary inputs derive from other properties.
The bioenergy production activities that meet the 50% rule would be included in the CAUV' program's definition of "land devoted exclusively to agricultural use" in ORC 5713.30, thus guaranteeing eligibility for the CAUV property tax rate. The bioenergy production activities would also become part of the definition of "agriculture" for purposes of county and township zoning, ORC 303.01 and ORC 519.01. Because counties and townships have limited zoning authority over "agriculture," the proposal would ensure that a county or township could not use zoning authority to prohibit the qualifying bioenergy production activities.
H.B. 485 is available online, here.
Court says winery must grow more grapes to be defined as "agriculture."
In a split decision, the Seventh Distict Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of a township in Mahoning County that wants to close down a small winery. Milton Township claims that the winery violates township zoning regulations because it is located in a residential zoning district and does not qualify for the "agricultural exemption" from local zoning. The court of common pleas and the majority on the appeals court agreed with the township, but a strong dissent by Court of Appeals Judge DeGenaro challenges the courts' rulings and illustrates the need for clarity in Ohio's rural zoning laws.
Myrddin Winery is a family owned business located on Lake Milton in Milton Township, on property that also contains a residence. A free standing addition serves as the winery, and the property also has a vineyard containing 20 grape vines, with 12 vines producing grapes for harvest. The Sperry family uses their grapes for wine, and must also import grapes and grape juices for their wine production--5% of their wine derives from their grape vines. They make and bottle the wine on the premises. Customers visit the winery to taste and purchase the wine and food items.
Before opening in 2005, the Sperry family asked the township zoning inspector if the township required any permits for the winery. The zoning inspector advised that the family could begin operations immediately because the township did not require any permits. In 2008, however, the township changed its opinion and notified the Sperrys that they were in violation of the township zoning resolution. The township filed a complaint and requested the court to issue an injunction that would prohibit continued operation of the winery.
Two issues were before the Mahoning County trial court upon hearing the Myrddin Winery case: 1) whether a winery is "agriculture" for purposes of the agricultural exemption in Ohio zoning law, and 2) whether Ohio zoning law exempts wineries from local zoning regulation. The trial court answered both questions in the negative. The Sperry family appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals.
The court of appeals examined the Ohio Revised Code's agricultural exemption from township zoning authority, but focused its decision on the statute's definition of "agriculture" in O.R.C. 519.01, which states:
- "As used in section 519.02 to 519.25 of the Revised Code, 'agriculture' includes farming; ranching; aquaculture; apiculture; horticulture; viticulture; animal husbandry, * * *; poultry husbandry * * *; dairy production; the production of field crops, tobacco, fruits, vegetables, nursery stock, ornamental shrubs, ornamental trees, flowers, sod, or mushrooms; timber; pasturage; any combination of the foregoing; the processing, drying, storage, and marketing of agricultural products when those activities are conducted in conjunction with, but are secondary to, such husbandry or production." (Emphasis added.)
As Judge DeGenaro points out in the dissent, the court should have relied on the actual agricultural exemption language contained in R.C. 519.21(A), which provides:
- "Except as otherwise provided in division (B) of this section, sections 519.02 to 519.25 of the Revised Code confer no power on any township zoning commission, board of township trustees, or board of zoning appeals to prohibit the use of any land for agricultural purposes or the construction or use of buildings or structures incident to the use for agricultural purposes of the land on which such buildings or structures are located, including 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, and no zoning certificate shall be required for any such building or structure." (Emphasis added.)
I agree with the dissent's interpretation of the statute, which is that a township may not prohibit the use of buildings or structures that are used primarily for vinting and selling wine and that are located on land used for viticulture, which is the growing of grapes for wine. Under this interpretation, Myrddin Winery could not be prohibited by way of zoning regulation. However, the majority chose to read R.C. 519.21(A) to require that "any buildings or structures used primarily for vinting and selling wine" must also fit within the definition of "agriculture" in R.C. 519.01. That definition includes "viticulture" and the processing and marketing of agricultural products, but only if processing and marketing of products is "secondary to" production. Because Myrddin Winery was importing more grapes and grape juice for its wine than it was growing on the property, the court concluded that the processing and marketing of the wine was not secondary to production, but was the primary use of the property. Thus, the agricultural exemption from zoning regulation would not apply and the township could prohibit the winery.
In short, the court's ruling requires a winery to ensure that production of grapes is the primary use of the property and any processing and marketing of wine is the secondary use of the property. Otherwise, local zoning can prohibit a winery. This outcome is especially problematic for beginning operations, because grape vines require many years of cultivation prior to successful harvest for wine production. It also raises challenges for the winery landowner who must prove whether the grapes or the wine are the "primary" use of the property. The specific exemption for wineries in 519.21(A) avoids these complications.
The Myrddin Winery case is one example of the confusion surrounding Ohio's agricultural exemption from township and county zoning authority, and the court's ruling strays too far from the intent of the law--to ensure that agricultural activities can persist outside of municpal areas. The Sperry family has a strong basis for appealing the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court and seeking final clarification of the winery provision in the agricultural exemption. But the Ohio legislature could alleviate the problem for landowners like the Sperry family, as well as townships and counties, by providing statutory clarification to the agricultural exemption. Cases like the Myrddin winery case pervade the state and continuously raise the issue of which agricultural activities can and cannot be regulated by zoning. With growing interests in agriculture and with state and federal policies that promote new types of agricultural production, direct marketing, and on-site processing by agricultural producers, Ohio will continue to experience conflicts between agriculture and local zoning regulation. It's time for the legislature to simplify and clarify the relationship between agricultural land uses and local zoning authority.
The Myrddin Winery case is Terry v. Sperry, 2010-Ohio-1299 (March 23, 2010), and is available here.
A four year battle over the construction of a garden center has ended with an appellate decision affirming that the retail building is exempt from zoning under Ohio's agricultural exemption provision in ORC 519.21. The Second District Court of Appeals decided Siebenthaler Company v. Beavercreek Township on December 11, 2009.
The Siebenthaler Company constructed a building in 2006 on its 435 acre parcel in Beavercreek Township, Greene County. Siebenthaler has grown trees, plants and flowers on the property since the 1950s. The company planned the garden center for the sale and display of its nursery stock along with other products such as garden supplies and garden furniture. The building would also contain a few offices, including one for providing landscaping services to its clients.
The issue in this case is whether the garden center is exempt from township zoning authority pursuant to the agricultural zoning exemption in ORC 519. ORC 519.21(A) prevents township zoning officials from using their authority "to prohibit the use of any land for agricultural purposes or the construction or use of buildings or structures incident to the use for agricultural purposes of the land on which such buildings or structures are located, including 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, and no zoning certificate shall be required for any such building or structure." (emphasis added). Chapter 519 defines "agriculture" as "farming; ranching; 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; pasturage; any combination of the foregoing; the processing, drying, storage, and marketing of agricultural products when those activities are conducted in conjunction with, but are secondary to, such husbandry or production" (emphasis added).
It seems apparent that Siebenthaler's production activities fit within the definition of agriculture as the "production of nursery stock, trees anf flowers," that its garden center also fits within that definition as the "marketing of agricultural products" conducted in conjunction with and secondary to such production, and that the building is "incident to an agricultural use of the land." Nevertheless, Beavercreek Township determined that the building did not qualify for the agricultural zoning exemption. After detailing to the township why the agricultural zoning exemption applied, Siebenthaler constructed the garden center. Upon the building's completion, the zoning inspector issued a cease, desist and removal order based on Siebenthaler's failure to obtain permits for the building. Siebenthaler appealed to the township's Board of Zoning Appeals, which upheld the zoning inspector's order. An appeal to the Greene County Court of Common Pleas yielded different results. The court concluded that the garden center is incident to the primary use of the property for agriculture and therefore exempt from zoning regulation. The township appealed the case to the court of appeals.
The court of appeals agreed that the agricultural zoning exemption applied to the garden center. Evidence had indicated that the primary function of the garden center was to serve as an outlet for the agricultural products grown on the property, said the court. To the contrary, the township produced no evidence suggesting that other activities, such as selling other products and offering landscaping services, were the primary activities or occupied a greater amount of time than agricultural production.
In response to the Board of Zoning Appeals' decision that the garden center "was not being used solely for a bonafide agricultural purpose," the court of appeals clarified that Ohio law does not require such. Rather, the law requires that a structure only be "directly and immediately related" and "usually or naturally and inseparably dependent upon" an agricultural use of the property. Marketing activities may occur in conjunction with, and must be of lesser importance than, the agricultural production on the property, the court explained.
As of this date, there is no record of the township seeking review of the decision by the Ohio Supreme Court.
The Siebenthaler case is one example of the tension that often exists between zoning officials and agricultural operations. It's difficult to understand why the Siebenthaler case progessed as far as it did, but many factors likely contributed to the situation: the lack of clarity in ORC 519.21, the need to redefine "agriculture" in ORC 519.01, non-farm growth and development in traditionally agricultural areas, diversification of agricultural businesses, concerns for safety, inadequate resources for zoning officials, property rights expectations, and of course, complete misunderstandings of the law. Agriculture and local zoning authority is a continuing problem Ohio should address, first by identifying when incompatible land uses may occur and public health and safety may be at issue, second by revising our zoning laws to reflect the changes in agriculture and the rural landscape and last, through education.
Watch for a few more agricultural zoning cases currently under consideration by Ohio courts. The Second District's opinion in Siebenthaler v. Beavercreek is available here.
Can Ohio townships use their zoning authority to regulate outdoor signs on agricultural property? This is a question I've received many times. I can now refer townships to legal guidance provided by the Ohio Attorney General in an opinion issued October 20, 2009 (OAG 2009-041). The OAG opinion walks us through an analysis of the persistently problematic Ohio Revised Code section 519.21, commonly referred to as the 'agricultural zoning exemption,' which states that townships may not use their zoning authority "to prohibit the use of any land for agricultural purposes or the construction or use of buildings or structures incident to the use for agricultural purposes of the land on which such buildings or structures are located," with a few exceptions.
The OAG opinion provides the following explanation of how the agricultural exemption applies to an outdoor sign on agricultural property:
"1. Pursuant to R.C. 519.21(A), officials of a township that has not adopted a limited home rule government under R.C. Chapter 504 may not regulate the location, height,bulk, or size of a fee-standing outdoor sign that is located on a lot greater than five acres and deemed to be a structure when the use of the sign relates directly and immediately to the use for agricultural purposes of the lot on which the sign is located.
2. The use of a free-standing outdoor sign is directly and immediately related to the use for agricultural purposes of the lot on which the sign is located when the sign advertises the sale of agricultural products derived from the lot on which the sign is located.
3. The use of a free-standing outdoor sign is not directly and immediately related to the use for agricultural purposes of the lot on which the sign is located when the sign advertises the sale of (1) agricultural products not derived from the lot on which the sign is located or (2) things other than agricultural products.
4. Township officials may consider any information or facts they deem necessary and relevant in order to determine in a reasonable manner whether the use of a free-standing outdoor sign is directly and immediately related to the use for agricultural purposes of the lot on which the sign is located or an attempt to promote an activity that is not conducted in conjunction with, and secondary to, the production of the agricultural products derived from the lot on which the sign is located."
Note that the opinion pertains only to townships that have not adopted a limited home rule form of government--most of our townships have not taken the action necessary to adopt limited home rule powers. The opinion also notes that the 'farm market exception' may provide townships with limited authority to regulate outdoor signs, and that a different outcome could result for regulation of lots less than five acres in a subdivision setting.
The OAG's guidance is consistent with the history of the agricultural exemption and the many court cases that have interpreted the law. When the Ohio legislature gave townships zoning authority over 50 years ago, it tried to ensure that townships would not "zone out" all agricultural land uses in rural areas. The legislature's foresight on the issue of agricultural land use was remarkable, but their statutory language has yielded uncertainty and confusion. The OAG's opinion attempts to clarify some of that language, but the opinion forces townships into a careful analysis of each individual situation that may prove difficult and problematic for zoning officials.
The opinion itself recognizes the challenges posed by a "mixed use" situation, where the sign includes multiple products or partial products--some that derive from the property and others that do not, or promotes an activity related to the property's agricultural use. The Attorney General doesn't resolve this problem, but defers to the townships on these types of situations. The opinion states that when addressing these situations, township officials may consider "any information or facts they deem necessary and relevant in order to determine in a reasonable manner whether the use of an advertising device is drectly and immediately related to the use for agricultural purposes of the lot on which the device is located," or conversely is an "attempt to promote an activity that is not conducted in conjunction with and secondary to the production of the agricultural prouducts derived from the lot." Once again, township zoning officials may find themselves in a state of uncertainty over how or whether to regulate a land use on an agricultural property.
Read OAG opinion 2009-041 at http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Legal/Opinions.