Zoning, agriculture and minimum acreage

By:Peggy Kirk Hall, Associate Professor, Agricultural & Resource Law Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Does the law require a minimum amount of acreage for a landowner to engage in agricultural activities like raising crops, livestock or horses in Ohio?  This is a common question I receive in the Farm Office.  The answer is usually a simple "no," but the explanation is not exactly simple.

One situation where there could be a legal minimum acreage requirement is if land is within a municipality.  Because cities, towns and villages have greater zoning authority than counties and townships in Ohio, they can prohibit agriculture altogether or establish regulations for agricultural activities such as minimum acreage requirements. 

That's not the case when counties and townships have zoning.  Their zoning regulations are subject to an Ohio law that largely exempts agricultural land uses from zoning--the "agricultural exemption."  Unless a parcel is in what I call a "subddivision situation," county and township zoning can't prohibit or regulate agricultural land uses on that parcel.  Within a platted residential subdivision or where there are 15 or more contiguous subdivided lots established outside of the platting process, county and township could use zoning to regulate certain agricultural activities on lots that are less than five acres. For example, zoning could regulate lots under one acre and could regulate animal husbandry activities, set back lines, and building sizes on lots between one and five acres.

But if a lot in a subdivision situation is over five acres, the agricultural exemption applies and a county or township can't regulate or prohibit agricultural activities on the lot.  This means county or township zoning can't require a landowner to have at least two acres to raise cattle or horses, for instance, or to have at least five acres to plant an agricultural row crop.  These types of requirements would be an attempt to regulate agriculture, and Ohio's agricultural exemption from zoning simply doesn't allow counties and townships to do so in those situations.

Note that Ohio's Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) law does establish a minimum acreage.  CAUV is the program that allows qualifying property to be valued and taxed as agricultural rather than for its fair market value.  Parcels must be either at least ten acres in size or produce an average annual gross income of $2500 from agriculture.   The land must be dedicated to "commercial" agricultural activity to qualify for CAUV.   Zoning regulations and CAUV eligibility are not related to one another but they likely lead to confusion on the issue of minimum acreage for agriculture.

For more on agriculture and zoning, see our Zoning Law shelf on theFarm Office Ag Law Library, here.

 

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