Posted by: Patricia Salkin | June 30, 2009

Municipalities May Not Consider Comprehensive Plans and Other Land Use Regulations When Determining Whether to Establish an Agricultural Security Area

In June 2007, the Board of Supervisors of East Lampeter Township received a petition by a group of Amish farmers to establish an Agricultural Security Area (ASA) encompassing 13 farms and 788 acres. The farmers were motivated by a desire to discourage nuisance laws that restrict farming and to limit the government’s ability to condemn farmland. The Township Planning Commission recommended that all but one of the properties be included in an ASA, but following public hearings, the Board of Supervisors concluded that an ASA was not necessary because the Township had adopted appropriate planning tools to prevent inappropriate development of agricultural lands, citing the policies in its comprehensive plan, and the fact that the township “had not adopted any ordinances which would tend to inhibit normal farming practices.”  Further, the Township believed that its Right to Farm Act and other regulations provided sufficient protection.

The petitioners appealed, and the trial court ruled that the state law did not provide discretion to the board to consider its comprehensive plan and other preservation tools when deciding whether or not to create an ASA. Once a petition is filed requesting the governing body to establish an ASA, there are five statutory factors to be considered. The township argued that the factor which states “any other matter which may be relevant” provides broad discretion. The appellate court affirmed and held that evaluating the ASA in the context of the comprehensive plan, ordinances, or other preservation tools is not within the permissible scope of “other matters which may be relevant.”  The Court said that under State statute, the decision as to whether to establish an ASA rests with the farmers and not the municipal governing body.

In re Agricultural Security Area in East Lampeter Township, 2009 WL 1456995 (PA. Cmwlth Ct. 5/27/2009)

The opinion can be accessed here


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