Posted by: Patricia Salkin | May 9, 2018

Ohio Appeals Court Reverses Agricultural Zoning Exemption for Barn used for Wedding Receptions

This post was authored by Amy Lavine, Esq.

An Ohio court ruled in January that a barn used for wedding receptions was improperly granted a zoning exemption for viticultural use. The court was unable to determine whether the barn qualified for the statutory zoning exemption because there was no evidence in the record as to whether the barn was used primarily for vinting and selling wine. Litchfield Twp. Bd. of Trs. v. Forever Blueberry Barn, LLC, 2018-Ohio-345 (1/29/18)

Litchfield Township filed this lawsuit against Forever Blueberry Barn in 2015 seeking to enjoin it from renting a barn on its property for weddings and other events. The trial court declined to grant a permanent injunction, however, and instead adopted the magistrate’s decision, which found that Blueberry Barn qualified for a viticulture zoning exemption pursuant to state law.

Ohio’s viticulture exemption is contained in the same statute that exempts agricultural uses from local zoning restrictions. The court provided a helpful summary of the statute, which provides that:
a township may not prohibit the construction or use of a building located upon land used for agricultural purposes, if said building is incident to the land’s use for agricultural purposes. This includes a building located on land where any part of that land is used for viticulture, and where the building is used primarily for vinting and selling wine.

The Ohio Supreme Court previously considered the viticulture exemption in Terry v. Sperry, where it determined that viticulture need not be the “primary” use of property in order to claim a zoning exemption. Relying on Terry, the trial court concluded that an exemption applied so long as any part of the property was used for vinting and selling wine, and having found that Blueberry Barn used part its farm for viticulture, the trial court then concluded that Blueberry Barn was entitled to an exemption for events held in its barn. On appeal, however, the court found that this analysis was incomplete. As it explained:
Although Terry does not require that viticulture be the primary use of the land at issue, it does provide… that “[i]f there is agricultural use of the property (viticulture), the township may not regulate the zoning of buildings that are used primarily for vinting and selling wine.”

The magistrate’s decision, which was also adopted by the trial court, did not address whether Blueberry Barn’s use of the barn was primarily for viticulture, and thus the court was unable to review whether the barn was entitled to a zoning exemption. The court also found that the trial court had relied on “a conditional and inexact statement of law,” and because the trial court did not address these deficiencies, its decision finding that the barn was exempt from local zoning was in error. Accordingly, the court remanded the case back to the trial court so that it could address the defects in its ruling.

Litchfield Twp. Bd. of Trs. v. Forever Blueberry Barn, LLC, 2018-Ohio-345 (1/29/18)

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