Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Agricultural Law Weekly Review—November 22, 2016

Written by M. Sean High – Staff Attorney

The following information is an update of recent, local, state, national, and international legal developments relevant to agriculture:

Zoning: Court Says Horse Farm Excluded from Land Development Requirement
On November 21, 2016, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania filed an unreported opinion ruling that  a proposed Upper Saucon Township (Lehigh County, Pennsylvania) equine operation qualifies as a farm under the Township’s ordinances and is therefore exempt from submitting a land development plan (Ebert v. Upper Saucon Township, 2016 WL 6833081).  According to the court, under the Township’s Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance (SALDO) farms are excluded from the requirement of submitting a land development plan.  Additionally, both SALDO and the Township’s Zoning Ordinance contain language defining a farm to include the raising of livestock and that “[a] ‘farm’ shall be understood to include a dwelling unit as well as all structures necessary for the housing of animals, storage of feed and equipment, and other operations customarily incidental to farm use.” The Township argued that because the proposed equine operation only consisted of a barn, six permanent horse run-ins, and access roads, but did not include a dwelling, a land development plan must be submitted in order to obtain a zoning permit for the proposed barn construction.  The court disagreed and held that “[r]ead as a whole, it is clear the intent of the definition was to ensure that a property was not excluded from the definition of a farm merely because it contained a dwelling unit.”

Realty Transfer Tax: Governor Signs Law Exempting Preserved Farms
On November 21, 2016, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed into law legislation clarifying recent changes made to the Tax Reform Code regarding the taxation of Agricultural Conservation Easements (Act 175).  According to the House Co-Sponsorship Memoranda, previously, “the Department of Revenue [had] taken the position that agricultural conservation easements were not subject to the Realty Transfer Tax [RTT] since they were not “true easements.” Nevertheless, in 2014 a Tax Appeal decision found that a conservation easement was subject to RTT and “cast doubt on whether other agricultural conservation easements would also be subject to the RTT.” To provide clarity, “the tax code portion of this year’s budget added language to specifically exempt agricultural conservation easements from the RTT…[but] the new language did not include a retroactive effective date.” Under Act 175, the RTT exemption for agricultural conservation easements applies retroactively to January 1, 2013.

Dairy: PA Milk Marketing Board Reschedules Meeting
On November 19, 2016, the Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board published notice in the Pennsylvania Bulletin that the December 7, 2016, meeting of the Milk Marketing Board has been rescheduled for December 8, 2016, at 12 p.m. in Room 202, Agriculture Building, Harrisburg, PA 17110 (46 Pa.B. 7422). 

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