Agricultural Zoning

Effective agricultural zoning, also known as agricultural preservation zoning, is a land management tool that encourages farming while discouraging non-agricultural land uses that are incompatible with farm operations. This form of zoning promotes agriculture uses and structures while limiting the number of non-farm uses such as dwellings and other activities that can compete for productive farmland.

This tool is most effective when it is used to protect areas where the local agricultural dominates the landscape and economy. Effective agricultural zoning is most appropriately used in the rural and agricultural landscapes, as well as in portions of natural landscapes that are being farmed.

Advantages

Effective Agricultural Zoning ordinances offer the following benefits:

Limitations

The following limitations may be associated with effective agricultural zoning:

How to Use This Tool

Municipalities that wish to adopt effective agricultural zoning programs should consider the following process:

Policy Development

The protection of agriculture should be supported by the municipal comprehensive plan, and should be justified by studies demonstrating that the municipality contains appropriate areas of prime agricultural soils and that farming is well established in the area. Policy development should also be based on the following:

Adoption of Effective Agricultural Zoning Ordinances

Agricultural areas on prime soils should be zoned to permit a wide range of normal and customary farming activities, supplemental farm businesses, and other compatible activities. Non-farm land uses should be strictly limited because of the inherent conflicts between these activities. All zoning ordinances should be supported by the comprehensive plan and objective data.

Issues to Consider

Most effective agricultural zoning ordinances contain similar elements:

AgZoningExamples

The first effective agricultural zoning ordinance in Pennsylvania was adopted in York County in 1974, and other municipalities in southeast Pennsylvania have adopted their own versions since that time. Currently, Elk Township, Highland Township, Honey Brook Township, Londonderry Township, Upper Oxford Township, West Caln Township, and West Fallowfield Township in Chester County utilize effective agricultural zoning ordinances.

Click here for a sample effective agricultural zoning ordinance that may be used as a template.

Upper Oxford Township is an example of a municipality that supports its agricultural zoning regulations with policies that are derived from its agricultural resources inventory and plan.

Related References

Section 603(c)(5) of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code (Act 247) allows municipalities to adopt regulations for the "…Protection and preservation of natural and historic resources and prime agricultural land and activities." More directly, Section 603(g)(1) requires zoning ordinances to "…protect prime agricultural land and may promote the establishment of agricultural security areas."

Related Tools

Landscapes2 Relevance

Agriculture has a long history in Chester County, and it continues to be vitally important to the County's economy and culture. Parts of Chester, Lancaster, and York Counties form a significant block of prime agricultural land. Moreover, the resource is irreplaceable when it is developed for non-agricultural uses. Consequently, Landscapes2 contains Objective A1: "Farmland Preservation: Continue to support farmland preservation efforts within the county by private landowners, public agencies, corporations, foundations, and non-profit organizations."

Effective agricultural zoning also supports the County's overall energy conservation policy as expressed in the Landscapes2 Energy Conservation Objective EC1: Reducing Demand and Consumption, which promotes energy conservation that reduces both demand and consumption by individual consumers, the county, and other public and private entities.