Unconsolidated Pennsylvania Statutes

AGRICULTURE (Title 3)


AGRICULTURAL AREA SECURITY

901. Short title.
902. Statement of legislative findings.
903. Definitions.
904. Agricultural Security Area Advisory Committee.
905. Agricultural security areas.
906. Public hearings.
907. Evaluation criteria.
908. Decision on proposed area.
909. Review of area.
910. Appeals.
911. Limitation on local regulations.
912. Policy of Commonwealth agencies.
913. Limitation on certain governmental actions.
914. [Repealed.]
914.1. Purchase of agricultural conservation easements.
914.2. Agricultural conservation easement purchase fund.
914.3. Commonwealth indebtedness.
914.4. Legislative report.
915. Rules and regulations.

[Note: See 7 Pa. Code 138.1 et seq. on the Agricultural Area Security Program.]


901. Short title.

This act shall be known and may be cited as the "Agricultural Area Security Law."

902. Statement of legislative findings.

It is the declared policy of the Commonwealth to conserve and protect and to encourage the development and improvement of its agricultural lands for the production of food and other agricultural products. It is also the declared policy of the Commonwealth to conserve and protect agricultural lands as valued natural and ecological resources which provide needed open spaces for clean air, as well as for aesthetic purposes. Article VIII, section 2 of the Constitution of Pennsylvania provides that the General Assembly may, by law, establish standards and qualifications for agricultural reserves. Agriculture in many parts of the Commonwealth is under urban pressure from expanding metropolitan areas. This urban pressure takes the form of scattered development in wide belts around urban areas, and brings conflicting land uses into juxtaposition, creates high costs for public services, and stimulates land speculation. When this scattered development extends into good farm areas, ordinances inhibiting farming tend to follow, farm taxes rise, and hopes for speculative gains discourage investments in farm improvements. Many of the agricultural lands in the Commonwealth are in jeopardy of being lost for any agricultural purposes. Certain of these lands constitute unique and irreplaceable land resources of Statewide importance. It is the purpose of this act to provide means by which agricultural land may be protected and enhanced as a viable segment of the Commonwealth's economy and as an economic and environmental resource of major importance.

It is further the purpose of this act to:

  1. Encourage landowners to make a long-term commitment to agriculture by offering them financial incentives and security of land use.
  2. Protect farming operations in agricultural security areas from incompatible nonfarm land uses that may render farming impracticable.
  3. Assure permanent conservation of productive agricultural lands in order to protect the agricultural economy of this Commonwealth.
  4. Provide compensation to landowners in exchange for their relingquishment of the right to develop their private property.
  5. Leverage State agricultural easement purchase funds and protect the investment of taxpayers in agricultural conservation easements.

903. Definitions.

The following words and phrases when used in this act shall have the meanings given them in this section, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise:

"Advisory committee."

An Agricultural Security Area Advisory Committee.

"Agricultural conservation easement."

An interest in land, less than fee simple, which interest represents the right to prevent the development or improvement of the land for any purpose other than agricultural production. The easement may be granted by the owner of the fee simple to any third party or to the Commonwealth, to a county governing body or to a unit of local government. It shall be granted in perpetuity as the equivalent of covenants running with the land. The exercise or failure to exercise any right granted by the easement shall not be deemed to be management or control of activities at the site for purposes of enforcement of the act of October 18, 1988 (P.L. 756, No. 108), known as the "Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act."

"Agricultural production."

The production for commercial purposes of crops, livestock and livestock products, including the processing or retail marketing of such crops, livestock or livestock products if more than 50% of such processed or merchandised products are produced by the farm operator.

"Agricultural security area."

A unit of 250 or more acres of land used for the agricultural production of crops, livestock and livestock products under the ownership of one or more persons and designated as such by the procedures set forth in this act or designated as such pursuant to the act of January 19, 1968 (1967 P.L. 992, No. 442), entitled "An act authorizing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the counties thereof to preserve, acquire or hold land for open space uses," prior to the effective date of the amendatory act, by the governing body of the county or governing body of the municipality in which such agricultural land is located on the basis of criteria and procedures which predate the effective date of this amendatory act: Provided, That an owner of land designated as such under the authority of the act of January 19, 1968 (1967 P.L. 992, No. 442) may withdraw such land from an agricultural security area by providing written notice of withdrawal to the county governing body or governing body of the municipality in which such land is located within 180 days of the effective date of this amendatory act.

"County board."

The County Agricultural Land Preservation Board.

"County governing body."

The county board of commissioners or other designated council of representatives under home rule charters.

"County planning commission."

A planning commission or agency which has been designated by the county governing body to establish and foster a comprehensive plan for land management and development within the county.

"Crops, livestock and livestock products."

Include but are not limited to:

1.      Field crops, including corn, wheat, oats, rye, barley, hay, potatoes and dry beans.

2.      Fruits, including apples, peaches, grapes, cherries and berries.

3.      Vegetables, including tomatoes, snap beans, cabbage, carrots, beets, onions and mushrooms.

4.      Horticultural specialties, including nursery stock ornamental shrubs, ornamental trees and flowers.

5.      Livestock and livestock products, including cattle, sheep, hogs, goats, horses, poultry, furbearing animals, milk, eggs and furs.

6.      Timber, wood and other wood products derived from trees.

7.      Aquatic plants and animals and their byproducts.

"Crops unique to the area."

Include, but are not limited to, crops which historically have been grown or have been grown within the last five years in the region and which are used for agricultural production in the region.

"Department."

The Department of Agriculture of the Commonwealth.

"Description of the proposed area."

A complete and accurate list of the name or names of the owner or owners of each parcel of land to be included in the proposed agricultural security area, the tax parcel number or account number of each parcel and the number or account number of acres (including partial acres, to the nearest thousandth) contained in each parcel. Such description shall use county tax map references for determining boundaries of each parcel, and no survey of parcels shall be required, except when an individual parcel included in the agricultural security area shall represent less than the entire amount of contiguous land contained in the property of an owner.

"Eligible counties."

Counties whose easement purchase programs have been approved by the State Agricultural Land Preservation Board. For the purpose of annual allocations, an eligible county must have its easement purchase program approved by the State Agricultural Land Preservation Board by January 1 of the year in which the annual allocation is made. Counties of the first class are not eligible under any circumstances.

"Farmland value."

The price as of the valuation date for property used for normal farming operations which a willing and informed seller who is not obligated to sell would accept for the property, and which a willing and informed buyer who is not obligated to buy would pay for the property.

"Fiscal year."

Fiscal year of the Commonwealth

"Fund."

The Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Fund established by the act of May 13, 1988 (P.L. 398, No. 64), entitled "An act amending the act of June 18, 1982 (P.L. 549, No. 159), entitled 'An act providing for the administration of certain Commonwealth farmland within the Department of Agriculture,' providing for the disposition of proceeds from the sale of certain land, equipment or facilities."

"Governing body."

The governing body of a local government unit.

"Immediate family member."

A brother, sister, son, daughter, stepson, stepdaughter, grandson, granddaughter, father or mother of the landowner.

"Joint ownership."

Joint tenancy in an agricultural conservation easement purchase as the interests of the parties appear.

"Local government unit."

Any city, borough, township or town.

"Market value."

The price as of the valuation date for the highest and best use of the property which a willing and informed seller who is not obligated to sell would accept for the property, and which a willing and informed buyer who is not obligated to buy would pay for the property.

"Normal farming operations."

The customary and generally accepted activities, practices, and procedures that farmers adopt, use, or engage in year after year in the production and preparation for market of crops, livestock, and livestock products and in the production and harvesting of agricultural, agronomic, horticultural, silvicultural, and aquacultural crops and commodites. The term includes the storage and utilization of agricultural and food processing wastes for animal feed and the disposal of manure, other agricultural waste and food processing waste on land where the materials will improve the condition of the soil or the growth of crops or will aid in the restoration of the land for the same purpose.

"Planning commission."

A local government planning commission or agency which has been designated by the governing body of the local government unit to establish and foster a comprehensive plan for land management and development within the local government unit.

"Secretary"

The Secretary of Agriculture of the Commonwealth.

"State board"

The State Agricultural Land Preservation Board.

"Viable agricultural land."

Land suitable for agricultural production and which will continue to be economically feasible for such use if real estate taxes, farm use restrictions, and speculative activities are limited to levels approximately those in commercial agricultural areas not influenced by the proximity of urban and related nonagricultural development.

904. Agricultural Security Area Advisory Committee.

The governing body of any local government may establish an Agricultural Security Area Advisory Committee which shall consist of three active farmers, each representing a different private or corporate farm, and one citizen residing within the unit of local government and one member of the governing body of such local government, who shall serve as the chairman of the committee. Such a committee shall be established when a proposal is received by the governing body for the creation of an agricultural security area. Pursuant to this act the members of such committee shall be appointed by and shall serve at the pleasure of the chairman of the governing body. The members shall serve without salary, but the governing body may entitle each such member to reimbursement for his actual and necessary expenses incurred in the performance of his official duties. Such committee shall advise the governing body and work with the planning commission in relation to the proposed establishment, modification, and termination of agricultural security areas. In particular, the committee shall render expert advice relating to the desirability of such action, including advice as to the nature of farming and farm resources within the proposed area and the relation of farming in such area to the local government unit as a whole.

905. Agricultural security areas.

(a) Proposals for creation.-Any owner or owners of land used for agricultural production may submit a proposal to the governing body for the creation of an agricultural security area within such local government unit, provided that such owner or owners own at least 250 acres of viable agricultural land proposed to be included in the area. The proposed area may also consist of any number of noncontiguous tax parcels or accounts: Provided, That each tax parcel or account is at least ten acres or has an anticipated yearly gross income of at least $2,000 from the agricultural production of crops, livestock and livestock products on such parcel or account.

(a.1) Submitting the proposal.-Such proposal for creation of an agricultural security area shall be submitted in such manner and form as may be prescribed by the governing body of the local government unit wherein the proposed area is situated and shall include a description of the proposed area, including the boundaries thereof. Such proposal to the governing shall be submitted by certified mail with return receipt requested. The return receipt shall serve as notice of the official receipt of the proposal by the governing body and shall verify the official submission date.

(a.2) Proposals for agricultural security areas in more than one local government unit.-

(a.3) Fees.-Except as provided in this subsection, a governing body shall not require landowners including in a proposed agricultural security area to pay any fees in connection with the application for or the review of agricultural security areas as required in this section and sections 6, 7, 8 and 9. [3 P.S. 906, 907, 908, and 909 infra.]

A governing body may by resolution impose reasonable filing fees in connection with the administration and review of an agricultural security area application that proposes to include substantially the same lands as proposed in a previously submitted application that the governing body had rejected within 36 months based on the recommendations of the Agricultural Security Area Advisory Committee and the planning commission.

(b) Notice.-[to be inserted.]

(c) Modification proposals.-[to be inserted.]

(d) Report by planning commission.-[to be inserted.]

(e) Referral to advisory committee.-[to be inserted.]

906. Public hearings.

(a) Hearings.-The governing body shall hold a public hearing relative to the proposed agricultural security area upon receipt of the reports from the advisory committee and the planning commission or upon expiration of the 45-day period as provided in section 5 [section 905 supra.].

(b) Place of hearing.-The hearing shall be held at a place within the proposed area or otherwise readily accessible to the proposed area, such as a municipal building.

(c) Notice of hearing.-Pursuant to the act of July 3, 1986 (P.L. 388, No. 84), known as the "Sunshine Act," a hearing notice shall be published in a newspaper having a general circulation within the proposed area. In addition, notice shall be given in writing to those landowners who proposed modifications pursuant to section 5(c) or whose land is included in proposed modifications, and to all landowners within the proposed agricultural security area. Notice also shall be given by posting such notice in five conspicuous places within, adjacent or near to the proposed area. Such notice shall contain the following information:

  1. A statement of the time, date and place of the public hearing.
  2. A description of the proposed area, any proposed additions or deletions and any recommendations of the planning commission or advisory committee.
  3. A statement that the public hearing will be held concerning:

(i) The original proposal.
(ii) Any written amendments proposed during the review period. (Iii) Any recommendations proposed by the Agricultural Security Area Advisory Committee and the planning commission.

907. Evaluation criteria.

(a) Factors to be considered.-The following factors shall be considered by the planning commission, advisory committee, and at any public hearing:

  1. Land proposed for inclusion in an agricultural security area shall have soils which are conducive to agriculture. This factor will have been satisfied without further consideration if at least 30% in the aggregate of the land to be included in an agricultural security area falls into one of the following categories: land whose soils are classified in Soil Conservation Service Capability Classes I through IV, excepting IV(e); land which falls within the Soil Conservation Service classification of "unique farm land"; or land whose soils do not meet Capability Classes I through IV but which is currently in active farm use and is being maintained in accordance with the soil erosion and sedimentation plan applicable to such land.
  2. Use of land proposed for inclusion in an agricultural security area shall be compatible with local government unit comprehensive plans. Any zoning shall permit agricultural use but need not exclude other uses.
  3. The landowner may propose to include all of his land, regardless of zoning, in an agricultural security area.
  4. The land proposed for inclusion in the agricultural security area, and any additions which are proposed subsequently, shall be visible agricultural land.
  5. Additional factors to be considered are the extent and nature of farm improvements, anticipated trends in agricultural economic and technological conditions and any other matter which may be relevant.

(b) Resource materials.-In considering the viability factors as set forth in this section, various resource materials shall be used, including, but not limited to, the following:

  1. Soil surveys of the Pennsylvania State University
  2. Soil surveys and other information provided by the National Cooperative Soil Survey.
  3. Soil survey maps prepared by the United States Soil Conservation Service.
  4. The United States census of agricultural categories of land use classes.
  5. Any other relevant published data, maps, charts, or results of soil or land use surveys made by any county, State or Federal agency.

908. Decision on proposed area.

[to be inserted.]

909. Review of area.

(a) Review by governing body.-The governing body shall review any area created under section 8 seven years after the date of its creation and every seven years thereafter. In conducting such review, the governing body shall ask for the recommendations of the planning commission, the county planning commission and the advisory committee, and shall, at least 120 days prior to the end of the seventh year and not more than 180 days prior to such date, hold a public hearing at a place within the area or otherwise readily accessible to the area. Prior to the commencement of such review, notice thereof shall be given by publication in a newspaper having a general circulation within the area, by notice posted in five conspicuous places within, adjacent to or near the area and by notice, in writing, to all persons owning land within the area that the agricultural security area will be reviewed in accordance with law. All such notices shall be given 30 days before the commencement of such review. Persons wishing to modify the area shall submit proposed modifications within 30 days of the date of such notices. Thereafter, in conducting such review the governing bodies shall follow all the procedures and requirements of sections 5, 6, 7, and 8 [3 P.S. 905-908] for the consideration of the agricultural security area and proposed modifications thereto. Within ten days of its action of termination or modification, the governing body shall file a notice of termination or modification with the recorder of deeds, who shall record such notice in such manner and place as has been provided in the original recording of the agricultural security area. The governing body shall also file a notice of termination or modification with the planning commissions of the county and of the local government unit. If the governing body does not act, or if a modification of an area is rejected, the area shall be deemed to be readopted without modification for another seven years.

(b) Interim review.- [to be inserted.]

910. Appeals.

Any party in interest aggrieved by a decision or action of the governing body relating to the creation, composition, modification, rejection or termination of an agricultural area may take an appeal to the court of common pleas, in the manner provided by law within 30 days after such decision or action.

911. Limitation on local regulations.

(a) General rule.-Every municipality or political subdivision within which an agricultural security area is created shall encourage the continuity, development and viability of agriculture within such an area by not enacting local laws or ordinances which would unreasonably restrict farm structures or farm practices within the area in contravention of the purposes of this act unless such restrictions or regulations bear a direct relationship to the public health or safety.

(b) Public nuisance.-Any municipal or political subdivision law or ordinance defining or prohibiting a public nuisance shall exclude from the definition of such nuisance any agricultural activity or operation conducted using normal farming operations within an agricultural security area as permitted by this act if such agricultural activity or operation does not bear a direct relationship to the public health and safety.

912. Policy of Commonwealth agencies.

It shall be the policy of all Commonwealth agencies to encourage the maintenance of viable farming in agricultural security areas and their administrative regulations and procedures shall be modified to this end insofar as is consistent with the promotion of public health and safety, with the provisions of any Federal statutes, standards, criteria, rules, regulations, or policies, and any other requirements of Federal agencies, including provisions applicable only to obtaining Federal grants, loans, or other funding.

913. Limitation on certain governmental actions.

(a) Approval required for condemnation and for certain other actions by an agency of the Commonwealth.-

(b) Approval required for condemnation by a political subdivision, authority, public utility or other body.-

(c) Notice.-

(d) Review by Agricultural Lands Condemnation Approval Board and other bodies.-

(e) Public hearings.-

(f) Findings and decisions.-

(g) Injunctions.-

(h) Emergencies excepted.-

914. [Repealed.]

914.1. Purchase of agricultural conservation easements.

[to be inserted.]

914.2. Agricultural conservation easement purchase fund.

[to be inserted.]

914.3. Commonwealth indebtedness.

[to be inserted.]

914.4. Legislative report.

[to be inserted.]

915. Rules and regulations.

[to be inserted.]


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