Ohio Supreme Court decides agricultural zoning case

Court rules in favor of Myrddin Winery

The Ohio Supreme Court has clarified how the “agricultural exemption” contained in Ohio zoning law applies to wineries.  The Court agreed with appellant Myrddin Winery in ruling today that Ohio law does not grant a township or county zoning authority over buildings or structures used for the vinting and selling of wine if they are on property used for viticulture, which is the growing of grapes. 

The case before the Court, Terry v Sperry, involved a Milton Township property  in northeast Ohio located in a district zoned as residential.  Prior to establishing the winery on the property, the Sperrys asked the township whether a winery was a permissible use of the property.  The township zoning inspector advised that the winery was an agricultral use that did not require a zoning permit pursuant to Ohio’s “agricultural exemption” from zoning.  The Sperrys proceeded to establish and operate Myrddin Winery, making wine from a small number of grape vines grown on the property and from grape concentrate purchased from other sources.  The Sperrys sold the wine, as well as food items, to customers who visited the winery. 

When the township later received complaints about the winery from neighbors, the township decided that the winery was no longer a permissible agricultural use.  Rather, the township claimed that the use constituted a restaurant and retail business that was not permitted in the residential zoning district.  The township sought an injunction to close down the winery.  The Sperrys argued that the township could not exert zoning authority over the winery because of the agricultural exemption in Ohio zoning law.

Both the Mahoning Court of Common Pleas and the Seventh District Court of Appeals agreed with the township, and held that it could exert zoning authority over the winery.  The courts examined the “agricultural exemption” contained in Ohio Revised Code Chapter 519, which limits township and county zoning authority over agricultural land uses.  The courts concluded that the agricultural exemption did not apply to Myrddin Winery because the winery did not fit within the statute’s definition of “agriculture.”  The definition includes “viticulture,” but also states that the processing and marketing of agricultural products are included in the definition of agriculture only if those activities are secondary to agricultural production.  Pointing to the small number of grape vines grown on the property, the township argued that the winery was not “agriculture” because the processing of grapes and marketing of wine were the primary uses of the property, and grape production itself was secondary to the processing and marketing activities. 

The Ohio Supreme Court disagreed that the statute’s definition of agriculture dictated the outcome of the case.  The Court turned instead to additional language regarding wineries contained inORC 519.21(A), another part of the agricultural exemption.  That provision states that a township has no power to prohibit the “use of buildings or structures incident to the use for agricultural purposes of the land on which such buildings or structures are located, including buildings or structures that are used primarily for vinting and selling wine and that are located on land any part of which is used for viticulture.”  (Emphasis added).   That provision, stated the Court, is a “clear and unambiguous” exemption from zoning authority for winery buildings, as long as grapes are also grown on the property.  Because of the unambiguous exemption, the township need not refer to the definition of “agriculture” or analyze the number of grapes or whether grape growing or processing and marketing are the primary uses of the property.

The Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in Terry v Sperry brings much needed clarification to Ohio’s agricultural zoning exemption, a complicated statute whose interpretation has long created headaches for local zoning officials.  When Ohio legislators granted zoning authority to townships and counties years ago, agricultural interests expressed concern that agricultural land uses would be “zoned out” of many rural areas.  The agricultural exemption addresses those concerns by limiting local zoning authority over agricultural land uses.  The problem arises with the statute’s attempt to determine what is or is not an agricultural land use.  The distinction is often muddy, but today’s decision provides some clarity:  in regards to buildings used for making and selling wine on property where wine grapes are growing, the township or county has no zoning authority.

Read the Terry v Sperry opinion here.

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3 Comments

Filed under Zoning

3 responses to “Ohio Supreme Court decides agricultural zoning case

  1. Dave Duane

    In the Myrddin Winery case, the “agricultural exemption” contained in Ohio zoning law applied to a township. Are the Zoning implications applicable to a city/incorporated municipality as well? I’m asking because my farm lies in an city. Thanks.

    • No, a city has more power than townships and counties over agricultural activities, due to the “home rule” authority granted to Ohio cities. Unless there is a “grandfathering” situation that applies for a preexisting agricultural land use (which typically occurs through annexation), a city can regulate or prohibit agricultural activities through its zoning or other ordinances.

  2. Dale

    Do you know if the Myrddin Case covers signage for Wineries? We are Zoned U-1 (Agriculture), We have a tasting Room and want to put a sign by the road. The Zoning inspector is “pretty Sure” we need a Conditional Use permit for a sign. Do you know where we can get some clarity on this as to what is actually required by law?

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