Right to Farm Bill Usurps Local Role in Farm Land Use


January 7, 2013

For More Information, Contact
Megan Gallagher
Shenandoah Valley Network
540-253-5162 meganinc@earthlink.net

Luray, VA – Del. Scott Lingamfelter’s (R-Woodbridge) Right to Farm Bill HB 1430 has alarmed Shenandoah Valley elected officials and county managers with a mandate on farm retail sales that would eliminate local zoning control over agriculture and rural land uses. The bill also gives aggrieved landowners the right to sue local governments and individual staff members for damages for upholding local zoning.

“Del. Lingamfelter is trying to address a zoning dispute in Fauquier County over farm activities, but his legislation would gut the sensible, non-controversial zoning ordinances in the Valley’s major agricultural counties – Rockingham, Augusta and Shenandoah – as well as elsewhere in Virginia,” said Megan Gallagher, a Shenandoah Valley Network spokesperson.

Farm ordinances in the Shenandoah Valley have helped strengthen the local agricultural economy by encouraging on-farm retail sales and related activities. The most recent is Rockingham County’s Farm First Enterprise Program adopted just last year, which provides a simple permit process to operate farm stands and outlines the many seasonal farm activities compatible with the county’s goals for agricultural economic development.

Ordinances governing on-farm activities in the Valley were developed by local officials with the farm community. In Shenandoah County, two working farmers serve on the Board of Supervisors, Dennis Morris and Steve Baker, a new planner was hired in 2012 to address agricultural and natural resource issues, and the county works closely with the local Farm Bureau and its members.

In turn, the Valley’s counties have not experienced the contentious battles over special events and other activities at vineyards or other farms like those in Northern Virginia, notably Fauquier County. “A Fauquier problem should not trigger a state mandate that ties the hands of the Valley’s elected officials working to promote farming and the local agricultural economy,” said Ms. Gallagher.

Del. Lingamfelter’s bill also would allow disgruntled landowners to sue local government, and individual staff members, for damages for upholding local ordinances developed by local consensus.

“This is a tremendous overreach, threatening local governments and individual employees for just doing their jobs,” Ms. Gallagher said. “If landowners are unhappy with local zoning, they should work with county residents and officials to reach agreement on a change, not rush to court or the state legislature,” she added.



For the full text of HB1430: http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?131+sum+HB1430
Excerpts are reprinted below.
HB 1430 Right to Farm Act; expands definition of agricultural operations.
Introduced by: L. Scott Lingamfelter |
Right to Farm Act. Expands the definition of agricultural operations to include the commerce of farm-to-business and farm-to-consumer sales. The commerce and sale of certain items, such as art, literature, artifacts, furniture, food, beverages, and other items that are incidental to the agricultural operation, and constitute less than a majority amount of production or sales, or less than a majority of annual revenues from such sales, are defined as part of the agricultural operation. The bill gives persons engaged in agricultural operations a cause of action against the county or any official or employee of the county for violations of the Right to Farm Act.
§ 3.2-302.1. Remedies
A. Any county that violates any provision of this chapter shall be liable to aggrieved persons in the amounts equal to the fines and penalties that the county seeks to impose on such aggrieved persons, plus attorney fees.
B. Any official or employee of a county who violates any provision of this chapter, or whose interpretation or enforcement of duties operates contrary to this chapter, shall be personally liable to aggrieved persons in the amount equal to the fines and penalties that such county official or employee seeks to impose on such aggrieved persons, plus attorney fees, and shall otherwise be subject to the penalties that the official or employee seeks to impose, whether civil or criminal. Such official or employee shall not be protected by sovereign immunity for causes of action in trespass or tort.