By Matt Reese
Growing grapes — even just a few — is still considered agriculture when it comes to zoning exemptions. This is at the crux of a recent decision made by the Ohio Supreme Court that adds a bit of clarity to the often-confusing legalities of the agricultural zoning exemption in the state.
The case addresses a longstanding debate about the role of zoning in regulating agriculture.
“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,” said Peggy Kirk Hall, Ohio State University senior researcher in Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics. “The problem arises with the statute’s attempt to determine what is or is not an agricultural land use.”
This particular case revolves around the Sperry Family and their Myrddin Winery in Mahoning County. Prior to opening the business, the Sperry family asked their township whether a winery was permitted on their residential property.
“The township zoning inspector advised that the winery was an agricultural use that did not require a zoning permit pursuant to Ohio’s ‘agricultural exemption’ from zoning,” Kirk Hall said. “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.”
But, when complaints from neighbors about the business were received, the township changed its tune about the agricultural exemption, claiming that the winery was no longer a permissible agricultural use as it only grew a small percentage of the grapes used in the business.
“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,” Kirk Hall said. “The Sperrys argued that the township could not exert zoning authority over the winery because of the agricultural exemption in Ohio zoning law.”
The resulting case made its way to the Ohio Supreme Court that made a decision in favor of the winery in early July. The ruling found that with regard to buildings used for making and selling wine on property where wine grapes are growing, the township or county has no zoning authority, Hall said.
The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) closely followed the case and offered support for the winery. The state’s largest general farm organization was pleased with the outcome.
“This is a positive result for agriculture in Ohio. The court’s decision clarifies and affirms that counties and townships have limited powers when it comes to regulating agriculture through zoning,” said Chad Endsley, director of agricultural law for OFBF. “Both the OFBF and the legislature recognize the growing of grapes as an agricultural activity. We’re pleased the Court has also recognized the importance of this agricultural activity and correctly interpreted the section of state law that deals with a township’s power to regulate agriculture through zoning.”