Buckeye Farm News
The court found that townships could base zoning resolutions on countywide land use plans rather than bear the costs of developing their own individual plans.
“Overall, this case flew under the radar, because it did not directly involve a large number of people,” said Larry Gearhardt, OFBF senior director of local policy. “But it could have had significant impacts for rural residents across Ohio.”
The case resulted when officials in Wayne County’s Congress Township told a fireworks company it couldn’t build a new store on land zoned for agriculture. The company argued that because the township had not developed a comprehensive land use plan, its zoning ordinances were invalid under Ohio law.
However, the township said that it met its legal requirements because it was included in Wayne County’s comprehensive plan. That plan made numerous references to Congress Township and listed goals such as protecting productive farmland and maintaining the rural character of the county.
But a lower court ruled in favor of the fireworks company, essentially saying that townships must have individual plans in order to enact zoning. Gearhardt said it could cost a township tens of thousands of dollars to develop a comprehensive plan.
“This decision could have upset the apple cart and thrown local zoning rules into confusion. Everything would be up for challenge,” he said.
Ohio Farm Bureau and Wayne County Farm Bureau filed briefs with the Supreme Court stating that zoning is an important farmland preservation tool and that cash-strapped rural townships do not have the resources to develop their own comprehensive plans. Farm Bureau was also concerned about the rights of township residents to have a say in the types of businesses that may locate in their area.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court sided with Congress Township, saying that a “county or regional comprehensive plan can address goals like conservation and controlling sprawl that townships within the region can share but cannot achieve alone.”
“After getting involved with this case, it was particularly gratifying to see the Supreme Court reverse a decision made by the lower court,” Gearhardt said.
He also highlighted the partnership between Farm Bureau and local governments to speak out on an area of common concern.
“We support local government and most of the time we’re on the same page,” Gearhardt said. “We try to help them as much as we can.”