Court affirms right to farm policy in Ohio

Buckeye Farm News

The Ohio Supreme Court has agreed with a winery’s argument that it is exempt from local zoning regulations. The ruling not only benefits the northeast Ohio winery but the entire agriculture industry.

“This is another example of townships trying to zone out or regulate certain types of agriculture. This is a favorable result for viticulture because it recognizes that viticulture is an agricultural activity and that township residents have a right to farm,” said Chad Endsley, Ohio Farm Bureau’s director of agricultural law. Ohio Farm Bureau filed an amicus brief in the case in 2009.

The case involved Myrddin Winery, a small winery in a residential area of Lake Milton in Mahoning County. Farm Bureau member Gayle Sperry and her son and daughter-in-law went to the township to ask what permits were needed to start the winery. They were told the business was allowed and did not need a permit. The Sperrys then got the necessary state and federal permits and started their business.

Their residential property had 20 grape vines and 12 of them were harvested. The family obtained grapes and grape juice from other sources and destemmed, crushed and fermented the grapes. They then bottled, aged and sold the wine on their property along with shelf-stable foods.

After officials received complaints from a couple of neighbors, the township decided that the Sperrys’ operation was not a proper use of agriculture because only 5 percent of the grapes used to produce the wine came from the vines on the residential property. The township said the operation should be labeled a restaurant or retail business, which was not allowed in residential areas. Both the Mahoning County Court of Appeals and the Seventh District Court of Appeals agreed with the township’s argument that since the primary use of the property was not growing grapes but making and selling wine that it was not an agricultural exemption from township zoning.

The Ohio Supreme Court, however, said state law clearly spells out that viticulture does not need to be the primary function on a property that is making wine and reversed the lower courts’ rulings. The high court said the language in state law was “clear and unambiguous.”

“There is no requirement (in Ohio’s Revised Code) that the vinting and selling of wine be a secondary or subordinate use of the property or that viticulture be the primary use of the property. A township may not prohibit the use of a property for vinting and selling wine if any part of the property is used for viticulture,” the Ohio Supreme Court said in its ruling.

“Had the legislature intended there to be thresholds for vineyards, they would have provided it. Wine making is a growing industry in Ohio and this is an important ruling because it supports the wine industry and it continues to protect agricultural practices from being regulated by townships,” Endsley said.

“This is a great win for Ohio agriculture,” said David Pennington of Wright Law Co. who represented the Sperrys. “The Ohio legislature has consistently supported the right to farm in Ohio and this decision is a strong affirmation of that intent by Ohio’s highest court. Farm Bureau fights for that right every day and I have greatly appreciated their support throughout this litigation.”

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