In re: Agricultural Security Area in East Lampeter Township, 974 A.2d 1213 (Pa. Commw. 2009).
Irrespective of municipal planning and zoning for agricultural preservation, a municipality is without discretion to deny a request for creation of an agricultural security area under the Agricultural Security Law when the property satisfies the soils, zoning and agricultural use factors set forth in the Act.
A group of agricultural landowners filed a petition with the Board of Supervisors for East Lampeter Township seeking to create an Agricultural Security Area (ASA) pursuant to the Agricultural Security Law, 3 P.S. §§901 et seq. To consider the petition, the Township created an Agricultural Security Advisory Committee and public hearings were conducted. Following the hearings, the Board of Supervisors denied the request on the basis that it was unnecessary, as the Township had adopted planning tools to prevent inappropriate development of agricultural lands. The landowners appealed, and the Common Pleas Court reversed the decision and remanded for the establishment of the ASA. The Board subsequently appealed to the Commonwealth Court.
The statute sets forth factors to be considered in determining whether land is appropriately determined to be an ASA including, without limitation, whether it has proper soil, is compatible with comprehensive plans, whether it is zoned for agricultural use and is viable agricultural land. The statute also allows the Township to consider “any other matter which may be relevant.” 3 P.S. §907. The Board argued that based on this language, it had broad discretion to deny the petition, citing its finding that there was no need for an ASA based upon current Township planning for farmland protection and preservation. The Court rejected this argument, relying on the analysis of the Common Pleas Court which was set forth in an unpublished decision.
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