Mar 8, 2013
Farm signs must meet zoning requirements

Signage can be an important part of any successful farm market, but you need to make sure your sign doesn’t violate local zoning laws – which can be confusing.

Helping farm marketers avoid conflicts over signage was the message of Leah Curtis, the director of legal education for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. She spoke to attendees at the Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association’s Winter Congress, held in Sandusky, Ohio.

The rules affecting signs start with whether or not the sign is a permanent structure and whether or not the sign promotes a farm or a farm market, she said. Under Ohio law, townships and counties cannot regulate agriculture through zoning on farms greater than 5 acres, including any ag-related structures. Signs that promote the farm itself or its products should be considered “marketing done in conjunction with but secondary to” agricultural production, and should be covered under the agricultural zoning exemption.

“If the sign promotes a farm, it falls under the agriculture zoning laws and there are no real restrictions,” Curtis said. “As long as the farm is larger than 5 acres.”

If the sign is promoting the farm market, there can be some restrictions, especially if the farm market is not part of the farm property or if 50 percent of the products sold at the market come from farms other than the one owned by the operator of the market, she said.

Small signs that can be easily moved are like election signs, and zoning laws don’t apply, she said. There may be local ordinances, such as those that affect political signage, however. Growers need to check into the laws before investing in signs. Especially in the case of placing signs along state highways or interstates, landowners should check with the Ohio Department of Transportation for more information.

The zoning interests come in when the signs are large structures and part of the property, Curtis said. In Ohio, agriculture has special qualifications under the zoning laws that affect signs, as well as other structures.

In Ohio, for township and county zoning, there is no power to regulate agriculture and ag buildings or structures on lots greater than 5 acres. There are some exceptions, however, Curtis said. Agricultural operations can be regulated if the farm is less than 1 acre in size. For farms 1 to 5 acres in size, zoning laws could regulate agricultural structures and, therefore, any permanent structure-type signs farmers might want to use, she said.

“Subdivisions can be an issue, but are not typically an issue I deal with, because the covenants and restrictions would prevent many activities regardless of what any zoning regulations were,” Curtis said.

In Ohio, there also are restrictions regarding farm markets. According to the laws, if 50 percent of the gross income from the farm market comes from the farming practices of the owner, the only zoning regulations that can apply are for structure size, structure height, structure setback, ingress and egress and parking size, she said.

There are other limitations, too, Curtis said. One of the trickier limitations comes if the sign advertises non-farm products. That can be an issue if the size of the farm is below the 5-acre threshold.

“The take-home message is that farmers and farm marketers need to check with their local governments to make sure they aren’t going to violate any zoning laws before they invest in signage,” Curtis said. “That goes for any farmer in any state.”

Curtis suggests that farmers and farm marketers consult with their legal counsel as well, just to cover all the bases.

Derrek Sigler


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