§ 901. Short Title
This act shall be known and may be cited as the “Agricultural Area Security Law.” 1981, June 30, P.L. 128. No 43, § 1, effective in 60 days.
§ 902. Statement of legislative findings
It is the declared policy of the Commonwealth to conserve and protect and to encourage the development and improvement of its agricultural lands for the production of food and other agricultural products. It is also the declared policy of the Commonwealth to conserve and protect agricultural lands as valued natural and ecological resources which provide needed open spaces for clean air, as well as for aesthetic purposes. Article VIII, section 2 of the Constitution of Pennsylvania provides that the General Assembly may
, by law, establish standards and qualification for agricultural reserves. Agriculture in many parts of the Commonwealth is under urban pressure from expanding metropolitan areas. This urban pressure takes the form of scattered development in wide belts around urban areas, and brings conflicting land uses into juxtaposition, creates high costs for public services, and stimulates land speculation. When this scattered development extends into good farm areas, ordinances inhibiting farming tend to follow, farm taxes rise, and hopes for speculative gains discourage investments in farm improvements. Many of the agricultural lands in the Commonwealth are in jeopardy of being lost for any agricultural purposes. Certain of these lands constitute unique and irreplaceable land resources of Statewide importance. It is the purpose of this act to provide the means by which agricultural land may be protected and enhanced as a viable segment of the Commonwealth’s economy and as an economic and environmental resource of major importance.
It is further the purpose of this act to:
(1) Encourage landowners to make a long-term commitment to agriculture by offering them financial incentives and security of land use.
(2) Protect farming operations in agricultural security areas from incompatible nonfarm land uses that may render farming impracticable.
(3) Assure permanent conservation of productive agricultural lands in order to protect the agricultural economy of this Commonwealth.
(4) Provide compensation to landowners in exchange for their relinquishment of the right to develop their private property.
(5) Leverage State agricultural easement purchase funds and protect the investment of taxpayers in agricultural conservation easements.
(6) Encourage financial partnerships between State and local governments with nonprofit entities in order to increase the funds available for agricultural conservation easement purchases.1
§ 903. Definitions
The following words and phrases when used in this act shall have the meanings given to them in this section, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise:
“Advisory Committee.” An Agricultural Security Area Advisory Committee.
“Agricultural conservation easement.” An interest in land, less than fee simple, which interest represents the right to prevent the development or improvement of a parcel for any purpose other than agricultural production. The easement may be granted by the owner of the fee simple to any third party or to the Commonwealth, to a county governing body or to a unit of local government. It shall be granted in perpetuity as the equivalent of covenants running with the land. The exercise or failure to exercise any right granted by the easement shall not be deemed to be management or control of activities at the site for purposes of enforcement of the act of October 18, 1988 (P.L. 756, No. 108), known as the “Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act.”2
“Agricultural production.” The production for commercial purposes of crops, livestock and livestock products, including the processing or retail marketing of such crops, livestock or livestock products if more than 50% of such processed or merchandised products are produced by the farm operator. The term includes use of land which is devoted to and meets the requirements of and qualifications for payments or other compensation pursuant to a soil conservation program under an agreement with an agency of the Federal Government.
“Agricultural Security Area.” A unit of 250 or more acres of land used for the agricultural production of crops, livestock and livestock products under the ownership of one or more persons and designated as such by the procedures set forth in this act or designated as such pursuant to the act of January 19, 1968 (1967 P.L. 992, No. 442), entitled “An act authorizing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the counties thereof to preserve, acquire or hold land for open space uses,”3 prior to the effective date of this amendatory act, by the governing body of the county or governing body of the municipality in which such agricultural land is located on the basis of criteria and procedures which predate the effective date of this amendatory act: Provided, That an owner of the land designated as such under the authority of the act of January 19, 1968 (1967 P.L. 992, No. 442) may withdraw such land from an agricultural security area by providing written notice of withdrawal to the county governing body or governing body of the municipality in which such land is located within 180 days of the effective date of this amendatory act.
“Commercial equine activity.” The term includes the following activities where a fee is collected:
The boarding of equines.
The training of equines.
The instruction of people in handling, driving or riding equines.
The use of equines for riding or driving purposes.
The pasturing of equines.
The term does not include activity licensed under the act of December 17, 1981 (P.L. 435, No 135), known as the “Race Horse Industry Reform Act.”
“Contiguous acreage.” All portions of one operational unit as described in the deed, whether or not the portions are divided by streams, public roads, bridges or railroads and whether or not described as multiple tax parcels, tracts, purparts or other property identifiers. The term includes supportive lands, such as unpaved field access roads, drainage areas, border strips, hedgerows, submerged lands, marshes, ponds and streams.4
“County board.” The County Agricultural Land Preservation Board.
“County governing body.” The county board of commissioners or other designated council of representatives under home rule charters.
“County planning commission.” A planning commission or agency which has been designated by the county governing body to establish and foster a comprehensive plan for land management and development within the county.
“Crops, livestock and livestock products.” Include but are not limited to:
(1) Field crops, including corn, wheat, oats, rye, barley, hay, potatoes and dry beans.
(2) Fruits, including apples, peaches, grapes, cherries and berries.
(3) Vegetables, including tomatoes, snap beans, cabbage, carrots, beets, onions and mushrooms.
(4) Horticultural specialties, including nursery stock ornamental shrubs, ornamental trees and flowers.
(5) Livestock and livestock products, including cattle, sheep, hogs, goats, horses, poultry, furbearing animals, milk, eggs and furs.
(6) Timber, wood and other wood products derived from trees.
Aquatic plants and animals and their byproducts.
“Crops unique to the area.” Include, but are not limited to, crops which historically have been grown or have been grown within the last five years in the region and which are used for agricultural production in the region.
“Department.” The Department of Agriculture of the Commonwealth.
“Description of the proposed area.” A complete and accurate list of the name or names of the owner or owners of each parcel of land to be included in the proposed agricultural security area, the tax parcel number or account number of each parcel and the number or account number of acres (including partial acres, to the nearest thousandth) contained in each parcel. Such description shall use county tax map references for determining boundaries of each parcel, and no survey of parcels shall be required, except when an individual parcel included in the agricultural security area shall represent less than the entire amount of contiguous land contained in the property of an owner.
“Eligible counties.” Counties whose easement purchase programs have been approved by the State Agricultural Land Preservation Board. For the purpose of annual allocations, an eligible county must have its easement purchase program approved by the State Agricultural Land Preservation Board by January 1 of the year in which the annual allocation is made. Counties of the first class are not eligible under any circumstances.
"Eligible nonprofit entity." An entity that provides the State board or an eligible county satisfactory proof of all of the following:
(1) That the entity is tax exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (Public Law 99-514, 26 U.S.C. § 501(c)(3)).
(2) That the entity has experience acquiring, whether through purchase, donation or other transfer, an agricultural or other conservation easement. 5
“Farmland value.” The price as of the valuation date for property used for normal farming operations which a willing and informed seller who is not obligated to sell would accept for the property, and which a willing and informed buyer who is not obligated to buy would pay for the property.
“Fiscal year.” Fiscal year of the Commonwealth.
“Fund.” The Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Fund established by the act of May 13, 1988 (P.L. 398, No. 64), entitled “An act amending the act of June 18, 1982 (P.L. 549, No. 159), entitled ‘An act providing for the administration of certain Commonwealth farmland within the Department of Agriculture,’ providing for the disposition of proceeds from the sale of certain land, equipment or facilities.”6
“Governing body.” The governing body of a local government unit.
“Immediate family member.” A brother, sister, son, daughter, stepson, stepdaughter, grandson, granddaughter, father or mother of the landowner.
“Joint ownership.” Joint tenancy in an agricultural conservation easement purchase as the interests of the parties appear.
“Local government unit.” Any city, borough, township or town or any home rule municipality, optional plan municipality, optional charter municipality or similar general purpose unit of government which may be created or authorized by statute.
“Market value.” The price as of the valuation date for the highest and best use of the property which a willing and informed seller who is not obligated to sell would accept for the property, and which a willing and informed buyer who is not obligated to buy would pay for the property.
“Normal farming operations.” The customary and generally accepted activities, practices, and procedures that farmers adopt, use, or engage in year after year in the production and preparation for market of crops, livestock, and livestock products and in the production and harvesting of agricultural, agronomic, horticultural, silvicultural, and aquacultural crops and commodities. The term includes the storage and utilization of agricultural and food processing wastes for animal feed and the disposal of manure, other agricultural waste and food processing waste on land where the materials will improve the condition of the soil or the growth of crops or will aid in the restoration of the land for the same purposes.
"Parcel." A tract of land in its entirety which is assessed for tax purposes by one county including any portion of that tract that may be located in a neighboring county. The county responsible for assessing an entire tract, on its own or either in conjunction with either the Commonwealth or a local government unit, or both, shall be eligible to purchase agricultural conservation easements covering the entire tract.
“Planning commission.” A local government planning commission or agency which has been designated by the governing body of the local government unit to establish and foster a comprehensive plan for land management and development within the local government unit.
“Secretary.” The Secretary of Agriculture of the Commonwealth.
“State board.” The State Agricultural Land Preservation Board.
“Viable agricultural land.” Land suitable for agricultural production and which will continue to be economically feasible for such use if real estate taxes, farm use restrictions, and speculative activities are limited to levels approximating those in commercial agricultural areas not influenced by the proximity of urban and related nonagricultural development.
§ 904. Agricultural Security Area Advisory Committee
The governing body of any local government may establish an Agricultural Security Area Advisory Committee which shall consist of three active farmers, each representing a different private or corporate farm, and one citizen residing within the unit of local government and one member of the governing body of such local government, who shall serve as the chairman of the committee. Such a committee shall be established when a proposal is received by the governing body for the creation of an agricultural security area. Pursuant to this act the members of such committee shall be appointed by and shall serve at the pleasure of the chairman of the governing body. The members shall serve without salary, but the governing body may entitle each such member to reimbursement for his actual and necessary expenses incurred in the performance of his official duties. Such committee shall advise the governing body and work with the planning commission in relation to the proposed establishment, modification, and termination of agricultural security areas. In particular, the committee shall render expert advice relating to the desirability of such action, including advice as to the nature of farming and farm resources within the proposed area and the relation of farming in such area to the local government unit as a whole.
§ 905. Agricultural security areas
(a) Proposals for creation.—Any owner or owners of land used for agricultural
production or of viable agricultural land a portion of which is used for commercial equine activity may submit a proposal to the governing body for the creation of an agricultural security area within such local government unit, provided that such owner or owners own at least 250 acres of viable agricultural land proposed to be included in the area. The proposed area may also consist of any number of noncontiguous tax parcels or accounts: Provided, That each tax parcel or account is at least ten acres or has an anticipated yearly gross income of at least $2,000 from the agricultural production of crops, livestock and livestock products on such parcel or account.
(a.1) Submitting the proposal.
—Such proposal for creation of an agricultural security area shall be submitted in such a manner and form as may be prescribed by the governing body of the local government unit wherein the proposed area is situated and shall include a description of the proposed area, including the boundaries thereof. Such proposal to the governing body shall be submitted by certified mail with return receipt requested. The return receipt shall serve as notice of the official receipt of the proposal by the governing body and shall verify the official submission date.
(a.2) Proposals for agricultural security areas in more than one local government unit.
(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), if the land included in a proposal for an agricultural security area is situated in more than one local government unit, the following shall apply:
(i) The proposal shall be submitted to, and approval of the proposal shall be sought from, the governing body of each such local government unit affected.
(ii) The governing bodies may cooperate in the review of a proposed agricultural security area and may provide joint public notices, a joint agricultural security area advisory committee and a joint public hearing on the security area.
(iii) A rejection by a governing body shall exclude that portion of the proposal which is situated within the local government unit. However, such rejection shall not preclude the approval of the remaining portion of the proposal, including land subject to paragraph (2), as an agricultural security area by the governing body of the other affected local government units, provided that the total acreage approved is at least 250 acres and that such approved portion meets all other requirements imposed under this act for agricultural security areas.
(2) Automatic inclusion shall be as follows:
(i) All land which is part of a parcel of farmland included in the proposal and transected by the dividing line between two local government units shall automatically become part of the agricultural security area if:
(A) the majority of the viable agricultural land of the parcel is located within the proposed agricultural security area; and
(B) the local government unit in which the minority of the viable agricultural land of the parcel is located has not approved an agricultural security area.
(ii) The governing body which approves the agricultural security area containing the land under subparagraph (i)(A) is responsible for recording, filing and notification under section 8 for the land added under this paragraph.
—Except as provided in this subsection, a governing body shall not require landowners included in a proposed agricultural security area to pay any fees in connection with the application for or the review of agricultural security areas as required in this section and sections 6, 7, 8 and 9.7
A governing body may by resolution impose reasonable filing fees in connection with the administration and review of an agricultural security area application that proposes to include substantially the same lands as proposed in a previously submitted application that the governing body had rejected within the last 36 months based on the recommendations of the Agricultural Security Area Advisory Committee and the planning commission.
—Upon the receipt of such a proposal, the governing body shall acknowledge receipt of the proposal at the next regular or special meeting and shall thereupon provide notice of such proposal by publishing a notice in a newspaper having general circulation within the proposed agricultural security area and by posting such notice in five conspicuous places within, adjacent or near to the proposed area. If the governing body fails to provide the required notice within 15 days of receiving a proposal as provided in this subsection, a person who is adversely affected by this inaction may bring an action in mandamus to complete compliance. The notice shall contain the following information:
(1) A statement that a proposal for an agricultural security area has been filed with the governing body pursuant to this act.
(2) A statement that the proposal will be on file open to public inspection in the office of the local government unit.
(3) A statement that any local government unit encompassing or adjacent to the proposed area, or any landowner who owns the land proposed to be included within the proposed area, or any landowner with lands adjacent or near the proposed area who wishes such lands to be included or not included therein, may propose modifications of the proposed area in such form and manner as may be prescribed by the governing body. The statement shall indicate that objections to the proposal, and proposed modifications to the proposal must be filed with the governing body and the planning commission within 15 days of the date of publication of the notice.
(4) A statement that at the termination of the 15-day period under paragraph (3), the proposal and proposed modifications will be submitted to the planning commission and the advisory committee, and that thereafter a public hearing will be held on the proposal, proposed modifications and recommendations of the planning commission and advisory committee.
(c) Modification proposals.—The governing body shall receive any proposals for modifications of such proposal which may be submitted by such landowners or local government units up to seven days prior to advertisement of public hearing as provided in section 6(a).
(d) Report by planning commission.—
(1) For a planning commission which is not a county planning commission, the following shall apply:
(i) The governing body shall, upon the termination of the 15-day period provided in subsection (b)(3), refer such proposal and proposed modifications to the planning commission.
(ii) The planning commission shall have up to 45 days to review the proposal and proposed modifications and report to the governing body the potential effect of such proposal and proposed modifications upon the local government’s planning policies and objectives.
(iii) The failure of the planning commission to submit a report within 45 days shall be deemed to constitute approval of the proposed agricultural security area by the planning commission.
(2) For a county planning commission, the following shall apply:
(i) The governing body shall, upon the termination of the 15-day period provided in subsection (b)(3), refer such proposal and proposed modifications to the county planning commission.
(ii) The county planning commission shall have up to 45 days to review the proposal and proposed modifications and report to the governing body its recommendations concerning the proposal and proposed modifications.
(iii) The failure of the county planning commission to submit a report within 45 days shall be deemed to constitute approval of the proposed agricultural security area by the county planning commission.
(e) Referral to advisory committee.—The governing body shall also, upon the termination of such 15-day period, refer such proposal and proposed modifications to the Agricultural Security Area Advisory Committee.. The committee shall have up to 45 days to review the proposal and proposed modifications and report to the governing body its recommendations concerning the proposal and proposed modifications. The failure of the advisory committee to submit a report within 45 days shall be deemed to constitute approval of the proposed agricultural security area by the advisory committee.