Introduction to Limitations on Municipal Land Use Bylaws
Section 4413(d) of Title 24 (Municipal and County Government) of Vermont Statutes Annotated (V.S.A.) limits the application of municipal land use regulations on farm operations regulated under the required agricultural practices rules, including the construction of farm structures. When asked, the Agency will provide its opinion on whether
- the operation meets minimum thresholds for the applicability of the rule, and
- the activities on the parcel are farming and agricultural practices.
To facilitate the determination process, the Agency developed both online and printable forms, which can be found via the above link. After completion of the form, the Agency will have most if not all the necessary information to develop an informed determination concerning the nature of an operation and applicability of Agency regulations, including determinations whether a proposed building is a farm structure as defined in the rules.
A determination by the Agency that a building is a farm structure does not relieve a property owner of the requirement under the law to notify the town of construction of farm structures. If at any point during farm planning, which requires a farm structure to be relocated on the property post Agency determination, an operator must again notify the town with a sketch of the proposed location, and possible the Agency if the changes warrant additional consideration, such as compliance with municipal setbacks.
Necessary information for a Farm Determination
Prior to beginning to fill in the online determination form, please have the following information prepared:
- The zoning district the property is located in
- Name and contact information for the zoning administrator in the town, if the town has local zoning
- Any letters concerning your operation from adjacent landowners
- For new and beginning operations the Agency suggests that a farm operator work with a technical service provider for guidance in developing a business plan prior to submission for approval by the Secretary.
If you are building a “farm structure”
- Information on the required setbacks in the district where the property is located, and whether the proposed structure complies with setbacks as determined by the zoning administrator
- In the case of a request for an alternative setback, the name(s) and address(es) of the nearest affected adjoining property owner(s)
- A site plan of your property including
[ ] Entire parcel boundary
[ ] Wetlands, Open Water, and Associated Buffers (indicate Class)
[ ] Existing development
[ ] Proposed development
[ ] Distance of proposed farm structure to all properties
[ ] All neighboring land uses
[ ] Location of the Special Flood Hazard Area, if applicable
[ ] Location of River Corridor, if applicable
A farm structure in a flood hazard or river corridor will undergo additional review by the Floodplain Management Program at the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation for compliance with its rules. Prior to referral for review, the Agency will determine whether the structure is a farm structure as defined in the Required Agricultural Practices.
Although the Agency’s position on whether proposed structures are “farm structures” may carry some weight, ultimately the application and enforcement of municipal zoning law and the application of 24 V.S.A. §4413(d) rests with each town.
Incomplete requests will slow down the determination process.
- For the purposes of “farming,” fences are not considered “farm structures,” however their installation may be considered an agricultural practice. This does not give a property owner the right to install a fence within a highway right of way.
- The Secretary cannot grant an alternative setback for the construction of farm structures in a highway right of way. Either the Town or the State of Vermont must grant approval. You may need to check with the Town or Vermont Agency of Transportation to ensure you know the exact location of a highway right of way.
- If the property is currently covered by an Act 250 permit, you will need to contact your Act 250 district commission office to obtain a Jurisdictional Opinion on whether written permission from the District Commission is required before proposed work or any change in the current land use.
- A building that is mixed use (Ex: residential storage and sugar house) will not be considered a farm structure nor its construction an agricultural practice.