How To Clear the Land Use Hurdle as A Maryland Agri-Business

When deciding to start a new agri-business, the old adage “you reap what you sow” applies. Just as a farmer must carefully prepare the soil for planting and tend to the crops before anticipating a bountiful harvest, so, too, must an agri-business entrepreneur plan carefully before venturing into a new agri-business.

Increasingly, farmers have discovered the potential of turning their traditional farms into booming agri-businesses; and, in so doing, they have become a part of the rapidly growing agri-tourism / agri-tainment industry. As evidence, take a quick drive through the country. You will likely find that fields once filled with corn, wheat and “amber waves of grain” have, in many cases, been replaced with grape vines and hop fields, Christmas trees, and pumpkin patches. Those same corn fields now often serve a dual purpose of providing a corn maze or Halloween “fright night” tour. Barns, fields and paddocks transform into “petting zoos.” Tractors and wagons once used primarily at harvest time now take families on hay rides and farm tours.

This transformation, made by business-savvy farmers, has allowed many of them to sustain their family farms while adding a new form of entertainment for their respective communities to enjoy. But this exciting venture is not without its hurdles.

Before venturing into a new agri-business, the entrepreneur must do his homework. The farm land which is the subject of the agri-business is governed by local zoning laws, which can restrict or even prohibit certain commercial uses of the land. Unfortunately, there are many laws, which were created at a time long before agri-business and agri-tourism became a burgeoning industry, and have quickly become outdated.

Accordingly, the first step for any agri-business entrepreneur should be to research the local zoning ordinances and to contact the local department of planning, to ensure that the entrepreneur’s envisioned uses of the land on which the agri-business sits, is permitted. Some jurisdictions are now catching up to recent trends and have adopted “agri-business” or “agri-tourism” ordinances and regulations to define what types of agri-business activities are permitted and, as a result, now permit many more, diverse uses of the land.

If the intended use is not already permitted by right, however, not all hope is lost. Such use may still be allowed by submitting to an additional review and approval process by the local government. Some uses may be allowed by virtue of a special exception, a conditional use, or a grant of a temporary use or allowed seasonal use.

And if the intended use is not allowed, the entrepreneur may be able to apply for a zoning text amendment to amend the zoning ordinance so that, if approved, such intended use would be allowed. This allows the laws governing use of land to adapt to and accommodate modern land use trends.

Although the process may sound complicated and arduous, working with a knowledgeable land use attorney, who is familiar with the local regulations, restrictions, procedures and processes, can help ease the burden and can improve the entrepreneur’s chances of success with the process.

Of course, despite the many changes that are being made to traditional farms, it remains true that if one carefully sows the seeds with planning and proper preparation, he or she can reap a bountiful harvest; this time by way of a brand new agri-business.

This blog was written by Anne-Herbert Rollins at Miles & Stockbridge.

Opinions and conclusions in this post are solely those of the author unless otherwise indicated. The information contained in this blog is general in nature and is not offered and cannot be considered as legal advice for any particular situation. Any federal tax advice provided in this communication is not intended or written by the author to be used, and cannot be used by the recipient, for the purpose of avoiding penalties which may be imposed on the recipient by the IRS. Please contact the author if you would like to receive written advice in a format which complies with IRS rules and may be relied upon to avoid penalties.