Article 25-AA of Agriculture and Markets Law authorizes the creation of local agricultural districts pursuant to landowner initiative, preliminary county review, state certification, and county adoption. Most counties have placed agricultural land in state certified agricultural districts. While they are county-created and state-certified, towns have no authority over agricultural districts. Agricultural districts are not to be confused with agricultural zoning that may exist in some towns.
The purpose of agricultural districts is to encourage the continued use of farmland for agricultural production. The program is based on a combination of landowner incentives and protections, all of which are designed to forestall the conversion of farmland to non-agricultural uses. Included in these benefits are preferential real property tax treatment (agricultural assessment and special benefit assessment), protection against overly restrictive local laws, government-funded acquisition or construction projects, and private nuisance suits involving agricultural practices.
Agricultural Assessment: provides the opportunity for farmland owners to receive real property assessments based on the value of their land for agricultural production rather than its development value. (See the Agricultural Assessment Fact Sheet #21 for information).
Notice of Intent: mandates state agencies, local governments, and public benefit corporations to avoid or minimize adverse impacts to farm operations in pursuing projects within an agricultural district which involve the acquisition of farmland or the advance of public funds for certain construction activities. Division staff conducts detailed reviews of projects and recommends actions to mitigate. Projects cannot proceed until the notice process is completed.
Restrictive Local Laws: protects farmers in ag districts against local laws that unreasonably restrict farm operations. Division staff reviews both existing and proposed laws to determine if they are compatible with farm operations. If a local law is determined to be unreasonable, staff works with local government to develop mutually accepted modifications. If a local government is unwilling to modify a restrictive law, the Department is authorized to take action to compel compliance with Ag District Law. Requests for review must be provided in writing.
Right to Farm: authorizes the Commissioner to issue opinions, upon request, concerning the soundness of specific agricultural practices. If the Commissioner determines that a practice is sound, it shall not constitute a private nuisance. This protects farmers in cases where neighbors or others complain about farming activities.
Agricultural Enterprise Determinations: the Commissioner is authorized to issue an opinion on whether particular land uses are agricultural in nature. This provision helps determine if the agricultural district law is applicable to a particular farming enterprise that may be questioned by local authorities or others.
Real Estate Disclosure: requires that a disclosure statement be provided at the time of real estate closing that states if the property is in an agricultural district. This notifies the new landowner that agricultural activities are to be expected.
A copy of the full text of the NYS Agricultural District Law can be found at: http://codes.lp.findlaw.com/nycode/AGM/25-AA or call 518-457-7076.