The Commonwealth of Kentucky is a largely agricultural state. We are the “Horse Capital of the World”, the largest beef producing state east of the Mississippi River, a significant producer of poultry, and much of the fruits and vegetables that Kentuckians consume are grown in state. This pride and ownership in creating quality agricultural products is evidenced in the Kentucky Proud program and the many agricultural events held throughout the state. Because of our strong agricultural focus, most rural areas have agriculturally friendly planning and zoning regulations. However, like much of the Unites States, Kentucky farms are impacted by urban sprawl.
What Is Agricultural Land Use?
While it may be tempting to think, this is an agricultural activity and I’m not subject to any state or local regulation; that is not a productive line of thought. Kentucky state statute does not make any zoning exemptions for agricultural land use; it simply defines agricultural land use.
Kentucky revised statute KRS 100.111 defines agricultural (in terms of planning and zoning) use as land of at least 5 contiguous acres in the production of agricultural crops including pasture. This definition of agricultural use encompasses most properties owned and used by recreational horse owners.
The statute also defines the following equine activities (which may be associated with horse farms) as agricultural use regardless of the size of the tract of land: riding lessons, rides, training, projects for educational purposes, boarding and related care, and shows with youth and amateur programs with 70 or fewer participants.
One of the sticking points in the state definitions statute is that if there are more than 70 participants in a show with youth and amateur programs then the event is “subject to local applicable zoning regulations”. This of course means that amateur shows with more than 70 participants fall outside the normal STATE definition of agricultural use and may be subject to local zoning regulations. In some cases the farm owner may need to obtain a conditional use permit for a show exceeding 70 participants. Check with your county and/or city planning and zoning commission well in advance of an event expecting more than 70 participants so that you meet all appropriate regulations.
How Is Agricultural Land Use Managed at the Local Level?
It is important to note that county and city planning and zoning commissions may have different definitions of agricultural use and likewise they may establish planning and zoning regulations affecting agricultural use or specific equine uses. These regulations are typically in the form of county or city ordinances, often most concerned with public safety and related permits/inspections, and they should be available at the planning and zoning commission/office. Many counties and cities also post their ordinances online.
For example, according to Article V Section 5-26 of the Lexington Fayette County planning and zoning ordinances, Lexington makes an exception for residential properties (with certain zoning codes) to raise and keep horses (boarding and riding lessons are prohibited) provided the property has at least 3 acres for the first horse and one additional acre for each additional horse.
In Shelby County, the construction of agricultural buildings on agricultural land does not require a building permit, however when constructing agricultural buildings on agricultural land, a zoning permit is required (unless the building is 300 or more feet from the nearest road or property line). Zoning permit information can be found in Article III of the Shelby County Zoning ordinances.
The bottom line is that each county and city in Kentucky has a different planning and zoning commission which develops plans and zoning ordinances in accordance with land use issues that they feel need to be addressed. Even if your property and activities meet the definition of agricultural use at the state level, you are subject to local planning and zoning ordinances. Agricultural use exemptions are determined by the local planning and zoning commission, based on their ordinances, and most typically deal with building/construction regulations.
All owners of agricultural land should be aware of the state statutes and administrative regulations as well as the county and city ordinances and zoning regulations that could impact the way they operate their farm. National, state, and local regulations that may affect you include:
Minimum acreage required for agricultural use – remember as you consider purchasing property that zoning is definitely not a one size fits all recipe. Property sizes vary from one end of the state to the other which can partially account for some local zoning differences.
Lighting – Light pollution is a significant concern for neighbors and many counties and cities have regulations about wattage, light height, and location.
Waste water management
Animal welfare statutes – some counties has local ordinances that are more stringent than the state statutes
So, Who Can Help Sort It Out?
Your local county clerk should be able to provide you information about local ordinances. Your County Extension Agricultural Agent should also have general knowledge of the agricultural statutes and zoning regulations in your area.
What Can You Do?
Before you purchase property or prepare for a building project, carefully evaluate the local county and city ordinances that may impact how you use the land and where and what you can build. Follow the zoning laws and guidelines established in your area. If there is an ordinance that doesn’t seem to work well, talk to the planning and zoning commission about possible interpretations and solutions.
Get involved with the county or city planning and zoning commission/board. Let them know that you have an interest in working together to develop zoning ordinances that support responsible agricultural use. Attend planning and zoning meetings to understand how the system works and get to know members of the planning and zoning board.
REMEMBER: Make sure you know what the zoning ordinances are that could potentially impact your farm and farm activities. Be planful and ensure those activities at your farm which may be subject to additional zoning requirements are handled properly and well in advance. Grow your knowledge of zoning regulations today and you will be better protected and informed tomorrow.