Messy, noisy, stinky and protected: Right to farm could be guaranteed in Boyle

Published 10:21 pm Friday, June 28, 2019

A “right to farm” in Danville-Boyle’s next zoning ordinance could make sure agricultural business is protected above everything else. But there could also be opposition from farmers if new rules block them from carving off 1-acre lots for homes, P&Z Director Steve Hunter said this week.

The draft zoning ordinance overhauls most of the local zoning rules, renames all the zoning districts and modernizes everything in a big way, Hunter told P&Z commissioners during the first of what could be many public hearings on the changes. It also includes the right to farm in Article 4, Section 3, which makes it clear where Boyle County’s priorities lie, he said.

P&Z Commission members, from left, Jeffrey Baird, Jerry Leber and Susie Kelly prepare for Wednesday’s P&Z meeting, which include a public hearing on proposed changes to the local zoning ordinance. (Photo by Ben Kleppinger)

“Any agricultural operation or practice that is historical, traditional, legitimate and reasonable shall be protected. Any new or expanded agricultural operation or practice that is legitimate and reasonable shall be encouraged,” reads the ordinance’s Right to Farm Policy. “Agriculture, as a way of life, benefits all residents of Boyle County. It is an important part of the economy and adds intrinsic value to life in Boyle County. Agriculture, as a business, brings with it noise, odors, dust, mud, smoke and other inconveniences such as weed burning, equipment and livestock on public roads, odors from manure and feeds, odors from chemical applications, lights and noises at all hours of the day and night, and on-farm processing and marketing of crops and livestock.

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“To maintain this way of life, Boyle County intends to protect agricultural operators from unnecessary, intrusive litigation. Therefore, no inconvenience shall be considered a nuisance as long as it occurs as a part of a non-negligent and legal agricultural practice.”

Hunter said the zoning ordinance also protects ways of life in other zones, such as single-family residential. But none are as protected from restrictions as agricultural zones.

“Protecting the ag district … (is) the highest level of responsibility we have as a planning commission, as a zoning ordinance, as a staff,” he said. “People are farming; farming is as American as it comes. We are protecting farmers out there in all realms.”

But along with the Right to Farm, the proposed ordinance also tries to resolve a major clarity problem with the current ordinance when it comes to minimum lot size in the ag district. The existing rules allow ag lots to be as small as 5 acres if they’re used for farming, or as small as 1 acre if they’re used for a residential purpose.

“This chapter is really tough to navigate as people come in and ask you the rules,” Hunter said, noting the 5-acre/1-acre split probably creates the most trouble of anything currently in the local zoning rules.

Besides the confusion, the current rules have allowed essentially unlimited carving up of farms into 1-acre lots for homes. Those 1-acre properties are out in rural areas, where roads might not be up to the capacity needed for residential traffic, and where sewer is not available to prevent environmental problems.

The proposed solution would set a single minimum lot size in the ag district of 5 acres; for residential homes out in the county, they would be zoned “RR” — rural residential. Anyone wanting to chop a small lot off a farm for a home in the future would have to request a zone change to RR for the land at the same time.

Hunter said farmers generally like the ability they have now to sell off small tracts and as such, the proposal as it stands could generate a fair amount of political opposition.

“This is possibly the hardest decision you have in this whole book,” he said. “… I think it’s bigger than the signs and everything else because it really sets a development pattern for the future.”

Hunter suggested one way the commission could implement the hard 5-acre rule with a little wiggle room early on to ease people into it:

“We’re not trying to stop development in the county. If anything, we’re trying to protect the farm integrity of the county and be compatible and consistent,” he said. “… The solution is create the 1-acre rural residential (zone) and make the bar really low for the zone change. Waive the fees for maybe two years.”

P&Z Commissioner Jeffrey Baird said he didn’t think it sounded unreasonable to require a zone change “if we don’t make it too tough” to accomplish. But he said he also worries that the change takes away something from farmers that they can do currently.

The commission took no action on the proposed zoning ordinance changes this week; it held a public hearing for more than an hour Wednesday, then tabled the hearing to be taken up again at its July meeting.

“(We’ll) come back in July, pick up where we left off,” Hunter said. “… If we’re not done, we’ll table it until August. If we’re not done, we’ll table it until September. What we want to do is get all the comments — all the public comments, all the staff comments — in the form of a public hearing, and then ultimately provide a record that we can forward on to the city and county some day.”

Hunter said the P&Z Commission will pick back up with a review of new rules for signs in July. Other topics of public interest addressed in the ordinance include new rules for short-term rentals such as Airbnbs; and revisions to the county’s hazardous pipeline rules, which were put in place in an attempt to stop the now-defunct plan from energy company Kinder Morgan to pipe fracking byproducts through Boyle County.