In Pennsylvania, agriculture has provided approximately $83.8 billion in direct economic output, 280,500 jobs and $10.9 billion in earnings. Needless to say, agriculture is a major industry in the Commonwealth. The Agricultural, Communities, and Rural Environmental Act, commonly referred to as “ACRE,” is one of several statutes that protects agriculture at the state level. ACRE was enacted on July 6, 2005 to address municipal regulation of normal agricultural operations as written or as applied. There are two components to qualify as a normal agricultural operation: (1) it is an activity, practice, equipment, and/or procedure utilized in the production, harvesting, and preparation for market, and (2) the property is at least ten acres in size or produces at least $10,000 of annual gross income.

Under ACRE, “[a] local government unit shall not adopt nor enforce an unauthorized local ordinance.” An “unauthorized local ordinance” is one that either: (i) prohibits or limits a normal agricultural operation unless the local government unit has authority under state law to adopt the ordinance and it is not prohibited or preempted under state law, or (ii) restricts or limits the ownership structure of a normal agricultural operation.

Continue Reading Pennsylvania’s ACRE Law Protects Farmers from Unauthorized Municipal Regulation

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (the “Commission”) recently announced that it is looking for Pennsylvania landowners with stream frontages to enter into conservation easement agreements in exchange for a one-time payment. The Commission is seeking these easements in furtherance of the Voluntary Public Access-Habitat Incentive Program (the “VPA-HIP”), a competitive grant program of the U.S. Department of Agricultural Natural Resources Conservation Service designed to provide funding to state governments for the benefit of public hunting, fishing, and other wildlife-dependent recreation. Portions of Pennsylvania’s VPA-HIP allocated funds are administered by the Commission for the purpose of providing Pennsylvania’s anglers with enhanced public fishing opportunities. Qualifying landowners who enter into a VPA-HIP conservation easement with the Commission will be awarded a one-time payment in consideration for permitting members of the public to access and fish on their properties. The amount of compensation for providing these easements depends on several factors, including (i) the length of the stream frontage that is made available for public access, (ii) the location of the property, and (iii) the fishing quality of the stream.

Continue Reading The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission: Fishing for Landowners to Execute Conservation Easement Agreements

Business owners are constantly looking for ways to remain competitive and take advantage of trade opportunities. Often, this means businesses will incorporate new operations or undergo expansion to generate supplemental sources of income. Before renovating or adding onto facilities to accommodate expanded operations, however, business owners should confirm that such an expansion is permitted under local zoning regulations.

In Pennsylvania, almost every municipality maintains its own zoning ordinance that regulates how a property in a specific zone can be used. While a business may begin its operations when a use is expressly permitted, changes in zoning ordinances can render the use nonconforming. In that case, if a business was legally established at its present location, the use will be permitted to continue, despite now being prohibited, because it is a lawfully pre-existing nonconformity (“nonconforming use”).

Pennsylvania law provides certain protections to nonconforming uses. One such protection is the right to expand, in accordance with the court-created natural expansion doctrine. In sum, the doctrine permits a landowner to expand a nonconforming use despite its nonconforming status. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has held that this right is not unlimited, however, and municipalities may impose reasonable restrictions on the expansion of a nonconforming use.

Continue Reading Expanding Your Business may Implicate Pennsylvania’s Doctrine of Natural Expansion