[HISTORY: Adopted by the County Council of Talbot County 2-22-2000 by Bill No. 752. Amendments noted where applicable.]
The purpose of this chapter is to protect the right to farm or engage in agricultural interests within Talbot County; to further the efficient regulation of land use in Talbot County; and to assist in the resolution of disputes between agricultural land owners and/or farmers and their neighbors by the establishment of the Talbot County Agricultural Resolution Board to resolve disputes concerning alleged agricultural nuisances.
When conducted within standard and generally accepted agricultural practices as recommended and/or legally approved by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, the United States Department of Agriculture or other state and federal agencies, neighboring property owners shall have no recourse against the inherent effects of agricultural operations. These inherent effects include, but are not limited to, smoke, noise, vibration, odors, fumes, dust, pests, glare, runoff, the operation of machinery of any kind during any twenty-four-hour period (including aircraft), the use of irrigation, the storage and disposal of manure, application of fertilizer, pesticides, and other agricultural chemicals. This chapter shall not in any way restrict or impede the authority of the state or County to protect the public health, safety, or welfare.
The public interest is served through this chapter by promoting a clearer understanding between agricultural operations and nonagricultural neighbors concerning the normal inconveniences of agricultural operations that follow standard and generally accepted agricultural practices and do not endanger public health or safety.
This chapter is not intended to and shall not modify or abridge local, state or federal laws relating to health, safety, zoning, licensing requirements, or environmental standards. The provisions of this chapter do not supersede Chapter 190, Zoning, if the Talbot County Code, and do not in any way alter any County, state, or federal permitting process.
As used in this chapter, the following terms shall have the meanings indicated:
- AGRICULTURAL LAND
- Real property within the boundaries of Talbot County within any zoning classification that is carried on the tax rolls of the State Department of Assessments and Taxation as agricultural land and all other land that has been used as an agricultural operation continuously for one year.
- AGRICULTURAL OPERATION
- The cultivation and tillage of the soil; composting; spraying; production, harvesting and processing of agricultural crops; use of irrigation and spreading of manure, lime, fertilizer, and other soil nutrients and/or improvements; raising poultry and other fowl; production of eggs; production of milk and dairy products; production of fruit, vegetables, ornamentals, and other horticultural crops; aquaculture; production of timber and any commercial agricultural procedure performed as incident to or in conjunction with such operations, including preparation for market, delivery to storage or to market. Also, the use of land for the furtherance of educational and social goals, including but not limited to 4-H clubs, Future Farmers of America (FFA), agro-tourism and alternative agricultural enterprises, and the like. The term also includes, but is not limited to, all matters set forth in the definition of "agricultural operation" in Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, § 5-403(a), of the Annotated Code, as amended from time to time; and the production of all matters encompassed within the definition of "farm product" in the Agriculture Article of the Annotated Code, § 10-601(c), as amended from time to time.
- All methods of crop and livestock production and management of vegetation and soil. This includes, but is not limited to, the related activities of tillage, fertilization, pest control, harvesting, and marketing. Agriculture also includes, but is not limited to, the activities of feeding, housing, and maintaining of animals such as cattle, dairy cows, sheep, goats, hogs, horses, and poultry and handling of their by-products as well as those structures required for support of an ongoing agricultural operation.
- BEST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES
- Conservation practices or systems of practices and management measures that control soil loss and reduce water quality degradation caused by nutrients, animal waste, toxins, and sediment. Agricultural best management practices include, but are not limited to, strip cropping, terracing, contour stripping, grass waterways, animal waste structures, ponds, minimal tillage, grass and naturally vegetated filter strips, and proper nutrient management measures.
- FARM PRODUCT
- Any agricultural, horticultural, vegetable, or fruit product of the soil, including livestock, meats, poultry, eggs, dairy products, wool, hides, feathers, nuts, honey, and every product of farm, forest, orchard, garden or water including aquacultural products, but does not include canned, frozen, dried, or pickled products (Agriculture Article, § 10-601(c), of the Annotated Code ).
- GENERALLY ACCEPTED AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES
- Methods used in connection with agricultural operations that do not violate applicable federal, state or local laws or public health, safety and welfare and which are generally accepted agricultural practices in the agriculture industry. Generally accepted agricultural practices include, but are not limited to, practices that are recognized as best management practices, and methods that are recommended by various governmental agencies, bureaus, and departments, such as the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension, the Talbot Soil Conservation District, and the like.
A private action may not be sustained with respect to an agricultural operation conducted on agricultural land on the grounds that the agricultural operation interferes or has interfered with the use and enjoyment of property, whether public or private, if the agricultural operation was, at the time the interference is alleged to arise, conducted substantially in accordance with generally accepted agricultural practices.
Notwithstanding any provision of this section, no action alleging that an agricultural operation has interfered with the reasonable use or enjoyment of real property or personal well-being may be filed in the Circuit Court if the plaintiff has not sought and obtained a final judgment of the Talbot County Agricultural Resolution Board.
There is hereby established the Talbot County Agricultural Resolution Board ("Board"). The Board shall arbitrate and mediate disputes involving agricultural operations conducted on agricultural lands and issue findings concerning whether or not such agricultural operations are conducted in a manner consistent with generally accepted agricultural practices.
The Board shall be composed of five voting and two nonvoting members appointed by the Talbot County Council. Initial appointments shall not exceed four years beginning January 1, 2000. Subsequent appointments shall be for staggered four-year terms with at least one term expiring each year. Public notice of Board meetings is not required. Board meetings are open to the public. The Board shall convene annually to elect a Chairperson and Vice Chairperson one of whom shall be from the agricultural community and the other of whom shall not be from the agricultural community. The Board shall establish rules of procedure, which shall be submitted to the Talbot County Council for review and approval. Upon the request of a party or upon their own initiative the Chairperson of the Board, or Vice Chairperson in the absence of the Chairperson, shall have the power to issue subpoenas for the presence of witnesses, the production of evidence, or both. Board members shall serve without monetary compensation. The voting members of the Board shall be composed of:
A representative of the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension and a member of the Talbot Soil Conservation District shall be appointed by the Talbot County Council to serve as nonvoting members of the Board. In any dispute, they may present facts and information and expert opinions to the Board based on generally accepted scientific research and best management agricultural practices as they pertain to a particular dispute. The Board shall consider their opinions in any final recommendations.
The Board may request that an attorney be present at the meeting where the members believe legal advice is required to resolve the dispute. The Talbot County Manager may authorize the Board to employ a member of the Talbot County Bar to be present and provide legal assistance. The attorney shall be compensated at a rate not to exceed the rate of compensation then in effect for the Talbot County Attorney.
Staff from the Talbot County Planning Office shall prepare staff reports and record and maintain minutes of the Board in a permanent record file. The entirety of the file shall be available for public review upon request.
Complaints. Complaints of nuisances that allegedly affect the reasonable use and enjoyment of property shall be made to the Talbot County Office of Planning and Zoning (Planning Office). Complaints that allege an impact to public health also shall be forwarded to the Talbot County Health Department.
Investigation. Upon receipt of a written complaint, a copy shall be provided to all parties involved and the Planning Office shall initiate an investigation. The Planning Office shall contact both parties involved in the dispute to ensure full understanding of the nature of the complaint. In addition, the Planning Office may enlist the professional expertise of the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension, the Talbot Soil Conservation District, or other qualified experts in the relevant field to clarify the issues pertaining to the complaint. Once the investigation is complete, the Planning Office shall prepare a staff report with all pertinent information and submit same to the Talbot County Agricultural Resolution Board.
Upon receipt of the staff report from the Planning Office, the Board may request further information from the Planning Office staff. In accordance with the rules of procedure, the Board may, on its own initiative or shall at the request of any party, issue subpoenas for witnesses or pertinent evidence to be produced at the hearing. Board members shall visit the site of the complaint prior to the formal hearing.
Within 45 days of receipt of the written complaint and the staff report from the Planning Office, the Board shall schedule a formal hearing at no cost to the parties involved in the complaint. Notice shall be sent to all parties at least 10 days prior to the hearing. The Board may request legal assistance as provided in § 128-4. All parties involved in the complaint shall have an opportunity to present pertinent facts, be represented by counsel, examine and cross-examine witnesses, and present oral and written information to the Board. The formal rules of evidence shall not apply. The proceedings shall be recorded and a record kept of all exhibits offered by any party.
The Board shall decide whether the particular agricultural practice does or does not conform to generally accepted agricultural practices. The Board's decision in this respect creates a rebuttable presumption which shall be admissible in evidence in any subsequent civil proceeding in the Circuit Court arising out of the matters set forth in the complaint. In addition, if the Board finds that a particular practice alleged in the complaint does not conform to generally accepted agricultural practices, it may specify and recommend alternative practices which do conform. If all parties consent to the adoption and enforcement of those practices in full and final resolution of the dispute, the Board shall prepare and issue a written decision to that effect which shall be treated in all respects as a final and binding arbitration award.
After the formal hearing, the Board may render an immediate verbal decision or may decide to render a written decision within 30 days after the formal hearing which, shall include findings of fact and a statement of reasons for the decision. A copy of any written decision shall be mailed to the parties.
The decision of the Board may be appealed in the Circuit Court in accordance with Title 7, Chapter 200, of the Maryland Rules. Any appeal shall be filed within 30 days of the date of the decision. In the absence of an appeal, the Board's decision shall be final.
Real estate transfer disclosure statement. An additional purpose of this chapter is to promote a good neighbor policy by advising purchasers and users of property, adjacent to or near agricultural land and agricultural operations, of the inherent affects associated with the agricultural industry as a whole. Upon any transfer of real property by any means, the transferor shall provide the purchaser or lessee a statement specifically advising the purchaser or lessee of the existence of this chapter that shall be substantially the form set forth in Appendix A. The transferor shall require that the purchaser or lessee sign the statement.
Right-to-farm notice. In order to inform Talbot County residents of the existence of this chapter, a copy of the right-to-farm notice shall be mailed to all owners of real property in Talbot County in substantially the form set forth in Appendix B. This mailing shall occur only once with the first annual tax bill after the effective date of this chapter.
Failure to comply. Failure to comply with § 128-6 above, Real estate transfer disclosure statement and right-to-farm notice, shall not prevent the recording of any document, shall have no effect on the title to real property or any mortgage or deed of trust made in good faith or for value, and it shall not affect the application of this chapter.