[HISTORY: Adopted by the County Commissioners of Caroline County 4-8-1997 by Bill No. 96-3. Amendments noted where applicable.]
It is the declared policy of the County to preserve, protect and encourage the development and improvement of its agricultural land for the production of food and other agricultural products. When nonagricultural land uses extend into agricultural areas, agricultural operations can become the subject of lawsuits. As a result, agricultural operators are sometimes forced to cease or curtail their operations. Others are discouraged from making investments in agricultural improvements to the detriment of the economic viability of the county's agricultural industry as a whole. It is the purpose of this law to reduce the loss to the county of its agricultural resources by limiting the circumstances under which agricultural operations may be deemed to constitute a nuisance, trespass, or other interference with the reasonable use and enjoyment of land, including, but not limited to smoke, odors, flies, dust, noise, chemicals or vibration; provided that nothing in the law shall in any way restrict or impede the authority of the state and of the County to protect the public health, safety and welfare.
It is in the public interest to promote a clearer understanding between agricultural operations and nonagricultural neighbors concerning the normal inconveniences of agricultural operations which follow generally accepted agricultural practices and do not endanger public health or safety.
This law is not intended to and shall not be construed as in any way modifying or abridging local, state or federal laws relating to health, safety, zoning, licensing requirements, environmental standards (including those standards which relate to air and water quality), and the like. The provisions of this law do not supersede the Caroline County zoning ordinance or regulations, and do not in any way alter any permitting process required.
An additional purpose of this law is to promote a good neighbor policy by advising purchasers and users of property adjacent to or near agricultural operations of the inherent conditions associated with such purchase or use. These conditions include, but are not limited to, noises, odors, dust, flies, chemicals, smoke, vibration, and hours of operations that may accompany agricultural operations. It is intended that, through mandatory disclosures, purchasers and users will better understand the impact of living near agricultural operations and be prepared to accept attendant conditions as the natural result of living in or near rural areas. However, this law shall be effective regardless of whether disclosure was made in accordance with § 149-6 herein ("Right to farm notice and real estate transfer disclosure").
As used in this chapter, the following terms shall have the meanings indicated:
- AGRICULTURAL LAND
- All real property within the boundaries of Caroline County that is:
- A. Includes, but is not limited to, all matters set forth in the definition of "operation" at Md. Cts. & Jud. Proc. Code Ann., § 5-308(a), as amended from time to time; the production of all matters encompassed within the definition of "farm product" at Md. Agriculture Code Ann., § 10-601(c), as amended from time to time; 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 livestock, including pasturage; production of bees and their products; production of fruit, vegetables 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 or to carriers for transportation to market; and usage of land in furtherance of educational and social goals (including, but not limited to 4-H clubs and the Future Farmers of America), agro-tourism and alternative agricultural enterprises; and the like.
- B. Commercial feedlots, commercial swine raising, and any other uses which are subject to special use exception under the Caroline County Zoning Ordinance or Caroline County zoning regulations may not avail themselves of any protections or presumptions in their favor offered under this law, but are subject to the dispute resolution procedure set forth herein.
- GENERALLY ACCEPTED AGRICULTURAL PRACTICES
- Those methods used in connection with agricultural operations which 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 which are recognized as best management practices and those methods which are recommended by various governmental agencies, bureaus, and departments, such as the Caroline County Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Maryland, the Caroline County Soil Conservation District, and the like. If no generally accepted agricultural practice exists or there is no method recommended by those agencies mentioned herein which governs a practice, the practice is presumed to be a generally accepted agricultural practice.
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 of 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 shall be maintained if the plaintiff has not sought and obtained a final judgment of the Agricultural Reconciliation Committee, as defined in § 149-4 herein.
There is hereby established the Caroline County Agricultural Reconciliation Committee (CCARC), which shall arbitrate and mediate disputes involving agricultural operations conducted on agricultural lands and issue opinions concerning whether or not such agricultural operations are conducted in a manner consistent with generally accepted agricultural practices.
The Agricultural Reconciliation Committee shall be composed of five persons appointed by the Caroline County Commissioners. The Committee shall be composed of:
The Committee members shall serve a four-year term, however the initial appointments shall be staggered.
The Committee shall meet at least one time per year. Members shall serve as volunteers, with no monetary compensation.
Nuisances which affect public health.
Complaints. A person may complain to the Caroline County Health Department to declare that a nuisance which affects public health exists.
Investigations. The health officer shall investigate all complaints of nuisance received against an agricultural operation. When a previous complaint involving the same condition resulted in a determination by the health officer that a nuisance condition did not exist, the health officer may investigate the complaint but the health officer may also determine not to investigate such a complaint. The Caroline County Health Department may initiate any investigation without citizen complaint.
Declaration of nuisance. If the health officer determines that a nuisance exists, the health department may declare the existence of a nuisance. In determining whether a nuisance condition exists in connection with an agricultural operation, the health officer shall apply the criteria provided in this law. Further, the health officer may consider the professional opinion of the Caroline County Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Maryland, or other qualified experts in the relevant field in determining whether the agricultural operation being investigated is conducted in accordance with generally accepted agricultural management practices.
Resolution of disputes regarding agricultural operations; civil infraction.
Should any controversy arise regarding an interference with the use or enjoyment of property from agricultural operations conducted on agricultural land, the parties to that controversy shall submit the controversy to the Agricultural Reconciliation Committee.
Any controversy between the parties may be submitted in writing to the Agricultural Reconciliation Committee within one year of the alleged adverse impact.
Thereafter the Agricultural Reconciliation Committee may investigate the facts of the controversy but must, within a reasonable time, hold a meeting to consider the merits of the matter. This meeting shall be informal and need not be recorded. If a resolution is reached, it shall be summarized and recorded in the minutes of the meeting. If the meeting fails to resolve the matter, a hearing shall be scheduled within 45 days of the hearing, and within 30 days of the hearing the Board must render a written decision to the parties. At the time of the hearing, both parties shall have an opportunity to present what each considers to be pertinent facts. The chair of the Committee may issue subpoenas and compel the production of documents by the parties to enable fact-finding to proceed. Failure to comply with a subpoena or request for information shall be treated as a civil infraction under the Public Local Laws of Caroline County. The decision of the Committee is binding upon the parties, subject only to appeal. Within 30 days of the written decision a party may appeal the decision of the Agricultural Reconciliation Committee to the Circuit Court for Caroline County.
If the Agricultural Reconciliation Committee or a Court finds that the conduct of a party in bringing or maintaining an action in connection with an agricultural operation conducted on agricultural land was in bad faith or without substantial justification, the Reconciliation Committee or Court may require that party to pay to the owner of the agricultural operation (or any other party opponent) the costs of the proceeding and the reasonable expenses, including reasonable attorney's fees, incurred by that party in defending against the action.
Upon any transfer of real property by any means, the transferrer shall provide the purchaser or lessee a statement specifically advising the purchaser or lessee of the existence of this Right to Farm Law which shall be in substantially the form set forth in Appendix A. The transferrer shall require that the statement be signed by the purchaser or lessee.
In addition, because of the County's desire to maintain a good neighbor policy and the County's desire to provide this information to county real property owners, a copy of the "Right to Farm Notice" shall be mailed to all owners of real property in Caroline County with the annual tax bill in substantially the form set forth in Appendix B.
Penalty for violation. Any person who violates any provision of this section is guilty of an infraction punishable by a civil penalty not to exceed Five Hundred Dollars. Failure to comply with any provision of this Right to Farm Notice and Real Estate Transfer Disclosure section shall not prevent the recording of any document, or 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 law.