East Lampeter Township Agricultural Land Use Issue Decided by Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court

June 4, 2009

East Lampeter Township lost its appeal to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in the case of In Re: Agricultural Security Area in East Lampeter Township.  The case is an ongoing battle between the township and a group of Amish farmers who wish to create an Agricultural Security Area (ASA) for their properties in East Lampeter Township, Lancaster County.  In 2007, the farmers petitioned the Township to establish an ASA as permitted by the Agricultural Area Security Law. The farmers wanted the Township to designate an area encompassing 13 farms as an ASA.  After the petition was filed, the Township Planning Commission recommended that all but one of the properties be included in an ASA. However, after two public hearings were held, the Board of Supervisors concluded that the ASA was not necessary. Specifically, the board determined that the Township had adopted planning tools that would prevent inappropriate development of agricultural lands.

The farmers appealed to the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas and a two-judge panel reversed the Board’s decision, giving the farmers their first victory. On appeal to the Commonwealth Court, the Township argued that it had the discretion under the Agricultural Area Security Law to decide whether to create the ASA. The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors (PSATS) also weighed in on the appeal, contending that the General Assembly intended to give substantial discretion to the governing body of a municipality with respect to the creation of an ASA. The Commonwealth Court, indicating that the Lancaster County judicial panel adequately considered the issues, disagreed and affirmed the decision, giving the farmers another victory. Some additional details about the case are outlined in a June 2 article in the Lancaster New Era.

The Township could seek review by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. However, appeals to the Commonwealth’s highest court are discretionary and the court refuses the majority of requests for review. Only cases presenting novel questions or questions of first impression are accepted for review.

This case could set a precedent for agricultural landowners across Pennsylvania. If a governing body rejects a petition for an ASA and does so for reasons not enunciated specifically in the statute, the decision could be challenged.