Ohio court rules that farm weddings don’t count as agritourism


When many of us think of “agritourism,” we think of those events that help bring people to farms in a way that educates and entertains them. However, a local zoning board in Caesarcreek Township, Ohio, zeroed in a more narrow definition in a case involving Brian and Sherry Lusardi — and the board apparently had the legal backing to do so. The Lusardis own a 13.5-acre property containing a pole barn and outbuilding, a one-acre pond, several acres of woods, and an eight-acre hayfield. Their plan was to offer corn mazes, hayrides, and celebratory events like weddings and receptions on the property — all under the umbrella of agritourism.

The board, however, agreed that corn mazes and hayrides fit the bill, but didn’t greenlight events such as weddings as being “agritourism.” The decision to deny weddings was based on the Lusardis failing to demonstrate to the township’s Board of Zoning Appeals that their activities fit within Ohio’s definition of “agritourism.” That definition states: “Agritourism means an agriculturally related educational, entertainment, historical, cultural, or recreational activity, including you-pick operations or farm markets, conducted on a farm that allows or invites members of the general public to observe, participate in or enjoy that activity.”

The mere fact that an event takes place on a farm does not make it an agriculture-related event, according to the court. The reason this is important is because local zoning can’t prohibit the hosting of weddings and similar events if they fall under Ohio’s definition of “agritourism.” Those that don’t qualify as “agritourism” are subject to local zoning prohibitions and regulations.

The Greene County Court of Common Pleas backed the Board of Zoning Appeals, and another appeal by the Lusardis, this time to the Ohio Court of Appeals, further upheld the decision.

In a blog post on the Ohio State University Extension website, Peggy Kirk Hall, Associate Professor of Agricultural & Resource Law at OSU, said:

“In their agritourism application with the township, the Lusardis explained that guests could use the property to celebrate an agriculturally themed event, enjoy the scenery, hay fields and woods, learn about plants and wildlife, have bonfires, play corn hole, fish, and get married outside, in the woods, or in the hayfield. The township zoning inspector, however, testified to the BZA that he did not see a relationship between weddings and receptions and the Lusardi property itself. A wedding or reception would not have a ‘basic relationship’ to the existing agricultural use of the property or the surrounding area and the agricultural use of the property was incidental, at best, to the wedding and reception business, argued the zoning inspector.

“The township BZA agreed with the zoning inspector.”

The BZA’s determination that weddings don’t bear a general relevance to agriculture was understandable whereas corn mazes and hay rides do bear a reasonable relationship to agriculture, the court stated, according to Kirk’s post.

Kirk explored the idea of “agriculturally-related” even further.

“The question is one we’ve pondered since the Ohio legislature created the definition of agritourism in 2016. An important rule to draw from this case is that the answer must be made on a case-by-case basis. The Lusardis asked the court of appeals to decide whether any celebratory event on an agricultural property would be agriculturally related and would therefore constitute “agritourism” as a matter of law, but the court refused to do so. ‘Whether a particular activity constitutes ‘agritourism’ is an issue that shades to gray quite quickly,’ stated the court. ‘Given the great variety of factual situations, we decline to rule on whether celebratory events constitute ‘agritourism’ as a matter of law.’

“Also noteworthy is the court’s attention to the BZA’s analysis of the activities that were to take place on the Lusardi property. The BZA pointed to a lack of evidence that any crops or flowers grown on the property would be used in the events. Also remiss was evidence that the only agricultural crop grown on the property — hay — was somehow connected to the celebratory events that would take place. The court observed that these evidentiary flaws supported the BZA’s conclusion that the Lusardis were proposing an event venue with an incidental theme rather than an agricultural activity with an incidental event.

“Wedding barn issues have been a cause of controversy in recent years. The Lusardi v. Caesarscreek Townshipdecision follows an Ohio Supreme Court case earlier this year regarding whether a wedding barn fit within the agricultural exemption from zoning for buildings and structures used ‘primarily for vinting and selling wine.’ In that case, the Supreme Court determined that making and selling wine was the primary use of the barn and that weddings and events were incidental, yet were related to the production because event guests had to purchase the wine produced at the farm. Taken together, these cases illustrate the importance Ohio’s agricultural zoning exemption places on production activities. Where agricultural goods are being produced and sold, additional incidental activities such as celebratory events that are related to agricultural production will likely fall under the agricultural exemption. But as the Lusardi case illustrates, local zoning may prohibit celebratory events that don’t have a clear connection to agricultural production and instead appear to be the primary rather than incidental use of the property.”

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