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CCFB News» May 2020

Illinois Zoning and Agriculture

05/03/2020 @ 3:30 pm | By Brenda Matherly, Illinois Farm Bureau

Is zoning the “four letter” word it is often perceived to be? The answer to that question often depends on who’s asking.


Differing Views

For landowners concerned about the development of activities and structures built around their property, they might view it as a protective benefit. For those landowners interested in unimpeded development of their own property, they might view it as a restrictive limitation. In reality, each view holds a bit of truth, but neither view, by itself, is entirely accurate. So long as landowners’ unrestrained freedom to exercise their own interests is not threated by others, they tend to view zoning as a limitation. On the flip side, when landowners’ interests are threatened by the unrestricted actions of others, they tend to view zoning as a protection.



So, maybe the easier question to answer is, what is zoning? The short-and-sweet definition is, the locally designed and administered division of land into different types and degrees of uses.


This type of administration of land use can be useful in many ways. It can prevent incompatible

uses of adjacent property, preserve farmland and open spaces, guide orderly development, provide for more efficient delivery of services, and help protect the public’s safety and well-being.



However, there are also some drawbacks to zoning. It creates some restrictions on the use of property and adds administrative costs to the local units of government. It also institutes “red tape” for citizens, including, permits that governments review for proposed use and associated costs to the property owner.  Zoning can impact four primary factors of development for most properties. Those four factors are: location, property use, the intensity of the project and setback limitations.



But what impact does zoning have on agriculture? The Illinois statute says, “The powers in this section of statute shall not be exercised…so as to impose regulations or require permits with respect to land used or to be used for agricultural purposes…or with respect to …buildings or structures used or to be used for agricultural purposes upon such land except that such buildings or structures…may be required to conform to building or set back lines…”In other words, when it comes to agriculture- of the four primary restrictions of zoning mentioned above (location, use, intensity, and setback), only setback limitations apply. Counties may not use zoning to regulate land and buildings used for agricultural purposes including limitations on size, location, and design.


However, the county can require that farmers get a permit when building or expanding structures. While the county may not charge for that permit, the permitting process does allow for easier administration and recording of new/improved property throughout the county. Counties can also place setback restrictions on ag buildings. These setback restrictions are generally intended to provide some distance between the building and property boundaries, roads and public right-of-way.


An Appellate Court also held up a ruling (DeKalb v. Vidmar 1993) that, in certain cases, considers

the farmer’s residence as a part of the farm and thereby is generally subject to only those local zoning regulations that apply to other farm buildings.



Limiting the impacts and restrictions zoning has on agriculture helps to maintain the viability of ag industry statewide.  Still, counties that have zoning and those that are considering zoning deal with difficult decisions impacting all property. While zoning may or may not be a “four-letter” word, it does create both limitations and benefits. Balancing those is key to its acceptance as an effective administrative tool for providing for the general welfare of the citizens of the county.

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