Maine Farmland Preservation Ordinances
Each year, more of Maine's farmland is converted to other uses. The preservation of farmland is an important goal of Maine's farmers, and it's a goal that the Department of Agriculture, Conservation, & Forestry and many Maine municipalities. One way the State and municipalities support farmland preservation is through laws and ordinances relating to land use regulation and property taxation.
The State of Maine has a number of laws that support farmland preservation, including:
- Maine Agricultural Protection Act - Among other things, Maine's "Right-to-Farm Law" protects farmers from neigbors' complaints about noise, odor or other aspects of their legitimate and properly-conducted agricultural operations. (Title 7 MRSA, Chapter 6)
- Registration of Farmland - Development activities that are incompatible with agricultural practices are prohibited within 50 feet of farmland that has been registered in accordance with this law. (Title 7 MRSA, Chapter 2-B).
- Voluntary Municipal Farm Support Program - This law enables municipalities to preserve farmland by purchasing and holding agricultural easements from willing landowners. (Title 7 MRSA, Chapter 2-C).
- Farm and Open Space Tax Law - Economic pressure to convert farmland to more intensive uses can be reduced through the "current use" taxation program established with this law. Participating landowners have property taxes on their farmland assessed according to its productive agricultural value rather than its development potential. (Title 36 MRSA, Chapter 105, Subchapter 10)
- Conservation Easement Law - Through the gift or sale of restrictive easements to a government or land trust, Maine's conservation easement law allows property owners to assure the future availability of their land for agriculture. (Title 33 MRSA, Chapter 7, Subchapter 8-A) Learn about DACF's Conservation Easement Registry.
DACF's Farmland Protection Program
For more information about State efforts to protect farmland, please visit the Agricultural Resource Development Division's Farmland Protection Program webpage.
The goal of preserving farmland is articulated in many local comprehensive plans, but few towns take the next step, which is to pursue that goal through municipal zoning and other land use ordinances. To assist municipalities that are having difficulty with this second step, we have compiled the followng set of farm-friendly provisions from local Maine land use ordinances. We hope that more municipalites, supported by their local farmers and armed with these examples, will adopt similar standards.
- Auburn Zoning Ordinance (PDF) (Current as of 2/2010) - Section 3.31 of the Auburn Zoning Ordinance establishes a maximum density of 1 unit per 10 acres in the Agriculture and Resource Protection District. (See Section 3.31)
- Poland Land Use Code (PDF) (Current as of 2/2010) - The Poland Land Use Code reflects the state's right-to-farm law by requiring that any new subdivision include a 100 ft. buffer between the new development and an active commercial farm. (See Section 6-113.11). Poland also requires a minimum of 5 acres per lot in the Farm and Forest District. (See Table 5-107.2).
- New Gloucester Zoning Ordinance (PDF) (Current as of 2/2010) - New Gloucester requires a minimum of 5 acres per lot in the Farm and Forest District. (See Section 4.4.4 of the Zoning Ordinance)
- Wilton Zoning Ordinance (PDF) (Current as of 3/2010) - The Wilton Zoning Ordinance includes a "Rural Land Management System" that is used to determine whether of not a residential subdivision is allowable in the Farm and Forest Zone, as well as the minimum lot size for those subdivisions that are allowed. The system uses four soils-suitability criteria, one of which is the proportion of the site having soils classified as "Unique Farmland" or "Prime Farmland" by the USDA Soil Conservation Service. According to the system's formula, the more of these soils there are on the site, the larger the required minimum lot size will be and, therefore, the fewer homes will be built on the site. (See Section 4.5C of the Wilton Zoning Ordinance) The effectiveness of this system for the preservation of farmland could be greatly enhanced if coupled to Cluster/Open Space/Conservation Subdivision Standards.
- Hermon Land Use Ordinance (PDF) (Current as of 3/2010) - Hermon has a Right to Farm section in its Land Use Ordinance. In the Agriculture/Forestry and Rural Residential Districts 100 ft. buffers shall be provided between agriculture and non-agricultural development, with the buffer being the responsibility of the non-agricultural developer. Also, all developers must disclose to their clients the noise, dust, odor, and other farm practices in the area, and that those farm practices have right to continue. (See Section 4.3.7)
- Fairfield Land Use Ordinance (PDF) (Current as of 2/2010) - Fairfield's Rural District was created to 'further the preservation of a working landscape, environmental quality, and a low intensity of development.' There is a basic maximum density of 1 dwelling unit per 10 acres, however, a developer may increase this density by increasing setbacks or wooded buffers. In addition, "(t)he owner of a parcel actively used for agricultural or forest operations may create new lots no smaller than 40,000 sq. ft., provided that for each new lot created, nine (9) acres of remaining acreage be voluntarily entered into a deed restriction or conservation easement prohibiting development for residential purposes.' (See Section 7.10 of the Fairfield Land Use Ordinance)
- Unity Land Use Ordinance (PDF) (Current as of 2/2010) - Unity has a 'transfer of development rights' (TDR) program called the Farmland Protection Incentive Measure. Its purpose is to 'alleviate some development pressures on productive farmland, by providing an incentive to locate development on other land.' In Unity's Rural District, all new lots created by dividing a larger parcel must average 120,000 sq. ft. in size. Using the Farmland Protection Incentive Measure, however, one may create lots that average 60,000 sq. ft. - effectively doubling the density of development - provided that 40,000 square feet of productive farmland is preserved for every new lot created at the higher density. The preserved productive farmland can be located anywhere in the municipality. (See Section VI of the Unity Land Use Ordinance)
- Ogunquit Zoning Ordinance (PDF) (Current as of 2/2010) - The Ogunquit Zoning Ordinance requires a minimum of 200,000 sq. ft. per lot in the Farm District. (See Table 703.1)
- Waterboro Zoning Ordinance (PDF) (Current as of 2/2010) - Waterboro requires a minimum of 5 acres per lot in the Forest and Agriculture District (See Article of the Waterboro Zoning