1997 Regular Session
By: Representative Holland
House Bill 726
AN ACT TO PROVIDE FOR A PETITION PROCEDURE FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF AGRICULTURAL DISTRICTS IN THE STATE FOR THE PURPOSE OF ENCOURAGING THE CONSERVATION, PROTECTION AND RESPONSIBLE UTILIZATION OF AGRICULTURAL LANDS; TO PROVIDE DEFINITIONS; TO PROVIDE QUALIFICATIONS FOR DESIGNATION AS AN AGRICULTURAL DISTRICT; TO PROVIDE FOR HEARINGS ON CONDEMNATION PROCEEDINGS; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
SECTION 1. It is the intent and purpose of the Legislature to encourage the conservation, protection and responsible utilization of lands that are managed for purposes of agricultural production. It is recognized that such lands are finite, fragile and valuable resources that contribute economically and socially to the well-being of the State of Mississippi. It is also recognized that these lands are subject to change and conversion from agricultural production as a result of urban expansion, transportation projects, water impoundments, utility expansion and similar land development measures. It is the policy of the Legislature to provide a process for the recognition of lands dedicated to agricultural production and to assure an accurate understanding of the impacts of public policy decisions that might otherwise alter the capability of those lands to remain in agricultural production.
SECTION 2. As used in this chapter, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise:
(a) "Agricultural production" means those operations including associated land and facility management activities engaged in the commercial propagation, raising, harvesting or processing, or any combination thereof, of any plant or animal or products thereof for the purposes of consumption, utilization, goods or services either on-site or for distribution.
(b) "Farmland" means land and associated facilities involved in agricultural production activities.
(c) "Agricultural district" means those properties residing within a contiguous boundary and meeting appropriate criteria for designation as such by the local soil and water conservation district.
(d) "Soil and water conservation district" means that governmental body established by Section 69-27-15 et seq.
(e) "State Soil and Water Conservation Commission" means that governmental body established by Section 69-27-2 et seq.
(f) "District commissioners" means the governing body of the local soil and water conservation district.
(g) "Ownership" means any individual, family, company, corporation or organization holding title to property within a proposed or established agricultural district.
(h) "Petition" means the application and the application process for designation of an agricultural district as submitted to the local soil and water conservation district.
SECTION 3. (1) To qualify for designation as an agricultural district, a district shall initially contain at least two hundred fifty (250) contiguous acres and may include any number of individual property ownerships; however, no single ownership shall contain less than fifteen (15) acres.
(2) Agricultural districts shall include only ownerships engaged in agricultural production.
(3) Before designation of an agricultural district, landowners must submit a petition to the local soil and water conservation district commissioners requesting designation of an agricultural district. The petition shall include the following information:
(a) A general description of the proposed agricultural district including total number of ownerships, total acreage, land use information, social and economic information about the respective area of the county and potential impacts on development of agricultural production;
(b) Location of the proposed agricultural district boundary on a standard United States Geological Survey Quadrangle map (1:2000 scale);
(c) Location of the proposed agricultural district boundary on the local county tax assessor map including location and identification of each ownership within the agricultural district as well as identification of all ownerships adjacent to the agricultural district;
(d) A description of the type and extent of agricultural production activity for each ownership within the proposed agricultural district;
(e) Other pertinent information as the local soil and water conservation district commissioners may require to evaluate the petition.
(4) Individual ownership participation in an agricultural district is entirely voluntary, and no land shall be included in the agricultural district without the consent of the owner.
(5) Upon receipt of a petition the local soil and water conservation district commissioners shall notify the county board of supervisors and/or any local or regional planning or zoning body that may apply by sending a copy of the petition to such body.
(6) In evaluating a petition for the establishment of an agricultural district the local soil and water conservation district commissioners shall consider the following:
(a) The capability of the land to support continued agricultural production as indicated by soil conditions, climate, topography and other natural conditions;
(b) The ability of the local, regional, state and international markets to support continued agricultural production; and
(c) Any matter which might be relevant to evaluation of the petition.
SECTION 4. (1) Upon review of a petition, the local soil and water conservation district commissioners may approve designation of an agricultural district. A designated agricultural district shall be established for a period of five (5) years and reviewed for redesignation every five (5) years thereafter. However, the soil and water conservation district may review the status of designation at any time upon the written request and justification of the respective county board of supervisors, city board of aldermen, city council, city selectmen, city commissioners, city manager or mayor or upon a decision of the district commissioners that such a review is appropriate. The soil and water conservation district commissioners may sustain or repeal designation of an agricultural district based upon the following:
(a) The continued viability of the agricultural district. An agricultural district may become reduced in acreage based upon the voluntary withdrawal of any of the ownerships. However, the agricultural district shall cease to exist if the total acreage drops below twenty (20) acres;
(b) The impacts and consequences of proposed land development; and
(c) Other factors that the district commissioners may find relevant.
(2) Any ownership, or any successor heir of the ownership, within an agricultural district may withdraw from the agricultural district upon notifying the local soil and water conservation district in writing.
(3) Landowners may submit or resubmit petitions for designation or redesignation at any time to the local soil and water conservation district.
(4) If a petition is rejected or the local soil and water conservation district commissioners repeal designation of an agricultural district, the ownerships within the agricultural district may appeal the decision of the district commissioners to the State Soil and Water Conservation Commission. Based upon a review of all relevant information and following a public hearing, the State Soil and Water Conservation Commission may either sustain or overturn the decision of the local soil and water conservation district.
SECTION 5. Upon establishment of an agricultural district, the following procedures, limitations and responsibilities shall apply:
(a) Any ownership within an agricultural district that has received a notice of condemnation proceedings against its property may request the local soil and water conservation district to conduct a public hearing to review the project's impact on that property. Such public hearing shall be held within forty-five (45) calendar days of the receipt of such summons of condemnation proceedings.
(b) The local soil and water conservation district with assistance of the State Soil and Water Conservation Commission shall provide appropriate notification about establishment of the agricultural district to local and state government agencies, local media and other communication networks. The soil and water conservation district shall also issue appropriate certificates of recognition to the respective ownerships within the agricultural district.
(c) The local soil and water conservation district, in cooperation with the local road manager, or his counterpart, as well as the Mississippi Department of Transportation, may erect signs as may be appropriate to recognize a designated agricultural district.
SECTION 6. An agricultural district may be comprised of ownerships residing in more than one (1) soil and water conservation district as long as the conditions of a contiguous boundary are satisfied. In such case, each soil and water conservation district shall have the responsibility to meet the requirements of this act within the county of its jurisdiction.
SECTION 7. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 1997.