Daily Development for
Thursday, October 8, 1998

by: Patrick A. Randolph, Jr.
Professor of Law
UMKC School of Law
Of Counsel: Blackwell Sanders Peper Martin
Kansas City, Missouri

ZONING AND PLANNING; AGRICULTURAL USE; AIRFIELDS: An airstrip is an agricultural activity where the airplanes are used to attend to maintenance and operation of a series of agricultural operations at several locations, one of which is the sod farm that is the location of the airstrip.

Miami County v. Svoboda, 935 P.2d 122 (Kan. 1988) In this case of first impression in Kansas, the court characterized the facts as "unique," but in actuality there likely are many "farmer/pilots" that could raise similar arguments.

Miami County argued that the farmer in this case was subject to County zoning laws, and in fact was operating his airstrip in violation of those laws. The farmer responded that his airstrip activity was agricultural in nature, and that under Kansas law agricultural activities are exempt from local zoning regulations.

The farmer operated a sod farm that occupied at least forty acres of his 141 acre tract in Miami County. He also owned farm land in five other counties in Kansas. The farmer used the sod farm as an airstrip for two airplanes. The court stipulated that there was no question but that a sod farm was an agricultural activity. The evidence showed that the farmer used the airplanes for the following purposes related to his agricultural activities:

"The defendant used his landing failed and two planes to check cattle and to find lost cattle (during the times that he raised cattle on his various farms,), to check fences, track down trespassers and poachers, check irrigation, check the condition of his crops, inspect seed stands, check fertilizer coverage on crops and pastures, check field conditions, check local sod supplies, pick up machinery and parts for farm equipment, attend farm equipment auctions and product informations shows, attend meetings with farm tenants, attend meetings with Farm Service Administration personnel in Manhattan, Kansas, as well as other counties where the defendant owns farmland, attend educational seminars on farming, check his competitors supply of sod, and pick up farming supplies. Thus it appears that the airstrip was used for purposes that were agricultural in nature and not otherwise."

The court dismissed the notion that, in order to qualify for the agricultural exemption, an airstrip must be used in connection only with the land on which the airstrip exists. It acknowledged that it was possible that a pilot might use the argument of agricultural usage as a "ruse" to justify an improper airstrip activity, but indicated that there was no evidence that such was the case here. The court did appear to draw a line indicating that the airstrip had to be used in part to benefit agricultural activity on the land on which it existed, but clearly the farmer had made out that case here, since the sod farm actually constituted the airstrip itself.

Comment: Miami County is on the urban fringe of Kansas City, and obviously might be a convenient access for "gentleman farmers." There is, of course, no way to be sure where a farmer goes when he takes off in his airplane but to follow him. Clearly the farmer's counsel was able to produce a sufficient variety of activities to show the necessary relationship to agricultural activities here, and build a neat little "loophole" in other cases as well. Miami County's remedy probably is a political one.

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