The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for Utah County’s approval of an application for an agricultural protection area subject to certain modification requests that excluded challenged portions from the agriculture protection area.
The Farleys are landowners in Utah County, and submitted an application requesting the creation of an agriculture protection, which exempts the land from certain zoning and municipal regulations that would restrict farming practices. Upon the County’s receipt of the application, Payson City submitted two Modification requests that requested that Utah County exclude from the protected area certain easements for future utility lines and rights-of-way for future road expansion. By law, the application was referred to both the Utah County Agriculture Protection Area Advisory Board and the Utah County Planning Commission, which returned conflicting recommendations. Utah County considered the conflicting recommendations at four public hearings, and approved the application subject to the modification requests. The Farleys filed a lawsuit to review the action in district court, which ruled in favor of Utah County.
The Farleys appealed, arguing that under state and local law Utah County lacked discretion to do anything except approve the Application. The Utah Court of Appeals affirmed in favor of the County, and held that in interpreting the whole of the Act regarding agriculture protection areas, while the legislative body is to consider some criteria based on existing conditions that can be objectively met, the legislative body must also analyze existing and proposed farm improvements and anticipated trends in agricultural and technological conditions as a forward-looking inquiry for which it must exercise some discretion to approve, modify and approve, or reject an application.
The Court reasoned that the requirements to analyze and evaluate would be meaningless if it meant nothing more than simply offering an assessment whether criteria are satisfied. Utah County therefore had the discretion in deciding whether to approve and modify the creation of an agriculture protection area.