Dividing farmland for sale or redevelopment has numerous requirements that vary by state, county and municipality. For this reason, utilizing expert attorneys and local resources throughout the process is very important.
Attorneys Mark Saladin and Christina Green, who are well versed in dividing farmland, have provided insight on the topic. Mark Saladin is a partner at Zanck, Coen, Wright & Saladin, in Crystal Lake, Illinois and has 32 years of experience with real estate, land division, zoning and corporate matters in McHenry County. Christina Green is President of Sweet & Maier, S.C. in Elkhorn, Wisconsin and has been practicing law since 1995. She is licensed in both Illinois and Wisconsin and concentrates her practice in real estate, corporate and estate law.
When dividing farmland in McHenry County, Saladin says the purpose of dividing the farmland, whether it be for sale or to build a home, should be the first consideration. “Once the purpose is established, adhering to the Illinois Plat Act, which establishes the basic parameters for how land is divided in the state, is of utmost importance,” Saladin states. “There are certain exceptions that apply to the Plat Act and they vary by county. Zoning requirements can also change from time to time, so paying close attention to all the details is crucial.”
Saladin adds that a common mistake when dividing farmland in McHenry County is not considering how that division will affect zoning in the future. This is especially true with A1 or in the Agricultural District. He says in the A1 district, there must be 40 acres in the parcel in order to have one house on the parcel and 330 feet of road frontage. He notes that soil testing and septic system requirements are also important factors that can be overlooked during the process.
“I was once brought into a case where someone had divided farmland on their own and built a house on five acres,” says Saladin. “This house and five acres was then sold to another buyer without considering the current zoning. Since the house was on a parcel zoned A1 and was built on less than 40 acres, a problem arose when this new buyer lost the home to a fire and went to get assistance to rebuild. It was not available to them until they went through the rezoning process.”
Saladin says that once the property is determined to be within the zoning requirements, a good surveyor and engineer are required to assess and divide the parcel. Then a legal description of the property can be developed.
Green agrees with Saladin that, as in Illinois, understanding current zoning and future land use plans is extremely important in Wisconsin as well. “When considering a farmland division, you need to know not only how the land is currently zoned, but also, how the land is classified in the municipality’s future land use plan. Every municipality has a future land use plan which outlines its desired long-term development, and if your proposed land division doesn’t align with the long-term plan, the municipal authorities will likely reject it.”
Green adds that there is an immense time commitment involved with dividing land and rezoning land for development. The process begins with pre-application meetings with local municipal staff, and then, once staff input has been received, moves to appearances at municipal plan commission and board meetings, and often requires one or more public hearings. Typically even after subdivision and zoning approvals have been obtained, the building process cannot commence until the developer and the municipality have entered into a developer’s agreement, setting forth in greater detail the manner and stages in which the developer will complete the project.
In addition to adhering to the Comprehensive Plan for Walworth County, Green says you need to consider the availability of municipal services and what unbuildable areas (conservation, environmental or wetland) may exist on the property.
The above examples are some of the major requirements associated with dividing farmland. Since the process can vary considerably based on municipalities and their regulations, both Saladin and Green suggest you utilize available resources. Finding an experienced attorney, surveyor and trusted real estate agent to help guide you through the steps of successfully dividing your land is key to a positive outcome.
Written by Amy Ryan