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Contact Information

Development Services Division
58 E. Clinton Street, Suite 100
Joliet, IL 60423
815-740-8140
815-727-8638 (fax)
Email:
planning@willcountylanduse.com

Agricultural Areas Overview

The Illinois Agricultural Areas Conservation and Protection Act allows for the creation of Agricultural Areas – officially known as “Agricultural Areas” – which are areas in which one or more landowners voluntarily place their land into a protected district with the approval of the county board.

Agricultural Areas preserve the integrity of farming operations within their boundaries by providing a means of keeping land in agricultural use for an extended period of time. When property is enrolled in an Agricultural Area, it must remain in agricultural use for at least 10 years. After 10 years, land may be re-enrolled every eight years. Provisions are in place to allow individual parcels of property to be removed from, or added to, the area within those periods of time as long as the Ag Area continues to contain a minimum of 100 acres.

Land within an Agricultural Area is protected from locally initiated projects that would convert the land to other uses. However, it does not protect property from eminent domain. Landowners with property enrolled are exempt from local laws that would unreasonably restrict normal farming practices and from special benefits assessments that are not in their best interest. The designation goes with the property if the land is sold.

Click the link below to download an application to request a new Agricultural Area.

Agricultural Area Application

Click the link below to download an application to modify an existing Agricultural​ Area.

Agricultural Area Modification Application

Creation of Agricultural Area

The approval process includes the following steps:

  1. Upon receiving a new ag area request, the County Board issues a public notice for comment by adjacent landowners;
     
  2. Thirty days after public notice is given, the County Board refers the request to the County Agricultural Area Committee. This committee is appointed by the County Appointing Authority, which includes the County Executive, Illinois County Extension staff, and the chairman of the County Soil and Water Conservation District. The Agricultural Area Committee consists of five appointees: four must be active farmers, no more than two can be from one political party; and the final member must be a County Board member;
     
  3. The Agricultural Area Committee must hold a public hearing that is followed by a 30-day comment period. The committee must present the county board with a recommendation within 45 days after the comment period ends;
     
  4. The County Board then must approve or deny the ag area request within 45 days of receiving the committee’s recommendation;
     
  5. Within 45 days of their final action, the County Board is to notify the Illinois Department of Agriculture of their decision. If the proposal is approved, a description of the Agricultural Area is to be filed with the County Clerk’s office.

It is also important to note that if the proposed land is within 1.5 miles of a municipality’s corporate boundary, the municipality may file an objection. If the municipality adheres to all procedural guidelines and timelines, the objection can result in removing the land located within the 1.5-mile zone from the Agricultural Area. If removal of this land reduces the area to less than 100 acres, the Agricultural Area request is invalidated.

Considerations for Agricultural Area Land

There are several items the County Board must consider in addition to the landowner/landowners’ desire to put property into an Agricultural Area. Those considerations are:

  1. The viability of the proposed Agricultural Area and adjoining land for farming;
  2. The nature and extent of land uses other than active farming within the proposed area and adjacent properties;
  3. County development plans, patterns and needs;
  4. The existence of conservation plans approved by the County’s Soil and Water Conservation District on land in the proposed Agricultural Area.

Length of Protection

The Agricultural Area will be reviewed after the first 10 years and then every eight years thereafter. The County Board shall ask for recommendations of the Agricultural Area Committee. The Agricultural Area Committee will hold a public hearing at least 120 days prior to the Agricultural Area's anniversary creation date before making a recommendation. 

Alterations or terminations by the County Board

The County Board can alter or terminate the Agricultural Area at the end of the first 10 years or subsequent eight-year anniversary dates. If a change is made, the County Board:

1. Must file notice with the County Clerk of action taken if Agricultural Area is changed or dissolved;

2. Must notify the Illinois Department of Agriculture of any Agricultural Area alterations or terminations within 45 days of taking such action.

If the County Board doesn't act, the Agricultural Area shall continue as originally organized.

Withdrawal of land from an Agricultural Area

An adjacent landowner may petition the County Board requesting land be withdrawn from the Agricultural Area. The petition must:

  1. Include a statement indicating the proposed alternative land use;
     
  2. Explain the necessity for changing the current use;
     
  3. Explain why land outside of the Agricultural Area is not suitable for the proposed use.

The County Board must:

  1. Provide public notice of withdrawal petition within five days of petition receipt;
     
  2. Publish notice of withdrawal request;
     
  3. The notice is published in a local area newspaper, or in a countywide newspaper, and in five conspicuous places within the proposed area;
     
  4. Refer the withdrawal petition to the county/regional planning commission within five days of petition receipt. The planning commission has 30 days to give its recommendation to the County Board;
     
  5. Refer the withdrawal petition to the AgriculturalArea Committee within five days of petition receipt. The Agricultural Area Committee also has 30 days to give its recommendation regarding potential effects of withdrawal to the County Board;
     
  6. The Agricultural Area Committee must hold a public hearing within 60 days of receipt of withdrawal petition in a readily accessible location for the public in the area of the affected land;
     
  7. The County Board must provide written notice of the hearing in a newspaper of general circulation in the Agricultural Area or in the county not less than seven days before the hearing. Such notice shall also be given in writing to the owners of the land in and immediately adjacent to the Agricultural Area.

The County Board has 90 days after receiving the withdrawal petition to accept or reject it in a written decision. Any person adversely affected by the County Board’s decision may obtain a judicial review by filing a petition for review within 35 days after the decision.  The County Board must notify the Illinois Department of Agriculture within 45 days of when any land is withdrawn from an Agricultural Area.

Adding Land to an Agricultural Area

A proposal for adding any amount of land to an existing Agricultural Area must be submitted to the County Board. Then the following must happen:

1. The County Board must submit the proposal to the Agricultural Area Committee within 10 days of receipt of the proposal;

2. The Agricultural Area Committee has 45 days to review the proposed additions and to recommend to the County Board approval, disapproval or modification to the proposal;

3. The County Board has 30 days to act after receiving the Agricultural Area Committee’s recommendation; 

4. The County Board must notify the Illinois Department of Agriculture of any addition of land to a designated Agricultural Area within 45 days of taking such action. 

Dissolution of an Agricultural Area by the landowners

Landowners may petition the County Board to dissolve an Agricultural Area at its 10-year anniversary. To do this: 

1. A petition must be submitted in writing to the County Board during the 120-day period immediately prior to the 10-year anniversary of the Agricultural Area’s creation date; 

2. The petition requires 2/3 of the landowners’ (or their heirs, representatives, etc.) signatures to dissolve the Agricultural Area. 

A landowner can request removal of land from the Agricultural Area at any time, but the total area of the Agricultural Area must contain at least 100 acres.  If it drops below the 100-acre minimum threshold, then it becomes a de facto dissolution request.