Members of County’s Business Community On Board With Possible Zoning Code Change for Ag Reserve

Members of County’s Business Community On Board With Possible Zoning Code Change for Ag Reserve

Adding breweries, distilleries and cideries would boost upcounty tourism, they say

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Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard

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Should Montgomery County amend its zoning code to allow more breweries, distilleries and cideries into its upcounty agricultural reserve, some local businesses say the new facilities would be welcome.

“I think there’s room for those players,” said Jessica Snyder, co-owner of Waredaca Brewing Co. in Gaithersburg. “If you think about people who are looking for travel, they’ll be able to visit multiple sites to travel to the county to the agricultural reserve.”

Winemaking is currently permitting in the agricultural reserve, but the bill would specifically allow farmers to produce other types of alcohol provided most of the ingredients used are regionally grown and the facilities don’t hold more than nine annual events with more than 225 people attending.

The agricultural reserve is a portion of Northwestern Montgomery County that encompasses 93,000 acres. County officials designated the land in 1980 as an area where farmland should be protected. Since April, the County Council has been considering a bill that would allow more alcohol production in this area, provided that the tasting rooms are supplementary to the farm operation. The council discussed the bill further at its Tuesday meeting but has not set a date for taking action.

Snyder, who is a third-generation member of the Butts family that owns the farm in the agricultural reserve, said a change to the zoning code is needed to attract prospective businesses who want to settle upcounty. She said she and fellow family members who own Waredaca are comfortable with the current version of the bill.

“We are fully supportive of the way that it’s written,” she said.

Jeff Lund, the tasting room manager of Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard on Comus Road in Dickerson, said he too supports the zoning change and isn’t worried about potential competition.

“Establishing an industry that people respect and know is huge,” he said. “We think we make really good wine here. If there’s other people making good wine and word gets out, that‘s a good thing.”

But Lund said he wasn’t sure if the restriction on special event attendance was realistic. He said his tasting room has a capacity of 40, but on a day with nice weather, there might be more than 225 people in the vineyard.

“If there’s a 70-degree weekend, we’re pretty slammed,” he said.

Lund said the busiest days of the year tend to be holidays such as Labor Day, Memorial Day and Mother’s Day, which he calls the “Black Friday” for wine enthusiasts. But he said he’s never had an issue with traffic.

“We have had hundreds of people out here, and I’ve never seen an issue on Comus Road being backed up,” he said.

Gigi Godwin, president and CEO of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, said promoting alcohol production is the perfect use of property in the agricultural preserve and can simultaneously boost  .

“We’d definitely like to see the County Council take steps toward a successful, growing presence in the ag reserve, in large part to preserve the ag reserve. If it isn’t a vibrant place that people care about, then people lose interest,” she said.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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