County Council Aims To Open Regulations for Alcohol Production and Events in Agricultural Reserve

New bill would allow up to nine large events per year at farms that double as breweries, cideries, distilleries or wineries

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A farm in the agricultural reserve

Montgomery Planning

Some Montgomery County Council members are hoping more flexible regulations pertaining to the county’s agricultural reserve could help the area more effectively compete with wineries in northern Virginia and throughout the region.

On Tuesday, council President Hans Riemer and council member Craig Rice introduced a zoning text amendment that would allow farms in the northern Montgomery County reserve to produce alcohol. Although winemaking is already permitted in the reserve, the bill would expressly allow distilling of hard alcohol, brewing and cider-making.

It would also enable farms that make alcohol to host up to nine events with more than 300 people attending each year for weddings, corporate events or other large celebrations. Additional large events could be permitted, but must be first reviewed by the county. Other events and activities that are “normal and customary” to the regular operations of a winery, cidery, brewery and distillery are also permitted, according to the amendment.

A map showing the boundaries of the agricultural reserve

Farms that produce alcohol must also grow some of the ingredients used to make the beverages. They’d also be permitted to have an on-site tasting room and be able to make and sell food.

“Our goal is to open the doors and hopefully begin a new winery industry in Montgomery County,” Riemer said during a press briefing Monday.

He noted that while the reserve has a few wineries such as Rocklands Farm and Sugarloaf Winery, the county hasn’t seen the same growth in the alcohol industry as northern Virginia, despite both areas having similar climates.

“It’s a feature, it’s an amenity that I think a lot of people in the county would enjoy and appreciate having,” Riemer said. “I’m sure a lot of our residents do cross the river and take advantage of other opportunities that exist in other parts of the region and they would be delighted to stay closer to home and spend their dollars here.”

He said the county plans to work with residents in the agricultural reserve to make sure the changes don’t negatively affect their quality of life.

“We’re trying to find the right balance and I’m hopeful we’ll get to the right place,” Riemer said.

Rice said creating new opportunities for local farmers to make money is a priority for the council.

“It’s incredibly important for us to continue to make sure we are providing opportunities for our farmers to diversify,” Rice said.

Council members George Leventhal, Sidney Katz, Nancy Navarro and Nancy Floreen signed on as sponsors of the amendment, which would give the proposal the majority needed to pass the nine-member council.

A public hearing on the amendment is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. May 15 at the County Council Office Building.

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