County Council Approves More Alcohol Production by Farms in Ag Reserve

Law could still face a legal challenge from upcounty residents

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A farm in Montgomery County's agriculture reserve

VIA MONTGOMERY COUNTY PLANNING DEPARTMENT

The Montgomery County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a zoning text amendment that will allow more wineries, distilleries and breweries to locate in the upcounty agricultural reserve.

The law change will allow farmers to establish such businesses as accessory uses to a farm based on the following conditions.

—Farmers must be property licensed for their respective type of alcohol production by the office of the state comptroller;

—Wineries and cideries must use at least 5 acres of fruit grown on site or nearby in production of their products, and a majority of the fruit used must be grown in Maryland;

— A majority of the ingredients used by breweries and distilleries must be locally grown products and farms must grow at least 1 acre of ingredients on site;

—Businesses may host events up to 50 days per year, with most events capped at 150 attendees and nine allowed that serve more than 300; and

—A maximum of five events requiring an entrance fee are allowed each year.

Council member Craig Rice said during the meeting that he was pleased by the passage of the bill because farmers will have another option when it comes to producing goods.

“This is about providing options that reduce the pressure on agriculture producers,” he said.

Council member Nancy Floreen added that the bill struck a balance between being welcoming to the business community while also reducing the environmental impacts of any new businesses in the reserve.

“This is all about keeping our families in place in the agricultural environments and protecting that green space,” she said.

Council member Roger Berliner also recommended the council monitor the environmental impacts of the facilities every two years, and council member Marc Elrich agreed, noting that the use of wells as a water source at the farms could affect the level of the water table, or the point in the ground at which soil becomes saturated.

“This is not an issue than doesn’t require some ongoing monitoring,” he said.

In an interview after the meeting, council President Hans Riemer said he expected that farmers interested in starting alcohol production upcounty would begin drawing up business plans in response to the zoning amendment change.

“I’m really happy. I’m hopeful that we’re going to see a flowering of wineries and breweries, and that 10, 20 years from now, people are going to say, ‘This was a moment when we put the right structure in place,’ ” he said.

Jessica Snyder, co-owner of Waredaca Brewing Co. in Gaithersburg, agreed.

“This is good for the Ag reserve, this is good for farm alcohol producers in Montgomery County, and at the end is very, very good news,” she said.

The zoning change could still face a legal challenge from a band of five county citizens groups that include the Montgomery Countryside Alliance, Sugarloaf Citizens Association, Conservation Montgomery, West Montgomery Citizens Association and Friends of Ten Mile Creek and Little Seneca Reservoir. Caroline Taylor, executive director of Montgomery Countryside Alliance, said filing a lawsuit remains on the table, although the group is “evaluating its next move.”

Taylor said she is in favor of opening up the agricultural reserve to more wineries, distilleries and breweries, but a larger percentage of the local ingredients, particularly for breweries, should be required to be grown on site. A number of farmers in the county, she said, grow barley and hops, which are needed for beer, so therefore they shouldn’t have to turn to other sources for those ingredients. Putting in a stricter requirement for local ingredients, she said, would be more in the spirit of the idea that a brewery is an accessory use of a farm.

“If I have a soybean farm and I want to put in a commercial creamery, but I haven’t got a single cow, is that creamery accessory to the farm?” she said.

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

 

 

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