Montgomery Co. Council reshapes rules for farm-based businesses

WASHINGTON — The Montgomery County Council has voted to emphasize the “farm” in “farm-based businesses.”

In a unanimous vote, the nine-member council passed a zoning text amendment that sets out a number of requirements for businesses that are expected to boom in the county’s agricultural reserve, from cider-makers to brewers to distillers.

The regulations are intended to promote agricultural businesses in the county while relieving development pressure on farmers. At the same time, the intent is to keep the upcounty’s rural feel intact.

“This is all about keeping our families in place in agricultural environments, and this is all about protecting that green space,” said Council member Nancy Floreen. The more that can be done to support the flexibility given to farmers means “the more viable the agricultural reserve is,” Council member Craig Rice said.

The zoning text amendment allows farms to construct tasting rooms and sell food, but it also sets limits on the number of events a farm can host, as well as the size and the frequency. Farm-related special events allow an unlimited number of guests, but in the case of ticketed events, they are limited to five a year.

For non-farm-related events such as weddings, birthday parties or corporate events, the capacity is set at 225 participants. Events for more than 100 people would be limited to 50 per year.

Agricultural businesses would have to grow at least 5 acres of crops directly related to their business: For example, a winery would have to have 5 acres under cultivation, and would have to source 51 percent of their remaining grapes from Maryland. Breweries and distillers would have to grow at least 1 acre of crops used in the beverages they produce.

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