Plans for what would be Harford County’s third on-farm microbrewery, where beer would be produced for both consumption on and off the farm, were reviewed Wednesday by the county Development Advisory Committee.
David and Michelle Hopkins want to establish the microbrewery and build a taphouse on their 121-acre farm at the intersection of Routes 155 and 156 in the Level area between Havre de Grace and Churchville.
The plan reviewed at a public meeting in Bel Air calls for construction of a 4,000-square-foot building, of which about 1,700 square feet would be used for a taphouse seating up to 75 people.
A parking lot to accommodate 28 vehicles also would be built off an existing farm lane that accesses the property from Route 155. The Hopkins operate a produce stand near that location.
The farm is in local agricultural preservation. The local board that oversees the county preservation program has given its approval to the proposed use, according to Bob Wilson, of the engineering firm Wilson, Deegan & Associates, who presented the plan to the review committee.
Microbreweries on farms that can produce up to 15,000 barrels of beer annually for wholsale and retail sale are permitted by both state and county laws. Harford’s law, approved in late 2015, treats on-farm breweries as an “agricultural processing and manufacturing facility” under the zoning code, setting requirements for screening, lighting and hours of operation.
Although the property owners are confident of meeting all state a local requirements, Wilson said, two people who live nearby expressed reservations about the impact on area wells, the disposal of waste products from the brewing process and the taphouse, increased noise and traffic and intrusive lighting.
“I’m concerned about the amount of water that will be used and the impact on our wells,” said William Gamble, who lives on Aldino Road (Route 136) across from the Hopkins Farm.
On-farm breweries are licensed through the Office of the Maryland State Comptroller, not local liquor control boards, according to state law, which was amended in 2017 to be less restrictive regarding what kind of food can be sold with beer consumed on the premises.
Wilson said the Hopkins don’t plan to prepare food for sale, but might have food trucks come in for events at the taphouse, where beer will be consumed or sold to take out.
The Hopkins on-farm brewery would be the first in the county within a new structure. The two local on-farm breweries operating, Falling Branch in Street, which opened in May 2016, and Slate Farm in Whiteford, which opened last March, were set up in existing farm buildings and were not required to go through the more public DAC review process, according to county officials.
Falling Branch and Slate Farm received what the county now calls “site plan application waivers,” according to county administration spokesperson Cindy Mumby, who said such waivers are granted on a case-by-case basis as determined by planning and zoning. Both breweries had to meet all requirements set by the zoning code for those activities, she added.
The biggest concerns expressed during Wednesday’s review of the Hopkins brewery plan came from the county Health Department, represented by Lisa Kalama and Len Walinski. They said the property owners would have to certify the location of existing wells on the property that might be abandoned.
A new well will be drilled to serve the planned brewery and taphouse, according to the plan, and a new septic system will be installed. The location of the new well has been approved, Kalama said, and the well will have to be tested by her agency before a final building permit can be approved.
Because of the use, the well will require continuous periodic testing as a “transient non-community water system,” Kalama said.
She said the estimated daily volume of waste from patrons of the taphouse is 1,500 gallons, which does not include any wastewater generated by brewing operations. She also said a plan needs to be approved by the Maryland Department of the Environment regarding the disposal of the waste byproducts from the brewery.
Wilson said the owners will obtain the requisite permits from MDE to dispose of the mash and other byproducts as part of the farm’s nutrient management plan for fertilizing fields during the growing season. Out of season the waste will be trucked off-site to approval disposal facilities, he added.
In addition to his concern about the water usage, Gamble, the Aldino Road resident, said he has concerns about the amount of wastewater being generated by the brewing operations and the people consuming the beer in the taphouse and the disposal of trash and byproducts from the brewery.
“Rats and mice love grain,” he said of the plan to eventually dump some of the mash on the fields.
The plan submitted to DAC shows the hours of operation for the taphouse to be Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 7 p.m. State law permits seven-day operation from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Gamble said he could foresee the Hopkins operation doing well and expanding to seven days a week.
“This really ought to go in a commercial area with public water and sewer,” he said.
“The Health Department shares your concerns,” Moe Davenport, the DAC chairman, told Gamble, reiterating what the health department representatives said that their agency has not approved the plan, nor has the Maryland Department of the Environment or the county Public Works Department, which is waiting on a final stormwater management plan.
Jeff Andrews, who lives in the Foxridge community across Route 155 from the Hopkins farm, said he has concerns about noise and other potential problems from events at the taphouse.
“I’m not… opposed, but I am a little concerned this could grow into something bigger like a wedding venue… with late hours and noise,” he said.
Following the meeting, Dan Hopkins, the brother of David Hopkins, said the planned brewery and taphouse is a family venture and they will take into consideration the concerns raised by the county agencies and their neighbors.
Wilson said none of the issues raised regarding the overall plan are insurmountable and should be addressed in a reasonable amount of time.