Carroll County’s Planning Commission approved a recommendation to allow breweries and microbreweries in the county’s Restricted Industrial (IR) zones Tuesday.
Shaffer and Shaffer LLP drafted the amendment on behalf of St. John Properties, which has a prospective tenant interested in constructing a microbrewery at Liberty Exchange in Eldersburg. The recommendation will go to the Board of Carroll County Commissioners Thursday, Feb. 21, and if it is approved the change will take place before the comprehensive rezoning of the commercial, industrial and employment campus zones are finalized.
“As you all know, there is an undefined timeline for when the new text would be adopted,” Kelly Shaffer told the Planning Commission earlier this month. “So even if it does [get adopted], it would keep [St. John Properties] from being able to lease to them within a period of time where the tenant would walk in and say, ‘Yes, this works for me.’ ”
Breweries are already allowed in General Industrial (IG) zones, so the proposed amendment would allow them in the IR zone as long as they comply with state and liquor laws and licensing.
But the broad language is inconsistent with a zoning text amendment approved last year, Carroll County Department of Land and Resource Management Director Tom Devilbiss told the Planning Commission at its Feb. 19 meeting.
The farm alcohol production amendment, which was adopted last May, determines activities allowed on the properties of farm breweries, wineries and distilleries and outlines the state requirements for how retail space can be used on farms.
49 percent accessory use
As a result of that change, farm alcohol producers are only allowed to use 49 percent of their property for accessory uses, like tastings, events and the sale of merchandise and other items.
“This wasn’t just the size, it was the use,” Devilbiss said. “We didn’t want the accessory uses to get bigger than the actual primary use — which is the winery, brewery, distillery.”
Cynthia Cheatwood, vice chair of the Planning Commission, said she had a hard time making the comparison between agricultural zones and industrial zones, though.
“We were just thinking in the farm and the agricultural districts, we are talking much larger areas and operations, large-scale, maybe weddings,” she said, “versus commercial and industrial, where you are already controlled by the lot size.
“We don't want to be restrictive, so we have to keep coming back with variances,” said Cheatwood. “We are already coming up against it again with the farm alcohol — so we have to really consider what we put in [the text] so we aren't constantly [amending it]. And it’s going to keep changing.”
Carroll County Zoning Administrator Jay Voight was also present at the Planning Commission meeting Tuesday, and said one of the main reasons for the 49 percent accessory-use requirement is that a brewery itself might not need a lot of space — but could ask for a larger space for its tasting room and later hold events or rent it out.
“Maybe there’s a limit on the product sold, but there is nothing keeping it from an event area, for a wedding or banquet,” Voight said. “If I was a businessman and I had space available to rent out to other activities, it could be done.
“So then what becomes the principal use?” He asked. “Is it a rental hall where you're renting out space, or is it a brewery with a taproom — an accessory use — not something that’s major. That’s one of the reasons for the 49 percent, to ensure it is the smaller portion of the brewery.”
Shaffer said the zoning code still applies, though, and breweries would still be limited by their designated accessory uses.
“We just want to keep our industrial industrial and keep commercial exactly that — commercial,” said Voight.
Shaffer said that Class 5 and Class 7 brewery licenses already restrict how many barrels of beer a brewer is allowed to sell in a year, though, and that there are complicated layers of federal, state and county regulations that already exist.
“I think putting a limit on it is not achieving the goal that's desired if the goal is to assure that manufacturing and production is the main business and moneymaker, and that the tasting room is the accessory use,” she said. “It doesn’t need to be accomplished by a floor-area percentage.”
Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, the Planning Commission liaison, said he agreed with Shaffer and the rest of the commission — that the body should refrain from overregulating.
“There are guidelines already in place — that are directing through the state, federal and us — to put this in place,” Rothstein said, “and it does not address a 49 percent [accessory use].
“So to me, the due diligence has already been done by the state,” he said. “We should just adhere to that as opposed to putting another level of restriction and concern.”
The Planning Commission agreed it would be best to put minimal local restrictions on the industry so as to refrain from interfering in the complicated federal and state regulations that are already in place.
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The Board of Carroll County Commissioners will discuss the proposed amendment at its 1:30 p.m. meeting this Thursday. The entirety of the Feb. 19 Planning Commission meeting can be viewed on the Carroll County government website in the Meetings and Agendas section, under the Meeting Portal and Video Archive tab.