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County sets specifics for farm breweries, wineries, distilleries in zoning code

Henry Ruhlman, left, and his son Matt pose for a photo behind bottles of the Our Ales brewery's Milk Stout beer on the Hampstead farm where they grow their hops, brew the beer and host a disc golf course. Photo taken Tuesday, June 17, 2014.
Henry Ruhlman, left, and his son Matt pose for a photo behind bottles of the Our Ales brewery's Milk Stout beer on the Hampstead farm where they grow their hops, brew the beer and host a disc golf course. Photo taken Tuesday, June 17, 2014. (Jon Sham/Baltimore Sun Media Gro / Patuxent Publishing)

The county’s zoning code now includes a roadmap to aid farm alcohol producers, including breweries, wineries and distilleries.

Starting 45 days after the Board of County Commissioners approved the changes — sometime in mid-June — the zoning code will for the first time give farm alcohol producers a designation for exactly what they do. It will also make clear what Carroll County requires for the farms to produce alcohol, sell it and offer agritouristic services.

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“I'm the one that probably started the whole thing,” said Henry Ruhlman, owner of Ruhlman Brewery in Hampstead.

Work on the zoning changes began two years ago; Ruhlman said it was then that he applied for a “country inn” permit with conditional use at his brewery because that was the only way he could host reunions and weddings on his property.

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The “country inn” permit, however, also gives permittees authorization to rent rooms and host bed-and-breakfast-style services.

“I got turned down,” he said. “So my next step was, I asked for a text amendment to the zoning in order to [be able] to do it, and they turned that down. They said they were going to change the zoning code.”

According to the changes, a definition has now been provided for farms that produce alcohol: “A farm that grows and processes, stores, and/or sells agricultural products for the production of wine, beer, brandy, juice, or other similar beverage on an on-site producing vineyard, orchard, hopyard, or similar growing area.”

The Sykesville Chili and Beer Festival has rebranded this year with an added focus on brews, while chili takes a back seat.

It also designates the activities allowed on the properties of breweries, wineries and distilleries, and outlines the state requirements for how retail space is used on the farm and what percentage of the finished alcohol product is imported from other farms and businesses.

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Carroll County’s Director of Land and Resource Management Tom Devilbiss has been working on changes to the code since the plan was launched.

He said creating the definition and coming up with a section of the code for the producers also involved discussions with many of the farmers who would be affected by it.

“This is a coming trend,” said Devilbiss last week. Farm breweries, wineries and distilleries are “in a lot of places and we wanted to make sure it was covered. It’s for everyone’s benefit … so that everything they’re doing is legal and covered in our code. So we worked with the producers; we invited them in, sat with them in various meetings, we got their input and various opinions.”

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, a former farmer and agriculture teacher, said he also recognizes the trend is growing and said the changes will give farmers and county staff alike a much easier way to conduct their business.

“Agritourism wasn’t anything we could classify [before],” said Weaver. “We have [farm alcohol producers] here. They’re actually growing.”

He also said that with the rate farmland is decreasing in the United States, changes like these can help preserve Carroll County’s farmland and make the businesses more sustainable.

“Since 1992 we’ve lost 34 million acres [of farmland] across the nation,” Weaver said. “Eleven million of that was in some of the most productive farmland in the country. That's scary.”

“It’s harder and harder for farmers to make any money,” Ruhlman said, “so they have to do things like [this] in order to bring people in and make a profit, and in order to keep it farm instead of developing and stuff.”

But, Ruhlman said, although the code is making things easier for him it isn’t giving him any authority he doesn’t already have. It just removes much of the red tape and roundabout processes used to make up for the fact that farm alcohol production was not included in the county’s zoning.

“It’s going to work very well here in Carroll County,” said Weaver, “and I think more and more people will come in — and whether it’s a vineyard or whatever, some of them are highly successful, so it’s all good that way.”

Other farm alcohol producers in the area that will qualify for this designation include the Serpent Ridge, Old Westminster and Galloping Goose wineries. The revised code is accessible through the County Attorney section of the Carroll County government website.

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