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Reworked legislation requires minimum 25 acres, owner occupancy of future farm breweries in Harford

Future farm breweries in Harford County would have to comply with new, stricter requirements under a bill introduced to the County Council Tuesday night.

The proposed legislation — sponsored by Councilmen Robert Wagner and Tony Giangiordano — would require 25 acres to establish a farm brewery and mandate that its owner live on the property, among other provisions.

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The bill comes after multiple meetings of an advisory study group that reexamined the current law. But the bill , as it stands, could stymie plans to open new farm breweries in the county and drive business elsewhere, brewing industry representatives said.

The requirement of 25 acres for a farm brewery would make Harford County’s among the strictest rules in the state, brewing industry representatives said previously, and some of the regulations discussed in a study group tasked with revamping the current law could motivate would-be farm brewers to set up shop in other counties.

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Beyond the acreage and owner-occupancy requirements, the new legislation would also mandate that farms produce at least 2 acres of ingredient — excluding water — used to in the brewing process. Existing rules do not specify how much of the ingredients farm breweries need to produce, and Director of Planning and Zoning Jenny Jarkowski previously said the existing rules can be gamed; for example, a single hop bush grown on a farm brewery would satisfy the current law’s cultivation requirements.

Ingredients can be produced on land separate from the brewery as long as the same person owns both plots, according to the proposed legislation.

Under the new legislation, buildings would need to be at least 300 feet away from a lot line. Also, breweries accessed by private roads for which other property owners have easements would need to gather affidavits of support from all easement owners.

Wagner introduced the legislation after hearing input from a study group tasked with revamping the current law. Representatives from county government, the County Council, the farm brewing industry and others debated the law and possible changes to it at a series of meetings between June and August.

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Wagner said that farm breweries have drifted away from the original intention of the 2015 law that allowed them. He said farm breweries were intended to provide some auxiliary revenue to farmers but have come to eclipse agricultural production as some farms’ biggest moneymaker.

Because breweries and the law’s intent were not aligned, Wagner introduced a 120-day moratorium on new farm breweries, which the council approved on June 8, and empaneled the study group.

The proposed legislation’s restrictions are among the toughest in the state, said Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Brewers Association of Maryland, and could drive business elsewhere. The requirements for owner occupancy and acreage are among the more concerning elements of the legislation, and favor larger landowners in the county over those looking to establish a brewery.

As far as Atticks knows, no other county requires owner occupancy of a farm brewery.

“I think it will unequivocally have the effect of keeping nonresident, non-landowners out of Harford County,” Atticks said.

Atticks said he was happy to be part of the study group and to share his concerns with the law during group discussions; however, many of the industry representatives’ suggestions were not incorporated into the bill. He said the Brewers Association of Maryland plans to testify at the bill’s Oct. 5 public hearing and discuss the issue more.

“It is the combination of many of the most restrictive things that we’ve seen, all in one bill,” he said, “all coming about at a time when there are a number of individuals [who] are trying to start farm breweries.”

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