The head of the nonprofit that promotes the craft brewing industry in Maryland says Harford County’s proposed rules for future farm breweries would be among the most restrictive in the state and will likely drive those businesses elsewhere.
“This basically says, ‘you should look at Cecil County,’” Kevin Atticks, the Executive Director of the Brewers Association of Maryland, said at Wednesday’s meeting of the workgroup tasked with updating Harford’s farm brewery legislation.
County councilman Robert Wagner assembled a study group to reexamine legislation allowing farm breweries after the council passed a 120-day moratorium on approval of new farm breweries in June. In Wagner’s view, farm breweries in the county had strayed from being a supplemental source of income for some farmers to becoming their primary money-makers.
But at the group’s Wednesday meeting, Atticks said the rules discussed by the work group would be some of the most restrictive in the state, if made law. While Wagner proposed requiring 25 acres of land to set up a farm brewery, Atticks said he thought that was higher than it should be, and anything more would be the highest threshold required in the state.
Though the proposed changes to the law were not enumerated, the study group previously discussed requiring ownership of the farm for three years before establishing a farm brewery, as well as residency and minimum acreage requirements. As the proposal stands, it gives the brewers association “heartburn,” Atticks said, and could dissuade would-be-farmers and brewery owners from setting up shop in Harford.
“This really has shades of anti-competitiveness and overtones of ‘we welcome you, but you have to be a big landowner,’” Atticks said.
Councilman Tony Giangiordano said that, as much heartburn as the association feels over the proposed changes to the law, residents who live near farm breweries are similarly concerned with the noise, traffic and bustle the businesses bring. Several residents who live near farm breweries have contacted him and Wagner, Giangiordano said.
Wagner also noted that agriculturally zoned land is generally cheaper than commercial property and that some county residents do not expect to see a potentially packed brewery when they move in next to farmland.
“You’ve got plenty of communities that have bought where they bought for the reasons that they did, and the rural nature is part of it, only to find out in a few short years — or even sooner — the rural character of where they bought has morphed into almost a renaissance festival three nights a week,” Wagner said.
To address that, the group — composed of representatives from county government, the council, the farm brewery industry and others — talked over possible changes that would bring farm breweries more in line with the intent of the legislation allowing them: to have farm breweries serve as a supplemental source of income for farmers.
The reworked legislation will be submitted to the Harford County Council once it is completed, and will be subject to the council’s approval.
“I think we have enough to start crafting the bill,” Wagner said Wednesday. He did not give a timeline for when the legislation might come before the rest of the council.
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In an Aug. 10 report to the council about the study group’s progress, Wagner said adequate parking should be provided on-site at future farm breweries, with no off-site parking permitted. The property on which the brewery sits should also be at least 25 acres, and the farm must be owner occupied and operated, he said.
A farm brewery should produce at least two acres of grain, hops, fruit or other ingredients used to make their alcohol, which can be grown on-site as well as off-site, as long as the off-site farm is owned, occupied and operated by the applicant, Wagner said at the council meeting.
Currently, very little agricultural product is required to satisfy the department of planning and zoning’s requirements and comport with the law as it stands.
Existing farm breweries will be grandfathered into the legislation and will not be required to change. Three farm breweries — Falling Branch Brewery in Street, Slate Farm Brewery in Whiteford and Hopkins Farm Brewery in Level — have been approved since 2016 and are operating in the county.
Under the proposed legislation, breweries would be able to ask for normal zoning variances if they cannot comply with whatever law is ultimately passed. Those variances are decided by a hearing examiner.
The moratorium presented a hurdle to AleCraft Breweries, which planned to open a farm brewery on Waverly Drive, off Route 1 near Hickory. But the day before they were scheduled for a zoning hearing in May, the moratorium was introduced to the council, and the business withdrew its application.
Another planned brewery, Duncale Farms on Whitaker Mill Road, was exempted from the moratorium because it had received an agricultural grant from the county in 2019 for the establishment of a farm brewery.