The Harford County Council recently approved a 120-day moratorium on construction of new farm breweries to study their impacts on local communities. But the freeze on construction and planning approval leaves one proposed brewery in limbo.
Brad Streett, the Vice President of AleCraft Brewery in Bel Air, said the moratorium felt “somewhat targeted” at their planned expansion at a property on Waverly Drive, off Route 1 near Hickory.
AleCraft, which has a taproom on South Main Street in Bel Air in the same building as Preston’s Stationary, had been planning since February 2020 to construct an approximately 5,000-square-foot production facility and tasting room on the Waverly Drive property, Streett said. AleCraft would also have moved its hop cultivation there.
Much of AleCraft’s planning and zoning legwork had been completed, Streett said, but the moratorium was introduced the day before the project’s zoning hearing on May 5. AleCraft withdrew its application the same day the moratorium was introduced, county spokesperson Cindy Mumby said.
“It is absolutely a financial setback,” Streett said, noting it could have long-term impacts on the business. He’s not sure what’s next for the brewery.
Proposed by Councilman Robert Wagner, the freeze on building new farm breweries was approved 5-2 at the June 8 meeting of the county council.
The legislation specifies noise and traffic congestion as some issues with farm breweries on agriculturally zoned land, and Wagner said the point of the moratorium is to allow a study group to convene and reevaluate farm breweries’ place in communities, including their minimum acreage, placement, construction and operation.
“This whole thing was set up to create new criteria that better suits what the farm breweries bring to a particular parcel,” he said.
Wagner reasoned that the moratorium was necessary because farm breweries were not keeping true to the intent of the legislation that created the classification.
“It was all designed in the beginning ... to allow the farmer to supplement the farm’s income,” he said. “It has developed into something where this becomes the sole source, and the farm becomes secondary.”
Per the legislation, a nine-member group will be empaneled to take a second look at the breweries, including representatives of the county council, Harford County Sheriff’s Office, the county’s planning and zoning department, the farming industry and the farm brewery industry.
Another brewery exempted
At an earlier meeting, Wagner said the moratorium was not motivated by any one pending farm brewery.
But AleCraft was the only brewery already in the pipeline that was impacted by the legislation. Another brewery in progress, Duncale Farms, was exempted from the moratorium.
Duncale Farms, on Whitaker Mill Road, was the only other proposed farm brewery in the pipeline, Mumby said, after AleCraft withdrew its application.
Any farm that received a Harford County Agricultural Grant to establish a farm brewery was exempted from the moratorium.
Duncale Farms received a county agriculture grant amounting to $10,000 for a brewing system and related items in 2019, Mumby said.
A July 7 Development Advisory Committee hearing is scheduled for the farm’s request to convert a garage on the property to a brewery and market.
Existing farm breweries and those already permitted and approved by the county are also exempted.
Three farm breweries — Falling Branch Brewery in Street, Slate Farm Brewery in Whiteford, and Hopkins Farm Brewery in Level — have been approved since February of 2016, when the legislation was created at the behest of County Executive Barry Glassman. Mumby said that Glassman was not opposed to Wagner’s proposal to review the farm brewery legislation.
The moratorium was also a financial setback for Greg Wilson, who has owned the property on Waverly Drive since 2013. Wilson said he thought the sale was a done deal.
He and his significant other have worked hard over the years and were looking forward to retirement, Wilson said. Now, the property has been relisted, and he believes he will have to sell it for a lower price than what AleCraft was offering. Other breweries found the location desirable and had expressed interest in the property, too.
“I think [the moratorium] devalued it somewhat,” Wilson said. “But I am sure we are going to have to deal.”
The Waverly Drive property is home to the Wilson’s Farm Market. The building would not have be used as part of the brewery, Streett said, but another business partner could have come in to use its commercial kitchen.
In the meantime, the Wilson’s Farm Market is still open for business, the owners said.
Opposition to moratorium
Opponents of the proposed AleCraft brewery expansion started a small Facebook group. They pointed out that the property is not on a large farm and abuts homes. Traffic could also increase if the brewery moved to Waverly Drive, the group suggested.
Streett said he empathized with neighbors’ concerns about the noise and bustle a farm brewery could bring, but said that AleCraft would be good neighbors as they always have, being a smaller operation.
Though it was not required as part of the planning process, Streett said the brewery hosted an informal community input meeting to listen to neighbors’ concerns.
“We have been very good neighbors to everybody in town,” he said.
Councilmen Andre Johnson and Joseph Woods voted against the moratorium, saying it felt like the council would be tipping the scales against some businesses.
Johnson said the council certainly had the authority to pass a moratorium but felt it should not. For those in the process of starting a farm brewery, he said, a moratorium would feel targeted and unfair.
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“I know we can do it, but should we do it?” Johnson asked at the June 8 meeting.
Woods agreed with Johnson and said that residents who contacted him were evenly split on the issue.
“Is it fair to change the rules midway through a process?” Woods asked. “For the people who are already in the process, we are yanking something away from them.”
At a June 1 public hearing on the moratorium, Kevin Atticks, the executive director of the Brewers Association of Maryland, said the organization opposed the bill.
Having worked with a number of counties — including helping with the creation of Harford’s farm brewery legislation — Atticks said the association had never seen a full-out moratorium like what was eventually adopted in Harford.
The association represents a number of start-up breweries, Atticks said, that would be impacted by the moratorium. Smaller farms that grow their own crops and produce their own products, like beer, wine and spirits, are a way to keep smaller farms in business and stave off development pressure.
“We really see that as the way forward, broadly, in terms of agriculture and the way forward for farms,” Atticks said. “Going away are the 200-, 300-acre farms, unfortunately, due to development pressure and other reasons within the family. But these smaller farms can be extremely viable.”