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Legislation to place restrictions on farm breweries debated at Harford County Council public hearing

Legislation that would place more restrictions and requirements on farm breweries in Harford County drew support and criticism at a public hearing before the County Council on Tuesday.

Some county residents said a brewery would disrupt their quiet neighborhood and could bring down their home prices, arguing for the legislation, but a representative of Maryland’s brewing industry said the restrictions would be some of the strictest in the state and drive business away from Harford.

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Re-examination of the zoning allowances for farm breweries was prompted by council member Robert Wagner, who said the breweries had strayed from their original intent of providing ancillary income to farmers. He said breweries on agriculturally zoned land have come to replace farming as the main moneymakers on those parcels, which is not in line with the intent of the original legislation that established farm breweries in the county.

“I think in many instances the brewery business is now the primary income producer, and the traditional farm is secondary, which was never the way it was designed from the onset,” Wagner said. “We had done the ag-commercial piece in an effort to try to sustain a farm that was in production without them having to go to such lengths as ag-preservation.”

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To correct that, the council passed a 120-day moratorium on new farm breweries in June and created a study group of industry, farm community and government representatives to help rework the legislation.

The bill Wagner introduced would require farm breweries to have at least 25 acres of land. Beyond that, the brewer must own and occupy the property, and the farms must produce at least 2 acres of ingredients used in the brewery’s potables. Any off-site farmland used to grow ingredients must also be owned and operated by the brewery’s owner, according to the bill.

Brewery buildings would need to be at least 300 feet away from a lot line. And breweries accessed by private roads for which other property owners have easements would need to gather affidavits of support from all easement owners. Off-site parking would not be allowed under the legislation.

Wagner introduced an amendment Tuesday would also require at least 35% of a brewery’s total product be made on-site within three years of getting all the necessary approvals. Council member Chad Shrodes introduced an amendment to strip the legislation of its owner-occupancy requirement.

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While Wagner stressed that the moratorium on new breweries was not spurred by AleCraft Brewery’s proposed expansion to Waverly Drive in Bel Air, several residents of the quiet street came to speak in favor of the legislation and referenced the project, bringing concerns about their property values and traffic to the public hearing.

AleCraft announced in September that it would expand to Pennsylvania.

Lisa Phillips, a resident of Waverly Drive, said farm breweries do not belong in small communities, where they can be disruptive. She has lived on the street for 30 years and said a brewery could lower her home’s value. Her grandchildren also walk down the road, and she speculated that a farm brewery on the dead-end street could mean more intoxicated drivers.

“Keep the breweries where they belong, please,” Phillips said.

Patty Myers also objected to a farm brewery at Wilson’s Farm Market — the site of AleCraft’s proposed expansion — for many of the same reasons as Phillips. She said that Route 1 is heavily traveled, and the street’s residents often have to wait to turn out onto it from Waverly Drive. Traffic from a brewery would only further gum up the road, she said. Others with farm breweries in their neighborhoods have complained, she said, and she could see their same issues cropping up on Waverly Drive.

“No doubt a brewery in a residential neighborhood does not work and will bring our property values down,” Myers said. “Farm breweries like Falling Branch and Hopkins [Farm] have the perfect setting.”

However, Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Brewers Association of Maryland, said the proposals would be among the most restrictive in the state if passed and urged the council to reconsider some of the bill’s provisions. The association represents brewers across the state, including some in Harford who share his view but were afraid to speak publicly on the issue, he said.

“The resulting legislation creates what is unequivocally, from our experience, the most restrictive law our industry has seen, which would be quite concerning from any jurisdiction, but even more so from the reputably business-friendly and agriculture-friendly Harford County,” Atticks said.

In a letter to the council, Atticks said the restrictions would be prohibitive to new breweries setting up in the county and drive ventures away, particularly the legislation’s ownership requirement, which would be unique to the county. Off-site farms are frequently leased or rented to brewers for farming purposes, but under the legislation, their product would not go toward the 2 required acres of ingredient production at the brewery, which would be an issue for the ventures.

Atticks also said the bill’s 25-acre minimum would be among the largest required in the state and that the total allowable square footage for a brewery’s tasting room was unclear in the legislation.

“If a farm brewery is accessory to agriculture, why does each and every neighbor get veto over what a farmer may do with their land? This seems to run afoul of a farmer’s right to farm,” Atticks wrote.

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