Howard wineries legislation on hold until December

Legislation that would have created zoning regulations to allow wineries in Howard County was withdrawn from County Council consideration Tuesday night, delaying the issue at least until December.

The council voted unanimously to withdraw the measure.

Administration officials and council members said an effort to craft amendments that would ease critics' fears about large social events at rural wineries and satisfy farmers who want to begin commercial operations failed to jell in time.

"We are committed to working through some of the issues," administration liaison Jennifer Sager told the council members.

But since the council does not consider zoning issues after the primary election Sept. 14, and does not meet in November in an election year according to the county charter, the issue can not be reintroduced until December.

Dave Zuchero, owner of Tin Lizzie Wineworks in Clarksville, the scene of County Executive Ken Ulman's announcement of the legislation last spring, said he was "extremely" disappointed, especially because farmers, tourism officials, Ulman and the business community are in favor of the idea. At the time, Ulman noted that Columbia's popular Wine in the Woods festival has never included wineries from Howard County because there are none. County zoning laws do not provide for them, but he has indicated that he wants to change that.

"There's a lot of support in the county. It's kind of discouraging that it's come to this," Zuchero said after the council action.

Zuchero and other hopeful winery owners such as Maureen Cahill of Cooksville said the restrictions in the administration bill were tight already. Under the bill, small wineries could play host to only a few dozen people at a time, they said. Zuchero said people in Clarksville sometimes have parties or fundraisers that attract several hundred.

Owners of farmland in the county's Agricultural Preservation program also have argued that they need new ways to make the land profitable.

However, Ted Mariani, leader of a group of western county residents who have expressed concern about the potential for large crowds and increased traffic on rural roads if wineries are allowed, said he was pleased that the bill was withdrawn.

"Good, I think it was a smart thing," he said. "Nobody is opposed to wineries. The problem is, these places have become big entertainment venues. It's not appropriate."

Under the bill, larger wineries would have been allowed to host up to 500 people up to 15 times a year.

"It's crazy," Mariani said.

Barring further last-minute delays, the County Council will conduct its first public hearing Sept. 20 at the newly renovated George Howard Building in Ellicott City on legislation introduced Tuesday night.

The bills include two measures that would enable Enterprise Homes to begin an $8.5 million addition and renovation at the Harper House subsidized housing near Harper's Choice Village Center in Columbia.

A proposed nine-story addition would offer improved amenities and larger one- and two-bedroom apartments, and would enable elimination of small efficiency units.

If approved by the council, work on Harper House could begin in December.

The council will vote Oct. 4 on the bills introduced this week. Bills introduced that night will be voted on in a special session 4:30 p.m. Oct. 28.

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