Balto. Co. bill could help resolve Sparks farm stand fight

The Baltimore County Council is scheduled to vote next week on a measure that could help a Sparks farmer resolve a long-standing fight to run a stand out of a barn, though lawyers for the farmer and for his opponents have different views on what the bill would allow.

The measure proposed by Councilman Todd Huff to amend the county's legal definition of a "farmer's roadside stand" would allow the owners of Springfield Farm in Sparks to build the stand they have been fighting for since 2007, said Michael McCann, theTowson lawyer who represents a group of neighbors who oppose the project.

"I can't see how the bill wouldn't allow [Smith] to do what he wants to do," said McCann, who has argued that the proposal by David Smith and his wife, Lily, does not meet the legal definition of a "farmer's roadside stand" and should not be allowed.

The Smiths' lawyer, Lawrence E. Schmidt, a former county zoning commissioner, said he could not tell how the Smiths' proposal would be affected by the bill, which is scheduled for a vote Sept. 6.

McCann and Schmidt were on hand for a work session Tuesday during which the council heard speakers for and against the legislation,

Supporters of the measure, including Keith Wills, president of the Baltimore County Farm Bureau, said it would help farmers who want to make some money by selling their products where they are raised. Opponents, including Sam Nitzberg, a neighbor on Yeoho Road, said the bill would open the door to large "distribution centers" that sell products made elsewhere and destroy the rural character of the area.

The measure is meant to clarify when a roadside stand is allowed on a farm. The zoning code now says that a roadside stand is an "accessory structure," which is defined as "subordinate in area, extent or purpose to the principal use or structure." This is usually interpreted to mean the "accessory structure" is smaller than the principal building on the farm, generally the farmhouse.

Because barns are often larger than the farmhouse, the definition precludes a stand from being located in a barn. That's what the Smiths want to do, in hopes of selling meat, eggs, dairy and other products raised on their land and farms elsewhere.

They propose to build a three-story, 5,700-square-foot barn off Yeoho Road to house the retail store on one level, with equipment and storage on the other two. Their house is 3,600 square feet.

The bill would revise the "farmer's roadside stand" definition to add "barn or other farm building or portion thereof" to the description of an "accessory structure."

Huff, a Lutherville Republican who represents the rural northern district where Springfield Farm is located, said the bill is intended to support local farmers who want to have a retail operation. He said the measure is aimed at a recent Circuit Court ruling that went against the Smiths.

In the latest of many twists in the case, Judge Susan Souder struck down July 1 a county Board of Appeals decision a year ago that approved the project. She took issue with the Smiths' argument that because the stand would occupy a single floor of the barn, it qualifies as an "accessory structure" under the zoning regulations. A floor in a building cannot be a structure, she said.

"It is the proposed barn that is the structure, not the single floor," Souder wrote. "Because the proposed barn is the structure, and it is larger than the Smiths' farmhouse, it cannot be an 'accessory use structure.'"

On seven of eight points, Souder upheld the Board of Appeals' approval of the Smiths' proposal. But on the key count, the judge found that the proposal did not meet the definition of a "farmer's roadside stand."

That definition, however, might be about to change.

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