Churchville winery seeks zoning variance to grow business

A couple that has plans to expand their 2,000-vine vineyard in Churchville is asking the Harford County Council to allow a zoning variance so they can build a retail sales facility and hold wine tastings.

The council, sitting as the zoning board of appeals, heard Tuesday from attorney Kevin Mahoney on behalf of Ashby and Carrie Everhart, of 521 Asbury Road in Churchville.

The Everharts, who launched Legends Vineyard in 2008, bought their 6.17-acre parcel in 2005 and believed the minimum parcel size required for the proposed retail operation would be reduced from 20 acres to 5 acres, according to testimony before the county's zoning hearing examiner.

Instead, the requirement was reduced to a minimum of 10 acres, disqualifying the Everharts.

Zoning hearing examiner Robert Kahoe Jr. denied the request for an exception in February. It was appealed to the Harford County Council, which has 90 calendar days from the date of the hearing to render its decision on the zoning hearing examiner's ruling.

The Everharts already have 2,100 vines on the property and plan to add 1,600, eventually growing the vineyard itself to two acres. Ashby Everhart said in the testimony that would make it the largest vineyard in the county.

The couple wants to build a facility that would be open from noon to 5 p.m., Tuesdays through Sundays, and would convert an existing, 2,000-square-foot garage into a sales building and wine tasting area. The area would also include 14 parking spaces.

The Everharts produced 4,000 cases of wine in 2010 and sell their products in about 300 outlets statewide.

Mahoney said that to grant a variance, the board must find the property to be unique, that being denied the variance would cause the applicant undue hardship and that it would not have any impact on surrounding properties.

Referring to an adjacent retail operation, Mahoney said, "the applicants' proposal is minuscule in comparison with Brad's Produce. If Brad's Produce can operate at the location without causing any negative impact, certainly the winery wouldn't cause any problems."

He also said the Everharts have talked with the owner of Brad's Produce about the possibility of working together, since Brad's Produce does not have a liquor license.

"They say they would never have acquired the property and put the time and effort into it had they known one hand would essentially be tied behind their back," Mahoney said. "They say they can't successfully market the business if they can't do tastings and sell the product directly… People want to taste the product and they want to be able to purchase the product."

Mahoney said the variance would be a win-win for the county and other residents, as well as the Everharts.

"This is an opportunity for agricultural preservation," he said, adding that it has been supported by all their neighbors. "This is an opportunity to enhance the image of Harford County as a quality wine-making area."

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