Promoting wineries and farm breweries in Montgomery County

Have you had the chance to visit one of Montgomery County’s new wineries or breweries? Thanks to visionary entrepreneurs and a commitment from County government that has resulted in reduced regulatory barriers and increased incentives, a new industry is beginning to thrive here.

These small businesses create good middle-income jobs in manufacturing, marketing, and sales. They have helped revitalize urban districts such as Silver Spring, bring life to industrial districts in Rockville, and create destination experiences in our farmland communities such as Poolesville, Laytonsville, Dickerson, and Brookeville.

After resolving zoning and regulatory barriers in our commercial areas, the next important step is to establish a reasonable framework in more rural areas for wineries and for farm operations to establish breweries, cideries and distilleries.

I support allowing farm operations to open these business because:

  1. Making beer, wine, cider, spirits has historically been an accessory agricultural activity— farmers brought not only grain or produce but also beer or whiskey to market. We can return this production if we establish laws to enable it, rather than continuing to support laws that stifle local production and thereby advantage large-scale corporate production.
  2. Allowing this use is helping a new generation to return and thrive as business owners in our agricultural reserve. You can see the creativity and energy these young cultivators and creators are bringing to the job. Having this opportunity makes farming more viable which will reduce pressures to sell for residential development or sell to corporate farming conglomerations.
  3. These businesses enhance the quality of life of our residents and make Montgomery County a better place to live. Have you spent a Saturday afternoon at one of our farm breweries or wineries? It is an experience you don’t want to miss.

Accordingly, I introduced zoning changes (ZTA 18-03). I thank Craig Rice for joining as co-lead. I appreciate Councilmembers Floreen and Leventhal’s supportive work on the ZTA at the PHED committee and Councilmembers Hucker, Katz, and Navarro for joining as co-sponsors. The ZTA seeks to carefully balance the opportunity to support these businesses with our commitment to preserve the agricultural heritage of the County.

The core of the proposal is to allow these businesses as accessory to a farm operation. In other words, the primary use of the land or property must be agricultural, but a brewery can be an accessory business that supports the farm.

ZTA 18-03 enjoys wide support from a diverse group of stakeholders, including the Montgomery County Farm Bureau, the Montgomery Agricultural Producers, the Montgomery County Agricultural Advisory Committee, Montgomery County Agricultural Preservation Advisory Board, the Montgomery County Office of Agriculture, the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation, the Montgomery County Food Council, the Maryland Breweries and Wineries Associations, the Maryland Distillers Guild, and many individual members of the community.

The ZTA has been the subject of public hearing and two committee worksessions. It will come before the full Council in September 2018 for final action. I invite you to learn more and consider sending your thoughts to the Council by emailing

If you would like to read more about some of the new wineries and breweries that are growing roots in our farmland areas, here are some references for Black Ankle, Old Westminster, Rocklands, Waredaca, Brookeville Beer Farm, and Elder Pine.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my office directly at or 240.777.7964.


The Council Connection – Council discusses plan to widen 270 and 495

As summer comes to a close and school resumes, the Council is back for regular session on Tuesday with a full agenda.

In the morning, the Council will discuss issues related to the Governor’s plans to add lane capacity to I-270 and I-495. Governor Hogan announced last fall his intent to form a public-private partnership to widen both highways and likely add toll lanes. The State Highway Administration (SHA) outlined 15 “cross sections” for their Request for Proposals, which you can view here.

We invited SHA to discuss this project with the Council, but they responded that they will not do that until they have “narrowed the options,” likely in December. As Council President, I felt that this issue was too important to sit on the sidelines, so we will have a public discussion with our own transportation policy team to better prepare for this challenging issue.

The Council has long been on record urging the State to advance options that align with County master plans. For I-270 that means an additional two reversible lanes (not four) on I-270, and only between I-370 and Frederick County. These lanes would be reversible HOV or high-occupancy-toll (HOT) lanes, with both lanes running southbound in the morning peak and northbound in the evening peak. South of I-370 we do not advocate adding more through lanes, since any additional widening would have a major impact on abutting homes.

On I-495, the County’s master plan calls for an additional two HOV or HOT lanes (not four), and only between the I-270 West Spur and Virginia, where the right-of-way is wide enough (300′) to accommodate two lanes. East of the I-270 Spur we do not advocate adding more through lanes, since the right-of-way is only about 200′ wide there; any added widening would have a major impact on homes, businesses and parks.

We look forward to reviewing this issue more closely.

Following are some other highlights of the Council’s week:

Legal assistance for residents facing deportation

Following up on initiative developed by the Council in the FY19 budget, the County Executive has identified 3 nonprofit organizations that will receive funding to help residents who are facing deportation: AyudaHIAS and KIND (Kids in Need of Defense). Why is this important? Here is one example: You have heard about the family separation crisis caused by the Trump Administration. KIND works to help those children who are connected to our community, by providing legal assistance. Tuesday’s action will designate these three groups as eligible for the $370,000 funding initiative the Council adopted.

10 Year Water and Sewer Plan

The Council aims to wrap up work on the 10 Year Water and Sewer Plan with a straw vote on Tuesday and final action the following Tuesday. The plan sets the policy for how and where water/sewer extensions are allowed in the County.

Public Hearings on affordable housing bills

On Tuesday at 1:30pm, there will be public hearings on a zoning change (Zoning Text Amendment 18-06) that would help implement the recent changes the Council made to the Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) law. The Council passed legislation increasing the MPDU requirement to 15% of new housing units in the most expensive parts of the County, and made a host of changes to modernize the law and make it more flexible. Additionally, a different ZTA would streamline approval processes for “accessory apartments,” which are small apartments that a homeowner might build inside of their home, over a garage, or in their yard.


Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President


The Council Connection — housing affordability (cont’d)

Council Connection Masthead

Council President’s Message

Before we head into the August recess, the Council meets this Tuesday with a full agenda (pdf).

Housing Affordability
After extensive discussion, the Council will take action on two significant pieces of legislation that make improvements to our Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) program – a visionary law first enacted in Montgomery County in 1973 and since copied in jurisdictions across the Country. The MPDU law requires that 12.5% of all new developments with more than 20 housing units be set aside in the County’s affordable, below-market rate program. The law has produced more than 11,000 affordable units since its creation (though many aged out of their control period before it was extended to 99 years). Bill 34-17 (pdf), sponsored by Councilmember Floreen, would make several changes to update and strengthen the law. Bill 38-17 (pdf), sponsored by Council President Riemer, would increase the requirement to 15% in the areas of the County with the least affordable housing.

Following are some other highlights of the Council’s week:

Renaming New High School After Josiah Henson
Last week, First Lady Catherine Leggett and Council President Hans Riemer sent a letter to the Board of Education (pdf) urging them to name the new high school on Old Georgetown Road in Rockville after Josiah Henson. Reverend Henson, one of the great unsung heroes in the County, lived and labored in the area where Tilden Middle School now stands on what was once Riley Farm.

To learn more about Josiah Henson’s story and why he is such a pivotal historical figure, please attend a special screening of the documentary film “Josiah” on August 10 at 7:00 p.m at the AFI Theatre in Silver Spring. Tickets are available on the AFI Silver Theatre website and at the AFI box office.

Crime Statistics
The Council public safety committee reviewed the County’s 2017 and 2018 year-to-date crime statistics. While crimes against persons have ticked up in 2018, the total number of criminal offenses are trending lower than 2017 (-48.8%). Please see the full update here.

Wireless infrastructure zoning changes
At the request of the County Executive, the Council will introduce zoning changes (pdf) that are designed to speed the deployment of wireless infrastructure in residential areas while maintaining appropriate safeguards for neighbors. The public hearing will be on September 11, beginning at 7:30pm. You can also provide feedback by writing to

Converting streetlights to LED
The Council will vote on an appropriation proposed by the County Executive to begin phase 1 of an ambitious plan to convert all County street lights from high pressure sodium (HPS) to light-emitting diode (LED). LED streetlights use less energy and are easier to maintain, which saves the County (and taxpayers) money.

And finally, an update on the Council’s efforts to promote local craft alcohol production.

Farm Alcohol Production Zoning Changes
In order to improve Montgomery County’s offering of wineries, breweries, distilleries and cideries in our agricultural areas, Councilmember Riemer and Rice introduced ZTA 18-03. After making a number of changes suggested from stakeholders, the zoning committee (PHED) unanimously recommended the ZTA to the full Council this week. The full Council will take up these zoning changes in September.


Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President


Proposal to Name New High School for Josiah Henson

I have joined with the First Lady of Montgomery County Catherine Leggett to send a letter to the President and Vice President of the Board of Education, Michael Durso and Shebra Evans, urging Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to name the high school that will open on Old Georgetown Road in Rockville for Reverend Josiah Henson. Reverend Josiah Henson lived and labored in the area where Tilden Middle at Charles W. Woodward High School now stands. MCPS plans to renovate and re-open a high school at that location in 2022. Henson, whose autobiography helped to end slavery, is one of Montgomery County’s greatest unsung heroes.

To learn more about Josiah Henson’s story and why he is such a pivotal historical figure, we invite the community to join us on August 10 at 7:00 p.m. for a special screening of the documentary film Josiah. Josiah, which is a 39-minute documentary, narrated by actor and activist Danny Glover, that traces Josiah Henson’s harrowing journey from slavery to freedom in Canada and his contributions to the historical forces that lead to the Civil War. The film screening will take place at AFI Silver Theatre & Cultural Center in Silver Spring.

Tickets to see the film are five dollars and are available on the AFI Silver Theatre website and at the AFI box office. Proceeds from this event will go to the Josiah Henson Special Park.

For more information about the film visit


Here is the full text of the letter:

Dear Mr. Durso and Ms. Evans,

We are writing to share an unusual opportunity and request your consideration relating to the naming of a high school. We propose that a new high school should be named for Reverend Josiah Henson.

Old Georgetown Road runs the same route today that it ran 200 years ago, when Josiah Henson was enslaved on the Isaac Riley Plantation. The Riley Plantation or Farm was a large property where now you will find homes in the Luxmanor neighborhood and office buildings on Executive Boulevard. A small park with an old farm house stands on part of the plantation grounds and is now owned and operated by MNCPPC as Josiah Henson Special Park. It features the slave-owning family’s house with attached log kitchen, and will soon feature a new visitor center and museum on Henson’s life and slavery in Maryland.

Across Old Georgetown Road from the farm’s boundary today sits Tilden Middle School, formerly Charles W. Woodward High School. Inside of the Farm’s 1863 boundary sits the Tilden Center as well as Luxmanor Elementary School.

In 2022, the Tilden Middle building will reopen as Woodward High School. The middle school will move to the Tilden Center and open in 2019. The new high school is presumed to be named for Montgomery County Judge Charles W. Woodward, as it was previously.

The High School instead should be named for Josiah Henson, one of the most consequential figures to live in Montgomery County and a man who walked the very ground where these schools sit today.

A reverend, Josiah Henson escaped to freedom and wrote an autobiography in 1849 of his incredible accomplishments, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself. Josiah Henson inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Her book, the top selling novel of that century, contributed significantly to mobilizing public opinion against slavery, leading President Lincoln to call her, “the little lady who started this big war.”

Josiah Henson, by struggling for freedom and writing his story, which provided the inspiration for Stowe’s novel, played a crucial and very specific role in the story of how our country finally ended slavery. Reverend Henson has never received the recognition that he deserves. He is one of Montgomery County’s greatest unsung heroes.

Henson was also an educator. After escaping to freedom, he founded a trade school in Dawn, Canada — the first trade school in Canada, which helped his community of formerly enslaved people to thrive.

Josiah Henson’s work managing the business of the Riley farm or plantation included taking goods to market in Georgetown on Old Georgetown Road. As a result, he walked the ground in this area for many years, where both school properties, as well as Luxmanor ES, sit today. In Henson’s time, the farm was more than twice the size of what it was in 1863; the 1863 boundary, which we have in property records, is shown in the attached map.

Naming a high school in his honor would serve to pay tribute to his achievements, reminding our community of our unique history and the role of African American leaders in our County since its earliest days. It will give our residents and children some ownership of the fight for freedom that Josiah Henson embodies. It will help portray our County in its true light.

To raise awareness about the idea of naming the schools for Reverend Henson, we invite you to join us along with a number of community leaders to see a remarkable new film about his life, Josiah, at the AFI Silver, on August 10th, at 7pm. The films corresponds with a new biography about Henson’s life by Jared Brock, called The Road to Dawn.

Thank you for your consideration!

Riley Plantation Map