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Council voices support for the “Reform on Tap” Act

House Bill 518 supports the State’s breweries by lifting outdated restrictions on selling and purchasing craft beer

ROCKVILLE, Md., February 22, 2018—The Montgomery County Council sent a letter to the chair of the Economic Matters Committee, Delegate Dereck E. Davis, in unanimous support of Maryland House Bill (HB) 518, the Reform on Tap Act. HB 518 would lift restrictions on the selling and purchasing of beer at craft breweries throughout Maryland.

The House Economic Matters Committee has scheduled a hearing for HB 518 on February 23 at 1:00pm.

“Local breweries have a big impact on Montgomery County’s economy,” said Council President Hans Riemer. “Not only have they created good middle-income jobs, they have helped revitalize urban districts such as Silver Spring, bring life to industrial districts in Rockville, and create destination tourism in our farmland reserve communities such as Laytonsville and Brookeville. But there is much more to be done to make our State truly supportive to the industry. Our goal should be for Maryland beer to gain a much larger share of the market, both in Maryland and across the Country. The Reform on Tap proposals accomplish that objective.”

The complete text of the letter is below.


Dear Chair Davis,

I am writing as Council President to express the unanimous support of the Montgomery County Council for HB 518, “Reform on Tap.”

In recent years Montgomery County has been fortunate to benefit from the success of a number of new breweries, including Denizens, Seven Locks, Waredaca, Brookeville Beer Farm, and Saints Row. At least four more breweries will open their doors in 2018 (Silver Branch, Astro Lab, True Respite, and Brawling Bear). Nevertheless, we are presumably at the earliest stages of growth in our industry. Loudon County, by way of comparison, with just one third our population, has more than 30 breweries, cideries, and distilleries.

While our breweries may be small relative to the global corporate giants of the beer industry, they have a big impact on our local economic development. They have helped revitalize urban districts such as Silver Spring, bring life to industrial districts in Rockville, and create destination tourism in our farmland reserve communities such as Laytonsville and Brookeville. Breweries are a key part of our creative economy landscape. They naturally produce placemaking and night-time economy benefits that help us attract and retain talent by providing the quality of life that many employees and employers are looking for.

Our local breweries have also created their own good middle-income jobs in manufacturing, management, marketing, and sales. Statewide studies have shown that Maryland brewers alone will generate nearly a billion dollars in economic impact by 2019, contribute over eleven million dollars in state tax revenue, and capture between 7.6% – 11.5% of all beer sales. Those figures are sure to rise, and it should be our policy goal to see them rise.

That is why we have worked hard to support a brewery industry here, and look forward to its robust long-term growth. Working in partnership with our Maryland Delegation, the County has taken many steps to support breweries include:

  • Exempting breweries from water and sewer connection fees
  • Expanding a County economic development incentive program (a grant to defray the cost of new leases) to include breweries
  • Allowing breweries as a primary use in commercial and industrial zones
  • Allowing craft breweries to self-distribute
  • Reducing and/or eliminating food-to-alcohol ratios

These reforms, when taken as a whole, have made Montgomery County and the State much friendlier to local production. Many entrepreneurs in the sector call Montgomery County “the best place in the region” to open a business. But there is much more to be done to make our State truly supportive to the industry. Our goal should be for Maryland beer to gain a much larger share of the market, both in Maryland and across the Country. The Reform on Tap proposals would accomplish that objective.

Accordingly, the Montgomery County Council urges the General Assembly to adopt the business-friendly reforms in HB 518. Thank you for your careful consideration of our views.

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Councilmembers Applaud New Economic Development Incentive for Craft Breweries, Cideries, Wineries and Distilleries

Incentive program for filling Class A and B office space expands at request of Council President Riemer and Councilmember Leventhal

ROCKVILLE, Md., Feb. 1, 2018—County Executive Isiah Leggett expanded an economic development incentive for new businesses taking office space to include craft breweries, cideries, wineries, and distilleries, which is a change requested by Montgomery County Council President Hans Riemer and Councilmember George Leventhal.

Following a Council committee discussion, Council President Riemer and Councilmember Leventhal wrote to County Executive Leggett in October 2017 urging him to expand the eligibility criteria for the MOVE (Make Office Vacancy Extinct) Program, which is part of the County’s Economic Development Fund, to include businesses that produce alcohol, beer, cider, and wine. Their request noted the importance of the craft alcohol production sector to the County’s overall economic development goals and the significant financial barrier to entry for this business sector because of high capital costs. The County Executive sent a response letter on January 24, 2018 stating that he had made the change.

“Local alcohol producers such as breweries contribute to vibrant downtowns, where workers and companies want to be,” said Council President Riemer. “Because many breweries also sell beer directly to customers who walk in, they have a retail component. As a result of the retail component, these businesses were not eligible for the MOVE new lease incentive program when taking office space. Having a brewery take a ground level office space is a win-win for the County. I applaud the County Executive for changing the MOVE program to include them. This is another strong step forward for our local production industry and hopefully one more reason for entrepreneurs in this industry to call Montgomery County the best place in the DMV to start a business.”

Initial investments for craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries can reach several million dollars, which these entrepreneurs cite as one of the largest hurdles to launching successful businesses. In return for the County’s investment in these businesses, they produce good-paying jobs and contribute to the vitality of the neighborhoods they are located in.

“This regulatory change is an example of ‘government that works,’ said Councilmember Leventhal. “Craft alcohol business owners met with their local government representatives to find a new way that we could invest in their futures and the County’s economic prosperity. In addition to creating good middle-class jobs, these establishments also help to create a sense of place in our communities. This is a win-win proposition for businesses and the residents we represent.”

Building on work initiated by the County’s Night Time Economy Task Force, the Council has worked with State legislators and local businesses to address many regulatory and legal issues associated with the craft alcohol production industry including:

  • Eliminating water and sewer connection fees for craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries
  • Allowing craft brewers to self-distribute their own products;
  • Allowing craft brewers to sell growlers;
  • Repealing distance requirements of breweries from churches and schools;
  • Extending hours of operation for alcohol licenses to 2 a.m. on Sunday through Thursday and 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday;
  • Reducing the food to alcohol ratios for alcohol licensees to allow for more flexibility;
  • Clarifying rules to allow craft breweries and distilleries in the County’s urban and light industrial areas; and
  • Allowing craft brewers to sell more beer on-premise and allowing farm brewers to self-distribute.

More information and an application for the MOVE Program

The October 2017 request from Council President Riemer and Councilmember Leventhal to County Executive Leggett

The January 2018 response from County Executive Leggett

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Attracting more craft beer, spirits, and wine to the County

Montgomery County’s craft brewery, winery, and distillery scene is gaining momentum with at least seven breweries, three wineries, and one distillery now calling the County home. There are nearly as many in-planning, too!

Several of these businesses have opened in recent years as the County has worked closely with State legislators and local businesses to address many regulatory and legal issues. To build on this momentum, Councilmember Leventhal and I have called for opening one of the County’s financial incentive programs to craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries. See our letter to County Executive Leggett here (pdf) and below.

Cheers!


October 17, 2017

Isiah Leggett
County Executive, Montgomery County
Executive Office Building
101 Monroe Street, 2nd Floor
Rockville, MD 20850

Dear County Executive Leggett:

Montgomery County is currently home to at least seven breweries, four wineries, and one distillery. Several of these have opened in recent years as your administration and the Council have worked closely with State legislators and local businesses to address many regulatory and legal issues. Many of the successes can be traced back to the great work done by the Night-Time Economy Task Force. These successes include:

  • Allowing craft brewers to self-distribute their own products
  • Allowing craft brewers to sell growlers
  • Repealing distance requirements of breweries from churches and schools
  • Extending hours of operation for alcohol licensees to 2 am on Sunday through Thursday and 3am on Friday and Saturday.
  • Reducing the food to alcohol ratios for alcohol licensees to allow for more flexibility
  • Clarifying rules to allow craft distilleries in the County’s urban and light industrial areas
  • Allowing craft brewers to sell more beer on-premise and allowing farm brewers to self-distribute

Later this fall the County Council will be considering zoning reforms that create more flexibility for brewing and distilling uses in the County’s commercial zones. These reforms, when taken as a whole, have made the County much friendlier to local production. Nevertheless, we are presumably at the earliest stages of growth in our locally-produced beer, wine and spirits sector. The potential for this sector in the County is great.

While the regulatory climate has improved and will continue to improve, there remains a significant financial barrier to entry due to very high capital costs. Initial investments for craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries can reach several million dollars, depending on the size and business plan. Much of that capital investment is front-loaded into equipment, build out, and lease costs. We have had many conversations with current and prospective craft alcohol production companies, and they cite this as one of the largest hurdles to launching a successful business.

The craft alcohol production sector is highly relevant to our economic development goals precisely because it creates good middle-income jobs in manufacturing, management, marketing, and sales, among others. The County’s economic development strategic plan, “A Plan for Economic Prosperity,” cites the dearth and relative decline of middle-skill, middle-income jobs in the County and suggests that it is important for the County to take steps to reverse these trends to help foster a balanced economy. Statewide studies have shown that Maryland brewers alone will generate nearly a billion dollars in economic impact by 2019, contribute over eleven million dollars in state tax revenue, and capture between 7.6%-11.5% of all beer sales. Those figures are sure to rise.

Supporting the sector also furthers the placemaking goal in the strategic plan. Wineries enrich and make more sustainable our Ag Reserve, while breweries and distilleries produce placemaking and night-time economy benefits that help us attract and retain talent by helping create the vibrant urban centers many employees and employers are looking for. We have already witnessed how the County’s seven breweries, four wineries, and one distillery, have contributed to the vitality of their respective neighborhoods, but much more can be done.

Given these challenges and the great benefits this sector brings to the County, we request that your administration modify the County’s MOVE program to allow eligibility for craft alcohol production companies whose primary use of the space is production, not retail. The current MOVE program precludes their eligibility simply because these businesses have a retail component, regardless of the primary use of the space. Under our proposal, these companies would still need to meet every other requirement of the program. Below you will find our requested language to the second criterion of the MOVE program (underlined).

2. All businesses are eligible except for retail, restaurant, and independent financial or insurance agent/broker establishments. Independent agent/broker establishments are defined as a sole proprietorship that primarily sells products underwritten by a third-party.
Craft alcohol production companies (breweries, cideries, distilleries, and wineries) whose primary use of the space is production are eligible notwithstanding their retail operations.

We appreciate your attention to this matter, and we look forward working to closely with you and your administration on our collective economic development goals.

Sincerely,

Hans Riemer
Council Vice President

George Leventhal
Councilmember, At-large

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Making our zoning code more hospitable to breweries, wineries, and distilleries

Although Montgomery County’s local alcohol production industry is young and small, it has a lot of momentum. The County is already home to at least seven breweries, four wineries, and one distillery. There are, at least, four new breweries destined for Montgomery County in the next year or so. Recognizing the significant economic benefits, the County and State have already taken numerous legislative, zoning, and regulatory steps to facilitate the growth of this sector. Compared to communities in other parts of the county, however, our industry is small and our culture is nascent.

We can and should do more to accelerate the industry’s growth. The industry is relevant to our broader economic development goals because it creates good jobs and an appealing culture. Wineries have great potential for businesses in our Ag Reserve, while breweries and distilleries produce placemaking and night-time economy benefits that help us attract and retain talent by creating the vibrant urban centers many employees and employers are looking for.

This is why I introduced, with the support of seven of my colleagues, a zoning text amendment (ZTA) that would allow brewing and distilling as light industrial uses–with certain strictures on production limits to make sure that they are craft breweries/distilleries, not Bud Light factories–in the County’s commercial zones.

The current zoning ordinance’s restrictions on manufacturing in commercials zones make it difficult to open a breweries and distilleries in our urban centers, particularly if they are not attached to a restaurant. Last year I worked with the Department of Permitting Services to address to the distillery piece; we produced a policy that allowed distilling in commercial and light industrial zones under an interpretation of the artisanal manufacturing use. However, when a brewery-in-planning reached out to us with questions about zoning in downtown Silver Spring, it became clear that some changes to the zoning ordinance would be needed to make their business and others like it work.

The public hearing for the ZTA is on November 7, 2017 at 1:30pm. You can sign up to testify here.

Further reforms to zoning, regulations, and incentives are likely required to facilitate the growth of the industry. I look forward to working with all stakeholders in the coming months to address these challenges.