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Council supports wineries and farm breweries

This week the County Council unanimously passed a zoning measure that creates a clear and reasonable path for farm-based breweries, wineries, cideries, and distilleries to locate and grow here in our agricultural areas. This is a win for farmers, creators, and consumers alike.

The County already has a growing industry of wineries and breweries, thanks to visionary entrepreneurs and a commitment from County government that has resulted in reduced regulatory barriers and increased incentives.

Serious challenges, however, existed in our zoning code for entrepreneurs trying to start and grow a business in our rural and agricultural areas. Tackling these challenges head on, the zoning measure passed this week establishes clear and reasonable zoning rules that incentivize investment and enhance the agricultural heritage of the County.

The core of the ordinance 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. The measure also set prudent and balanced requirements for events and local ingredients. For all the details, read the staff report.

There are many reasons to support this industry:

  1. Making beer, wine, cider, and spirits has historically been agricultural activity— farmers brought not only grain or produce but also beer or whiskey to market.
  2. Increasing demand for local ingredients from our craft alcohol producers opens new opportunities for Montgomery County farmers. There is potential for hundreds–or even thousands–of acres of grains, hops, and fruit being grown in the County for our local craft alcohol producers.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Farm Alcohol Production in the County

Checking out the scenery, soil, and production facilities of Montgomery County wineries

I want to thank Councilmember Craig Rice for co-leading this effort with me as well as all my colleagues for their support. Most of all, I want to thank all the stakeholders and community members for their advocacy and inspiration. There is no doubt that the ordinance I introduced last spring improved considerably as we learned more and incorporated good ideas from all sides.

Here’s to a prosperous, vibrant, and sustainable agricultural reserve!

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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 County.Council@montgomerycountymd.gov.

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 Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov or 240.777.7964.

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The Council Connection — housing affordability

Council Connection Masthead

Council President’s Message

The Council returns to session this week, and we have a full agenda.

Housing Affordability
The Council will introduce legislation sponsored by the members of the planning and housing committee (PHED) that will enable changes for accessory dwelling units. The legislation would allow the county’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs to approve applications rather than requiring hearings before the Board of Appeals. The Council is also seeking input about additional changes that could be made to enable this type of housing construction. Please share your thoughts with us by writing a note to county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov. The public hearing will occur on September 11, 2018 at 1:30pm.

The Council will also take up significant legislation changing the code for our Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit 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 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, sponsored by Councilmember Floreen, would make several changes to update and strengthen the law. Bill 38-17, sponsored by Council President Riemer, would increase the requirement to 15% in the areas of the County with the least affordable housing. Both laws will be before the full Council after extensive committee discussion.

Next, a number of specific items of interest:

Council research projects
The Council’s research arm, the Office of Legislative Oversight, plans projects including: minimum wage, 311, racial equity, and student loan refinancing. The Council will approve the full work program on Tuesday.

Economic development incentives
Partnering with the State, the Council agenda includes the approval of a number of economic development incentives for the expansion of companies based in Montgomery County, including Altimmune, Abt Associates, HMS Host, and Applied Biomimetics. You can learn more here.

Arts nonprofit taking space at Silver Spring Library
After a competitive selection process, the County entered into an agreement with Arts on the Block to occupy space in the Silver Spring Library. Arts on the Block is a local non-profit organization focused on empowering creative youth. Welcome to the Silver Spring Library, Arts on the Block!

New Assistant Police Chief
The County Executive has nominated, and the Council is poised to confirm, Mr. David C. Anderson as Assistant Police Chief. The current Police Commander of District 1 station, Mr. Anderson will bring 28 years of distinguished service at MCPD to his new role.

Stormwater
We will act on a special appropriation to the County’s stormwater program. This appropriation is the result of a compromise between the County Executive and the Council that allows for greater efficiencies in our stormwater program while maintaining Council oversight.

And finally:

Update on mobile communications infrastructure
The Council recently approved carefully calibrated zoning changes in our commercial and industrial zones to speed the deployment of next-generation wireless technology. There is still work more to be done, but the Council is making progress on this important issue. Nevertheless, there are efforts underway at the FCC and in Congress to strip away our authority on siting wireless infrastructure.

To combat these efforts, this week I met with FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, on behalf of the County, to share our concerns with these preemption efforts and to request an update of the decades old radio frequency (RF) emissions standards. Commissioner Carr has been designated as lead Commissioner on small cell deployments and is believed to be drafting a proposal for Commission consideration in the fall. I reiterated for Commissioner Carr the message delivered to Chairman Pai by Ike Leggett, Jamie Raskin and myself last year — that the FCC should not preempt local governments but rather work with us as partners to ensure successful deployment; and that FCC should refresh its RF standards.

Cordially,

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Council President

RECENT ACTIONS

  • Members of the Council’s Public Safety Committee received an update from Montgomery County Police Department officials on the department’s internal affairs investigation process, in light of the recent officer-involved shooting in Silver Spring.
  • Members of the Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee reviewed bills on solar panels and climate policy, and receiving a briefing on the County’s composting and food waste plan.

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Statement on the County’s FY19 operating and capital budget agreement

Today we have reached agreement on the County’s FY19 Budget. I want to thank all my colleagues for your hard work and collaboration throughout this process. Working together, and with our remarkable staff, we have produced a budget that is restrained and responsible, does not raise taxes, and ensures the County will continue to provide the superb services that so many of our residents appreciate so much.

I credit the County Executive with making many great decisions in his budget, including fully funding Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). Fully funding MCPS was my highest priority and I know was very important to my colleagues as well.

Thanks to our unusual fiscal circumstances, however, the County Executive’s budget presented some daunting challenges in other areas, particularly with Public Safety.

Recognizing that this is a time for fiscal discipline, we worked to stretch our resources to meet as much of the need as we could. Most of the list that I put together, in consultation with my colleagues, focused on restoring services that we all deem to be critical.

In particular, we were able to restore $6.7 million to Fire and Rescue Services that was cut by the County Executive – this one service area is nearly one half of what we approved on the reconciliation list for FY19.

People take for granted that when their house is on fire, or when their spouse has a heart attack, that someone will respond quickly. We prioritized that quick response time in this budget.

Beyond public safety, our budget is about kids. In addition to fully funding the school’s request, we made significant progress funding services that are critical for our children.

Reflecting a strong council interest in early childhood, we added almost $1 million to expand half-day preschool to full day, in addition to the $2.5 million expansion that MCPS proposed in its budget. This significant step forward follows on last year’s effort, which converted 200 full day Head Start slots to full day in MCPS and added 40 new slots at Centro Nia. We are now on the precipice of converting all half day pre-k slots to full day, setting the table to begin expanding our pre-k services outright.

We expanded our academic and parent-engagement focused after school program, Excel Beyond the Bell, to two new elementary schools, continuing to build a program that the Council and Executive have worked together to build expand rapidly over the last several years.

We restored funding for a community health nurse who works with vulnerable, abused children, restored funding for Care for Kids, our community health clinic program for low income children, funded a drop-in center for homeless youth, expanded the smart sacks program to provide meals for kids, and added capacity for Montgomery Cares to provide health care for the uninsured.

We added funds for three new school resource officers, at the middle school level – a new focus for that successful program.

Recognizing crucial quality of life issues, we restored some proposed cuts to Parks, including an urban parks initiative, as well as to fund our planning program for future master plans, so that we can continue our important mission to reinvent how we live and grow. We supported our nonprofits and we deepened our strategic economic development programs in biotech.

And for our magnificent college, the Council’s budget funds 99.6% of the College’s tax supported request, and includes an increase of $2.75 million or 2% in local funding over FY18. It is the Council’s intent that College use its FY19 appropriation to fully-fund compensation and benefit agreements for its employees, and take any reductions needed to align its budget with the approved funding level from planned FY19 program enhancements instead. The Council recognizes that final decisions on these issues fall under the authority of the Board of Trustees.

Turning to our capital budget, once again our choices were made within a context of fiscal discipline. We reduced our borrowing amount and scheduled a continually declining borrowing level, an important step that we hope the next council will adhere to.

Despite a smaller overall construction budget, we increased the share going to school construction, including responding to the voices of the parents and students at Lee Middle School, accelerates planning for Dufief Elementary School, and funds $25 million more for School construction than the Executive originally recommended.

We also added an exciting new project, a new facility for STEM learning and innovation for kids, partnered with the KID Museum and the City of Rockville, to be located right in the heart of the county, near the Twinbrook Metro.

We shifted transportation priorities towards bike and pedestrian infrastructure, added planning dollars for Bus Rapid Transit, and shifted our bus fleet purchases towards electric vehicles.

None of this would have been possible, of course, without our remarkable staff. I want to thank our new Council Staff Executive Director, Marlene Michaelson, who has ably led us through her first budget at the helm. Jacob Sesker, Linda McMillan and the rest of our hardworking staff provided excellent professional support, and I am grateful for their contributions as well. But this was truly a team effort, with important contributions not only from all of the professional staff but also the dedicated members of every council member’s office. Great work, team.

I also want to acknowledge that for four of my colleagues, this will be their final budget, as a Councilmember anyway. Their accomplishments speak for themselves, but their legacy will be marked this year in our new budget as it has in every budget during their time at this dais.

Finally, I would like to recognize Steve Farber. Our work this year benefited greatly from the incredible organization he built.

With appreciation, I will now turn to my colleagues, who will highlight many of the significant initiatives included in this budget.