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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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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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