Removing barriers to agritourism (for example, wineries)

As the Council continues its work on County’s Growth and Infrastructure policy and related impact tax changes, Councilmember Friedson and I have proposed impact tax changes aimed at supporting our burgeoning agritourism industry. This follows my work to support farm alcohol producers, which has helped stimulate a growing sector. You can learn more about the impact tax proposal for agritourism here or below.


MEMORANDUM

To: County Council
From: Councilmembers Riemer and Friedson
Date: October 22, 2020
Re: Transportation impact taxes for agritourism


From farm-to-table, pick-your-own produce, and hands-on educational activities to award-winning wineries and farm breweries, agritourism is a critical and growing component of the County’s rural economy. Agritourism also breathes fresh energy into our efforts to preserve farmland. It does this by supporting the financial viability of County farms and enlisting many more County residents into our farmland preservation efforts by providing them unforgettable experiences of our dynamic agricultural economy and its history.

While the County and the Council, in particular, have historically been strong supporters of agritourism (passing important zoning reforms to agritourism in 2014 and to farm alcohol production in 2018, and establishing the Agritourism Advisory Committee to provide recommendations on how to strengthen the sector), there remains a very large, and sometimes insurmountable, hurdle to opening agritourism businesses: transportation impact taxes. Traditionally, buildings used for agricultural purposes have been exempt from transportation impact taxes because they cause de minimis traffic. However, it has been brought to our attention by the agricultural community, due to certain provisions in the existing impact tax law and building code, agritourism businesses are facing enormous transportation impact tax bills that bear little connection to their actual impact on the transportation system.

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Here’s how Montgomery County can lead on climate change

Dear resident:

Years ago the County Council made a consequential decision to set aside nearly one-third of all land in our County for agriculture, through restrictive zoning.

Today I am calling on our Council to take a new and bold step forward in the fight against climate change — a crisis that Joe Biden highlighted in his convention speech — by revising the zoning code to allow the blending of solar arrays with farmland on a small portion of the Agricultural Reserve.

Farm Solar (ZTA 20-01)

Farming and solar can go together. Elsewhere, visionary farmers are pioneering “dual use” of land beneath solar arrays by Keep Reading >>

Montgomery County Council’s Top Ten 2018 Accomplishments

Here is my list of the Council’s top ten accomplishments during my year-long term as Council president, a position for which I am grateful to my colleagues for electing me.

10. Convened the Council’s first emergency session to respond to the GOP Congress’ Tax Act, passing legislation to allow County residents to prepay 2018 property taxes in 2017 and maximize their State and Local Tax deductions.

9. Approved funds to support organizations that provide legal assistance to county residents who are in deportation proceedings. Grants have been provided to Kids In Need of Defense, which helps children that have been separated from their families, as well as HIAS and other groups.

8. Funded a revised stormwater infrastructure program that will ensure efficiency and affordability while maximizing environmental benefits. Negotiated a solution to overcome an executive veto. Also approved a ten year update to the County’s Water and Sewer Plan.

7. Supported the County’s bid for Amazon HQ2, including a zoning plan to streamline the process for corporate headquarters to locate in the County.

6. Approved a zoning change for the Agricultural Reserve in the County enabling business owners there to operate wineries, breweries, distilleries and cideries.

5. Adopted a visionary Bicycle Master Plan to guide the future of biking infrastructure in the county; and added funding for a Bethesda protected bike lane loop, in addition to the Silver Spring protected bike loop under construction.

4. Approved a zoning change to support additional wireless infrastructure (4g leading to 5g) in downtown and commercial areas (consideration continues on residential areas).

3. Supported major capital investment in WMATA. Locally funded new pedestrian access entrances for White Flint and Forest Glen Metros. Successfully advocated to expand rush hour service from Grosvenor to Shady Grove; similar expansion on Glenmont side is under study by WMATA.

2. Enacted legislation to increase affordable housing in the County by increasing the minimum percentage of Moderately Priced Housing Units (MPDUs) that are required to be built in new residential developments from 12.5 to 15 percent in high income areas of the county. Modernized the MPDU ordinance generally and established a clear MPDU incentive structure for bonus density.

1. Approved a $5.6 billion Fiscal Year 2019 Operating Budget without raising taxes. The Budget fully funded the Board of Education’s request for Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), including an additional $3.3 million for expanded pre-k programs — raising the two year total of early education expansions to over $7 million and creating more than 650 new full day pre-k slots, for a total of about 3,200 children attending publicly funded pre-k programs. The Council also added Excel Beyond the Bell after school programs at two additional Elementary School.

Bonus: Did it all in an election year!

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!

Local Food Initiatives

I want Montgomery County to be a place where we grow more of our food locally. I believe in the power of the local food movement to raise consciousness about health and environmental issues.

Urban farming: backyard chickens and bees
Many residents of Montgomery County have contacted me to express their desire to raise chickens and bees in their backyard as a food source and/or hobby, among other reasons. Like with any pet, if the owner is responsible, then these practices are perfectly compatible with our neighborhood quality of life. I know because my neighbors have both chickens and bees, which are a delight for my children.

However, some zoning regulations have made it overly onerous to raise backyard chickens and bees in many of the County’s suburban and urban areas. This is why I worked with local urban farming advocates, including activists from www.montgomerycountybackyardchickens.org to protect their ability to raise chickens and bees during the council’s process of making changes to the zoning code.

Preserving our farm-land Ag Reserve for future generations
About 40% of our county’s land has been protected from development by reserving it for farming through the creation of the Agricultural Reserve. It is one of our county’s great resources, and I oppose development there. I also worked hard to allow our farmers to create educational uses on their farms, to help make farming an experience that more of our residents can share.

Putting healthy (and local) food in our schools
As a parent of two young boys, one of whom just began kindergarten, making sure that healthy food is served by MCPS is a priority for me. That is why I am supporting Real Food for Kids Montgomery (a project of the Chesapeake Institute for Local Sustainable Food and Agriculture) to promote greater wellness in our schools. I sent a letter of support for these goals to Dr. Joshua Starr, the superintendent of MCPS, earlier in 2013. You may read more about this important effort here.

These are some of the initiatives I have focused on to strengthen the cause of local food in Montgomery County. I welcome hearing from you about these issues, and I am here to work with you in the future.