- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
County seeks guidance in drafting new amendments
By MEGHAN RUSSELLStaff writer
Representatives of the farm community provided county staff with input on potential amendments affecting public events held on farms and what items can be sold at local greenhouses and nurseries, during a Calvert County Planning Commission work session on Wednesday.
The goal of the work session, according to a staff memo, was to have better direction on drafting text amendments related to the agricultural community. Representatives from the Agricultural Commission, Agricultural Preservation Advisory Board, Agricultural Preservation Advisory Committee, Calvert County Farm Bureau, Rural Legacy Committee and American Chestnut Land Trust attended.
A joint public hearing with the Calvert County commissioners and planning commission in November was held to discuss pending text amendments to the Calvert County Zoning Ordinance that primarily affect agricultural and agritourism uses: how many public events should be held on farms each year, what conditions should be applied and whether public events should require a special exception to be granted by a county agency; whether public events and rental facilities should be allowed on farms in Historic Districts and Agricultural Preservation Districts and whether they should require a special events ordinance and permit process; and whether the sale of non-plant items, such as bagged mulch, should be allowed at retail nurseries and greenhouses in rural and residential districts.
“These are questions to get folks talking, get some input,” Zoning Planner Christine Finamore said. “We didn’t even draft text because we don’t have input yet.”
“None of these text amendments came from the agricultural community,” said Walt Wells, past president of the farm bureau. “These were dumped on us and now we’ve got to deal with them.”
Hagner Mister, APAB chairman, said his board decided up to two public events should be allowed per year on a farm, but that if someone wants to hold more than two he or she should be able to apply for a permit to do so.
Since the government tobacco buyout about a decade ago, “we have this void that Southern Maryland farmers are trying to fill,” Mister said. “Let’s try two [events]. If they do real well with two and want to do three, come back with a proposal. ... It’s a whole lot easier to go up with a number of events than it is to go down.”
But the farm bureau believes public events on farms should be limited to two, with a special events permit process, regardless of whether the event is for a nonprofit fundraiser “because the impacts are the same,” representative Susan Hance-Wells said, and those events wouldn’t need to be solely located on a collector or arterial road, since “two a year would not tax any one community.”
“Because our farms are so diverse, it almost has to be reviewed case by case,” she added.
Which county entity would take on the role of approving special exceptions, however, will have to be worked out, staff said, as neither Hance-Wells, the Board of Appeals chairwoman, nor the planning commission expressed enthusiasm in potentially taking on that duty.
With that, farm bureau member Wilson Freeland said he thinks the definition of “farm” should be tighter in the zoning ordinance. He suggested the county use standards imposed by the Water Quality Act, which states that a property grossing more than $2,500 in production is considered a farm. The consensus by the end of the night was that each board and commission will discuss options for strengthening that definition, and the definition of “farm stand,” at their upcoming meetings.
In regard to selling non-plant items in retail greenhouses and nurseries in rural and residential districts, the general consensus was to allow it with conditions yet to be decided.
Mister said APAB thinks non-plant items should equal 20 percent of the business’ sales, and Hance-Wells said the farm bureau thinks the non-plant items should be directly related to the plant items sold on the premises.
Craig Mask, representing the agricultural commission, said staff should consider drafting a percentage of space condition, but that the percentage should relate to the operation space and there should be a maximum.
Mask also said he appreciated the work session, since he received the information on the text amendments right before the November hearing and found it wasn’t enough time to give adequate input. In the future, he would like at least two weeks ahead of time to meet with his commission and discuss the proposed amendments, he said.
“I’ve spent a lot of hours late at night going through this thing,” he said. “The system right now is just not working.”
Finamore said staff will take the groups’ suggestions to heart when drafting the new amendments.
“It’s nicer to get things on the forefront than to come to a public hearing and be expected to make a decision on the spot,” Planning Commission Vice Chairman Michael Phipps said.