- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A zoning amendment was introduced Tuesday to allow commercial kitchens at farmers markets in rural parts of St. Mary’s County, but county commissioner concerns on a particular project bogged it down.
A man off Friendship School Road in the Hillville area proposed starting his own, small farmers market with a commercial kitchen in the zoned Rural Preservation District. While farmers markets are permitted there, commercial kitchens are not.
“A custom bakery would allow his family to move their current bakery operation from the family kitchen to a larger structure where they could then expand production,” according to a staff report from the land use and growth management office.
The commissioners focused in on the particular project, rather than the overall zoning amendment.
The proposal is going through technical review now, but can’t be approved without the zoning amendment change, said Phil Shire, director of land use and growth management. Approvals for this specific proposal would also be needed from the health department and the county public works and transportation department.
“This would benefit them if they wanted a food preparation facility,” said Yvonne Chaillet, zoning administrator, of the amendment.
Calvert County’s zoning ordinance allows rural farmers markets to have commercial kitchens, but Chaillet said, “We didn’t want the perception to be you could turn this into a restaurant or deli” in the Rural Preservation District.
“A deli is traditionally a city concept,” said Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R).
The term “deli” in the zoning ordinance would allow a farmers market to “perhaps sell hot dogs or deli-style foods,” Chaillet said.
Permitting kitchens and allowing prepared food sales could assist farmers markets that traditionally only sell produce, staff said.
The zoning amendment would allow a farmers market to increase from the permitted 5,000 square feet up to 8,000 square feet with up to 25 percent of floor space or 2,000 square feet dedicated to a commercial kitchen, Chaillet said.
The products sold are to incorporate ingredients from local farms.
Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) asked what kind of proliferation could be expected if farmers markets were allowed to have commercial kitchens.
Chaillet said it’s a “huge investment” to build such a facility.
Jarboe said if there was one project driving the text amendment, the commissioners should review the site plan. He said there are no shoulders along Friendship School Road and there is a lot of heavy truck traffic there. The community should have a chance to make public comment, he said.
The land use and growth management department was seeking approval to take the matter to the St. Mary’s County Planning Commission for a public hearing.
Instead, the commissioners asked that the proposal come back to them with more detail first.
“Do the neighbors know this is taking place?” Morgan asked.
“Yes,” Chaillet said.
“If the infrastructure wasn’t able to handle an 8,000 square-foot building, we shouldn’t do this,” said Commissioner Dan Morris (R).
“The commissioners are entitled to hold a public hearing at any time on any matter,” advised George Sparling, county attorney.
“I would urge the commissioners to be global in their thinking here,” he said, instead of focusing on one project. The zoning amendment would permit similar commercial kitchens in rural areas.
Farms are already allowed to start wineries and distilleries on their properties under the zoning ordinance, said Chaillet. There is a pending zoning amendment to bring on beer breweries.