In short order, the Calvert County’s Board of County Commissioners and Planning Commission approved changes to the county’s zoning laws that permit the sale of alcohol not produced on the farm for events held at farm breweries, distilleries and wineries as well as farm rental facilities at a joint public hearing Tuesday in Prince Frederick.
Commissioner Steve Weems (R), Commissioner Mike Hart (R), and planning board member Maria Buehler recused themselves before the proceedings due to business ties with the local wineries and the liquor industry. Michael “Trent” Wolfersberger participated in his first public meeting as a member of the planning commission.
“We are proposing to permit the sale of alcohol not produced on the farm for events held at the farm breweries, farm distilleries, and farm wineries,” county planner Judy Mackall said of the proposed change to the Calvert County Zoning Ordinance.
Currently, the county’s zoning ordinance limits the sale of alcohol to products produced on the farm.
Michael Scarborough, owner of Running Hare Vineyard in Prince Frederick and managing partner of Calvert Brewing Co. in Upper Marlboro, submitted the request for the zoning change. He cited concern for legal exposure for events held on his property where wine, beer and distilled products purchased by the event organizer and served by a licensed caterer.
The proposed text amendments modify the zoning ordinance’s land use charts regarding public events/public assemblies on farmland (performing arts or concerts), and rental facilities on farms (weddings, private parties or company picnics). However, the change comes with conditions.
For events held at farm breweries, distilleries and wineries, the sale of alcohol or serving of alcohol not produced on farms is permitted for onsite consumption in accordance with state and county alcohol laws and regulations of the Calvert County Liquor Board. Calvert Health Department’s approval is also required. There is a limit of two events per year, and the event duration shall not exceed two weeks.
The sale of alcohol not produced on the farm would be permitted in the farm and forest district and the historic district with approval from the board of appeals and the Historic District Commission via a special exception. Approval from the Agricultural Preservation Advisory Board shall be required for properties located in the county’s Agricultural Preservation Districts.
For events at rental facilities on farms, many of the same conditions apply. In addition, the use will have direct road access on to a publicly-owned and maintained right-of-way, or the board of appeals will have the authority to grant a variance if the use does not have direct access to a public road or if the business owner of the property where the use is located does not have sole ownership of the right-of-way.
Additionally, the department of public works will review and approve the road access and impose appropriate construction standards.
“If a winery is in a historic district, how’s that going to be handled?” Planning Commission Vice Chair Steve Jones asked, wondering if it would be handled case-by-case.
“Everyone in the historic district would have to meet all of those conditions and get approval from the [Historic District Commission],” Mackall responded.
“We’re a code home rule county. Do we have to have parallel legislation to Annapolis in order to implement it?” Planning member Richard Holler asked.
Code home rule is a structure of government where commissioners can enact, amend, or repeal local laws on a variety of matters. Planning attorney John Mattingly told Holler the county does not have to go to Annapolis on this matter.
No one from the public signed up to speak on the amendments during the hearing. However, Mackall informed the commissioners earlier in the day, during a work session, that the county’s Department of Economic Development and Economic Development Advisory Commission had no opposition on the proposed language.
The Agricultural Preservation Advisory Board and the Calvert County Farm Bureau expressed they were not in favor of granting Scarborough’s request. In its feedback, APAB said the zoning change “does not further agriculture or the preservation of these landscapes.” The farm bureau cited concerns that the zoning change would adversely affect the sale of locally produced beverages.
“The farm bureau is concerned that if there’s alcohol [that] is available that people wouldn’t purchase locally produced beer and wine,” Commissioner Earl “Buddy” Hance (R) said during the afternoon work session. “My first thought is that they are already serving the alcohol. It’s just a matter of who is providing the alcohol.”
Commissioners’ Vice President Kelly McConkey (R) said there are only four properties impacted, but Mackall noted there are more to come.
Also, during the work session, McConkey expressed concern for the various boards that farms would have to seek approval from in order to sell non-farm alcohol at events.
“Why are we making so many roadblocks for farms to go through,” McConkey said.
Mackall said most of the conditions were existing, but staff added a couple of conditions and noted that both APD and the HDC have their own regulations.
During the hearing, planning member James Toohey motioned to close the record and to forward to the commissioners a recommendation to adopt the amendments. Jones seconded the motion, with all remaining planning members voting in favor.
Hance motion to close the record and to adopt the amendments. McConkey seconded, with Commissioners’ President Thomas “Tim” Hutchins (R) voting in favor along with Hance and McConkey.
There is a 10 day waiting period before the changes to the zoning ordinance take effect.