Local political candidates and the public mingled in the vineyard last summer prior to the July primary election. Running Hare Vineyard is currently prohibited from holding public events due to zoning violations.
It appears a temporary ceasefire has been called in the ongoing battle of Running Hare Vineyard. For the first time in weeks the Tuesday county commissioners’ meeting had no public comment on the subject.
The Prince Frederick vineyard, a popular wedding destination, also has on its location a “tasting room” and the Southern Maryland Biergarten. The public businesses were ordered closed by county government officials due to zoning violations. The private events were allowed. However, a fundraiser for Hospice of the Chesapeake had to be relocated at the eleventh hour earlier this month when it was deemed a public event.
Both parties — county government and Running Hare owner Mike Scarborough — had been publicly vague about what the violations were.
On May 11, two days after the county commissioners were openly admonished by supporters of the vineyard, county government issued a four page “media statement,” which included a 27-item timeline beginning with a Sept. 13, 2019, fire, which destroyed the onsite wine production facility.
The media statement noted the production facility “had been constructed without permits or inspections. Running Hare made no contact with the county regarding alternatives for onsite wine production until the county staff inquired in June 2020. Planning and zoning and economic development staff met with Running Hare to discuss many advertised uses/events that were not agriculture related . Running Hare was advised they must get approval from the Agricultural Preservation Advisory Board. For advertised uses, site plan approval and permits for structures and uses were required.”
The compiled timeline noted interactions between the vineyard and several entities, including the agricultural preservation advisory board, county code enforcement and the health department.
It was noted in late August 2020, “code enforcement officers completed inspection of the property and discovered many new un-permitted structures and electrical violations.”
Two months later, the ag advisory board decided the vineyard could hold a maximum of 50 events.
“The events were limited to those meeting the definition of agritourism as defined in the Calvert County Zoning Ordinance and were further required to promote local agricultural products/activities,” the timeline reads. Running Hare officials were told the vineyard’s “drive-in movies” events did not qualify as agritourism and could not continue.
The county government’s compilation included two stop work orders, which were issued Nov. 6, 2020, and March 9 of this year.
“A second stop work order was posted for the wine-tasting pavilion and beer garden since wine and beer are not being produced onsite as required by the zoning regulations,” the county’s statement read.
During the commissioners’ May 16 meeting, Scarborough read a prepared statement during public comment.
The vineyard owner conceded he was “absolutely guilty” for not applying for building permits.
“By and large, I believe that the timeline is pretty darn accurate,” said Scarborough, adding, however, that some of the involved agencies, specifically the health department, offered “little or no guidance.”
Scarborough indicated the biggest problem was a lack of communication.
“It’s a shame that nobody picked up the phone and simply asked the basic question, ‘What the hell is going on down there and what does it take to become compliant?’” He asked. “Those of you who know me know how incredibly anal I am about everything. I want my business to be perfect. I want the vineyard to be perfect. I want the client experience to be perfect. What’s tragic is we’re sitting her on the 2-yard line. All the work we’ve been asked to do has been done long, long ago. We are simply waiting to be open.”
Local resident Lynn Robinson, who has addressed the board previously about the Running Hare situation, apologized for the strident tone of the previous week’s public comment period, during which the commissioners were accused of shutting down a major fundraiser, an accusation that was denied.
“There’s not a safety issue here,” said Robinson. “It’s not sustainable to put hundreds of thousands of dollars on a business and then close them, too.”
As of late Wednesday, there was no word if Running Hare would be open to the public for Memorial Day weekend.