Farms Amid A Growing County

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Councilwoman, District 5

It’s hard to imagine we are just a few generations removed from a district that was once a farming community connected by dirt roads. By all accounts from local historians, it was an agricultural community. Yet today, our district has but two small areas on the Broadneck peninsula that are designated as “rural agricultural” by county zoning. A short trip back in history can identify the 1950s and 1960s as a residential boom in a post-war era for our area. The residential and commercial growth has been moving in one direction since.

The 5th district — Severna Park, Arnold, and Annapolis east of the Severn River — is identified predominately as tier one and tier two for growth out of a four-tier rating system. The four tiers were established by the General Assembly in 2012. The Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act required local jurisdictions to adopt this tier system to plan for future residential growth in relation to septic and sewer impacts on the Chesapeake Bay.

In our area, new communities are being added every year. Older communities are getting facelifts by new homeowners. Amid change, some of our farms have remained. Maybe you drive by them on your way home. Perhaps they exist down the street from you. You see acres of land with crops, livestock, farming equipment and a farmhouse that serves as a memory of what our area once was. They remain because of the owner’s desire to farm, despite the residential growth that surrounds them. In most cases, the farms remain in original family ownership dating back hundreds of years. How do we help to preserve them? Do we want to preserve them?

Shortly after taking office, I attended a local farming commission meeting and heard the desire to open a farm brewery from a local farmer. Farm breweries are considered accessory uses to existing farms. We have seen success in our county with farm wineries; however, farm breweries were recently added to the county code in 2015, and are permitted only in rural agricultural zones, unlike farm wineries, which are permitted in four residential zones. We currently have no farm breweries in our county. As with many of the agritourism uses, farm wineries and farm breweries allow farmers to diversify their land, preserve their farm, attract new neighbors as customers and support our local economy.

In April, I introduced Bill 14-19, which creates parity between farm wineries and farm breweries. This bill would allow existing farmers to add a new element to their farms. It adds two allowable zoning districts, residential low density and R1 (areas zoned for one house per acre). Both farm wineries and farm breweries are required by county code to be on at least 10 acres. For farms that exist on land classified as residential, this classification means that where the farm now exists, there could one day be 10 homes or more.

Surrounding counties have successful farm breweries that are an asset to the community and good neighbors. They typically open to the public three to five days out of the week and are open only from the afternoon to evening hours, closing anywhere from 7:00pm to 9:00pm. They are gathering locations for community residents and families.

Growth is happening all around us. Should we also support the growth and preservation of farms that have a deep history in our county, or should we limit what our farming families can do with their land, restrict their abilities and encourage residential growth over agricultural?

I welcome your thoughts. As always, my best work is done when you are engaged. You can reach me at amanda.fiedler@aacounty.org.

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