Vineyards Get a Break On Changes In Zoning

By Christy Goodman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 30, 2008

Calvert County wineries have avoided zoning regulations that vineyard owners have said would restrict their expanding industry.

County commissioners voted unanimously last week to throw out proposed amendments to winery and brewery zoning codes and start over after three winery owners chastised them during their meeting. The owners said the changes were too vague and had been considered with no feedback from growers.

"Collectively, all of the wineries have invested millions of dollars into the industry, which could be the leading -- if not the largest -- tourism industry in the county," said Michael Scarborough, owner of Running Hare Vineyard in Prince Frederick. "And then to have submissions made that will have major impacts on the wineries with no input whatsoever from us is utterly ludicrous."

County staff members had proposed 200-foot setbacks on all structures associated with breweries or wineries. The county imposes 200-foot setbacks on industrial uses, such as its landfill, said Gregory Bowen, Calvert's director of planning. The county also wanted to allow more types of retail sales at the wineries. Under the current code, wineries can only hold tasting events and sell wine.

But Frank Cleary Jr., manager of Fridays Creek Winery, said the text of the proposal was arbitrary and unclear. Cleary said he has tried to make his Owings winery a destination and opened an art gallery on the recommendation of the county's office of economic development, only to be told by the zoning staff to shut it down.

"I know that their concept of agrotourism is . . . written into the zoning ordinance in a lot of places, but it doesn't seem to be implemented in a cohesive fashion," Cleary said. "As far as I'm concerned, farm wineries should be the flagship of agrotourism in Calvert County. We have amazing possibilities for that."

Ken Korando, owner of Solomons Island Winery, said that there are a dozen wineries in Southern Maryland, including his and four others in Calvert. But he said the growth had not occurred because of assistance from the county.

"This occurred at the initiative of the individual ownership of the wineries," he said. "The county hasn't done anything to help us." He praised the elected officials for delaying action on the amendments.

Commissioners agreed that the zoning changes need to be clarified. Board President Wilson H. Parran (D-Huntingtown) suggested looking at successful winery operations in the state and neighboring region to develop codes.

Other commissioners said they wanted to protect neighboring landowners from the encroachment of commercial winery operations and to limit the types of retail items sold at wineries.

"We have tried to encourage diversification of these farming communities, and then we turn around and chop them off at their knees," said Commissioner Barbara A. Stinnett (D-At Large), a farming advocate. She said that if the wineries aren't successful, the land could turn into a housing development or "something we are not going to be able to take back."

Amendments to Calvert's zoning code are adopted about every six months, Bowen said, but there is no time limit on discussions. Bowen said his staff and economic development employees would meet with winery owners to find a "change that we can move forward with."

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