The Montgomery County Council voted Tuesday to create rules to attract more wineries and breweries to the county’s protected agricultural reserve.
The measure allows tasting rooms and events at alcohol-related businesses, but it limits the number of events not directly related to agriculture — such as a music festival. It also requires that wineries, breweries and distilleries produce at least some of the crops needed for their products on site.
Many on the council agreed the change was necessary to allow farmers in the agricultural reserve — a 93,000-acre portion of the county where development is severely limited — to find ways to generate enough revenue to maintain their farms.
“The problem we have now is it’s unclear what you can do,” council president Hans Riemer (D-At Large) said in an interview after the meeting. “That is why wineries and breweries have sprung up in neighboring jurisdictions but not here. Same soil, same climate, same region, but the door has really not been open to the industry. I think we will now get a stronger response from people saying, yeah, they’re going to invest and start a business and take that risk.”
Council member Craig Rice (D), whose district includes much of the agricultural reserve, said the measure “is about providing options to reduce the pressure that we’ll continue to have on our ag reserve to develop. The more we can do to support the flexibility we give to our farmers means the more viable the agricultural reserve is.”
The measure passed unanimously.
The council had wrestled with what kind of activity to allow in the agricultural reserve, with some landowners and businesses in support of events and tasting rooms, while others, including some community organizations, worried that the measure would open the reserve to large corporations and hundreds of events that would destroy the bucolic character of the area.
Caroline Taylor, executive director of the Montgomery Countryside Alliance, said she was disappointed by the council’s action.
“It is our feeling that industry was given a megaphone here, and the public and the rural community members were pretty much just shoved under a tractor,” said Taylor, who added her group and others were considering legal action against the measure.
Also Tuesday, council member Sidney Katz (D-Gaithersburg) introduced a measure that would ban smoking at all outdoor dining facilities in the county.
Right now, outdoor smoking is already banned in the cities of Rockville and Gaithersburg. Katz’s bill would spread the ban countywide.
“Obviously it’s caused discussion on both sides, and we look forward to the public discussion,” Katz said at the meeting.
Adam Zimmerman, a Rockville resident who pushed for the bill in his city, said Montgomery would be the only county in Maryland so far to ban smoking in outdoor dining areas.
A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for Oct. 23.