ROCKVILLE — A proposed County Council zoning change could make it easier for Montgomery County to become the winery capital of the East Coast – at least that what some council members hope.
On Tuesday farmers and small grape growers spoke in support of Zoning Text Amendment 18-03, which would loosen regulations in the County’s agricultural reserve in hopes to facilitate the expansion of wineries, breweries and distilleries.
ZTA 18-03, which Council members Hans Riemer (D-at large) and Craig Rice (D-3) are lead co-sponsors on, would amend the County’s current zoning regulations to allow for distilleries, breweries and cideries. While wineries are currently allowed under current County zoning laws in the agricultural reserve, other alcohol production facilities are not.
“The proposed ZTA is important to our success because it brings clarity to what is currently a confusing and burdening zoning code,” said Poolesville farmer Robert Butz.
In addition the ZTA would make wineries and other alcohol production facilities more accessible to customers and tourists, as it would repeal and amend restrictions on tasting rooms and the sale of food. In addition, the ZTA would allow alcohol producers in the agricultural reserve to host up to nine events a year with 300 people or more as a way to attract businesses that may want to plan employee retreats and events in the County.
“The intent of this, that Council member Riemer and I came up with, is to really allow for our farmers to have some diversity in terms of what they’re providing,” Rice said. “Not to turn the agricultural reserve into something that it wasn’t meant to be.
Most of those who spoke on Tuesday, testified in favor of the ZTA, as a way to give farmers and small wineries a chance to expand their business without hurting the County’s agricultural reserve.
Although, one resident testified against the bill, saying he worried about the proliferation of alcohol production in the agricultural reserve creating a safety risk for drivers who will drink and drive through the rural country roads.
“More alcohol production and accompanying tasting and driving will inevitably lead to an increase in alcohol-impaired driving on winding country roads that are shared by large farm equipment, horse trailers and bicyclists,” said James Brown of the Sugarloaf Citizens Association.
The Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee is scheduled to take ZTA 18-03 up during its meeting on June 11.