A new Op-Ed in MoCo 360 "Proposed farming bill would not benefit farmers"
Two Action Steps:
1.Take two minutes to personalize an email to the council with our email tool here or write your own with the addresses here.
2. To ensure your message is added to the hearing record you'll need cut and paste it into a document to upload it to the Council website here.
What this broadly written proposal does: Changes the definition of farming - by proposing this use in section 59 of the County’s zoning code instead of the commercial lodging code (section 54) where overnight accommodation is provided for and regulated. As written, up to ten motel style units (with bathrooms and no limit on square footage)would be allowed as an accessory to an agritourism operation. To be clear- these lodgings could be constructed anywhere in the Ag Reserve- including on prime soils and on land encumbered by agricultural easements- funded by taxpayers- and have no connection to farming.
This proposal does not, as claimed by the Council sponsor, only open the possibility of "incidental outdoor" stays (i.e. camping and outdoor seasonal "glamping" options) that the Maryland Farm Bureau supported at the state level. The ZTA provides for constructed lodging with no limit on sq footage. A large scale landowner with recently acquired acreage clamoring for this dramatic change has said in a WTOP interview “Imagine going to the Ritz-Carlton or the Four Seasons” where each unit would be “like a small cabin,” but cushier. “Like any high-end hotel” but “not over the top.” Seasonal camping is not the goal of this proposal.
Residents throughout the county have written compelling messages to the Council. Full correspondence is publicly available in the ZTA’s hearing record.
* motel defined:
an establishment which provides lodging and parking and in which the rooms are usually accessible from an outdoor parking area ~Merriam-Webster
Separate from the myriad problems with the ZTA's provisions, moving forward with this as presented with additional amendments would procedurally incorrect. There are no amendments that will overcome the fact that it is seeking to amend the wrong part of the zoning code and any change to address that would require new public notice and process. It seeks to re-defining farming in the sole area set aside, master planned, for it. Stakeholder conversation around commercial lodging and how to ensure that the use does not prove detrimental to the primary land use, agriculture, can occur after the ZTA's withdrawal.
"During the fruit season I talk with hundreds of customers and they tell me how much they enjoy their trip to our orchard every week. They can’t believe how beautiful the countryside is. I hand them a Plenty Magazine and explain to them about the Ag Reserve.
They thank us daily for growing delicious fruit – they realize how hard we work to do that. These fine people don’t come to the Ag Reserve to see a whiskey distillery and more buildings. They drive here to see fields, orchards, farms, crops, and animals grazing in the fields. That’s what the Ag Reserve is all about."
- Ag Reserve Farmer
"I attended a forum recently which Councilmember Fani-Gonzalez spoke on behalf of the amendment. Upwards of 100 attendees were there and the majority were opposed to this ZTA. I'm not sure she endeared herself with the group by opening the meeting with the statement of "this is going to happen; we just need to define numbers and sizes of dwellings per farm".
The group was told this is for the good of the economy but could not answer how. It appears the ZTA is fraught with holes and should not be allowed to move forward."
"I would like to express my objections to the Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 23-09 – Farming to allow “Incidental Outdoor Stays”. This ZTA would change the entire nature of the uses allowed in the Agricultural Reserve Zone (AR) and ask that you vote against it. The proposal is not consistent with the purpose of the AR. If this ZTA is enacted, it would authorize the construction of up to 10 luxury resort lodging structures on farm properties in the AR. These structures would:
A. Not be subject to accessory structure size limits.
B. Misleadingly called incidental outdoor stays.
C. Would be exempt from limitations on short term rentals.
The proposed ZTA does not meet any of the fundamental purposes of the AR to preserve working farms, open space and water resources. For these reasons, it should be rejected.
The Montgomery County Agricultural Reserve has been used as a model in other states to preserve farmland and protect farmers. Montgomery County has the highest percentage of farmland under agricultural land preservation easements in the nation. This highly successful model would be at risk if ZTA 23-09 is approved."
We've compiled a list of questions we have about this proposal that we are working to get the answers to:
- How will this affect farmland cost, already a barrier to new and expanding producers?
- Has thought been given to how this would impact well and septic operations?
- Has this been properly vetted with agricultural producers?
- Has there been review of the existing zoning code to see where commercial lodging can be best addressed?
- The ZTA proposes to change the definition of agriculture in the County’s zoning code to include commercial lodging, declaring the structures as accessory to agriculture. The overnight facilities are not related to agricultural production. Overnight lodging is addressed in the County Code’s Chapter 54. Advancing this use outside of the proper zoning category with requisite regulatory requirements raises a whole host of additional issues.
- The ZTA sponsors are insisting that this proposal is the same as the outdoor incidental stays bill that passed at the State level. This is false. The state passed a measure that allowed "incidental outdoor stays" - ie. camping. The Maryland Farm Bureau supported the measure to allow camping but when asked about this MoCo ZTA, a Farm Bureau representative said:
"Maryland Farm Bureau supports farm camping (incidental outdoor stays). However, the position on adding permanent structures for temporary stays should be viewed as a bed and breakfast or Airbnb. Not as an agritourism activity. Farm Bureau has no policy supporting the development of bed and breakfast structures as an Ag activity and would not support as agritourism.
What Now? Please take the following two actions:
1. Write your Councilmembers at the following addresses and bcc us at email@example.com
2. To ensure you message is added to the hearing record you'll need cut and paste it into a document to upload it to the Council website here.
(if you need tech help reach out - firstname.lastname@example.org)
Please send in your comments by January 12th for the hearing on the 16th.
Feel free to use the questions and talking points below.
We were advised that they disregard the form emails. We will do one later but needed to go this route. That said, try:
I am (description). I stand with the agricultural groups, community associations, and other stakeholders who have stated clearly and firmly opposition to ZTA 23-09.
The ZTA demonstrates a troubling lack of understanding of the Reserve, the economic complexity of keeping farms viable and, importantly, supporting new diverse farm operations. Want to know how to support the Reserve and its farms? Ask the farmers what their challenges are and listen. Then consider what you might do to help.
Meanwhile, agriculture is talking to you. They are telling you this ZTA will hinder not help. Please work to withdraw this ZTA.