In March, the Board of Carroll County Commissioners revamped its regulations to allow breweries in areas where they were previously banned.
In May, the Anne Arundel County Council voted to allow breweries in areas where they were previously banned.
In Baltimore County, officials recently started reviewing their zoning and other regulations dealing with where breweries can be located.
If you sense a trend here, you’re correct. Across much of Maryland, the growing popularity of small, very local, typically farm-based breweries has prompted county officials to consider loosening, or at least altering, their zoning regulations to accommodate these businesses.
“Counties are realizing that these craft breweries are good businesses to have,” said Janna Howley, chief operating officer of Grow and Fortify of Maryland, which represents the Brewers Association of Maryland.
“They’re economic drivers, they’re community gathering places, they’re tourism destinations,” Howley said. “As a result, we have the counties working to modernize their regulatory framework and zoning, updating their definitions of breweries and where they can be located.”
A young industry
Until fairly recently, according to Howley, breweries were thought to be big, noisy operations best steered into industrial or manufacturing zones. The smaller, typically farm-based breweries “were just an unknown,” she said. “The oldest farm-based brewery in the state is not even a decade old.”
In addition, brewing beer on a farm, while perhaps logical given that the products needed are grown on a farm, “didn’t look the way typical agriculture had in the past,” she said.
For the counties moving to accommodate the small, craft breweries, the changes are good for business and for preserving farmland.
“It’s good for the farmers, good for the county, good for tourism,” said Jay Voight, Carroll County’s zoning administrator. “It’s bringing new businesses to the county, and the citizens seem to enjoy it.”
Previously in Carroll County, breweries were only allowed in the industrial zoning district, Voight said. Now, a farm that grows, processes and sells products used to make beer is considered a “farm alcohol producer” and can operate in agriculture and conservation districts. Breweries are also allowed in some light industrial districts where they were not allowed before.
In Anne Arundel County, farm breweries had been confined to agricultural areas but are now allowed on farms located in some low-density residential areas.
County Councilwoman Amanda Fiedler, who sponsored the change, said it was prompted by a farmer in her district who wanted to expand his money-making offerings beyond the usual produce stand but was barred from doing so.
The change, Fiedler said, will help preserve the county’s farmland, a popular target for development, by giving the owners another option for making money.
“In my district, there’s a big interest in residences being built on farm property,” she said. “I want to be able to preserve farms that want to stay farms but just want to diversify. And that’s what this bill did.”
In Baltimore County, meanwhile, officials have just begin looking reviewing their current regulations dealing with breweries, which they concede can be confusing.
“We’ve worked with a number of startup breweries and distilleries in the past few years and seen that they run into issues along the way,” said Sara Trenery, a business development representative with the Baltimore County Department of Economic and Workforce Development who is helping to lead the effort. “It’s not always clear what the process is.”
County regulations created when brewing was done on industrial scale, she said, do not always apply to the small, craft brewers. And those brewers, she noted, are a valued business group.
“We have a number of these breweries now and they’re great for tourism, great for county residents, great for visitors,” she said. “We’d like to make the process clearer, more welcoming.”
She said there was no timetable for the process, but noted it has taken up to two years in other counties.
For brewers, the changing regulatory landscape is encouraging. Michael McKelvin, co-owner of 1623 Brewing Company, said the new Carroll County regulations will allow to his company to expand its operation into a light industrial area in Eldersburg.
His company now produces beer under a contract with DuClaw Brewing Co., in Rosedale.
“We needed this (change) to keep up,” McKelvin said, adding that he expects his new brewery, complete with a large tasting room, to open around Labor Day.
While he applauded the change, McKelvin said Maryland remains “very much behind the curve” in accommodating the bustling brewery business. Neighboring Pennsylvania, he said, has a $3 billion per year industry, while Maryland’s is less than $1 billion.
As local jurisdictions grapple with revamping their regulations to deal with the craft breweries boom, Howley said her organization is eager to help.
“We’ve been working closely with the counties,” she said. “We tell them, ‘Look, let us help you understand these businesses, help you come up with some language and some approaches to make your county welcoming for these businesses.’ ”