Ulman wants wineries

County executive seeks zoning changes to allow them

May 13, 2010|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

Howard County zoning doesn't provide for wineries and the county has none, which is something County Executive Ken Ulman intends to see changed.

With the annual Wine in the Woods festival taking place this weekend in Columbia, Ulman said, he is tired of having no home-grown wine to show off.

"As we walk around, we see no Howard County wineries, and that's got to end," he said at a news conference Thursday at Tin Lizzie Wine Works, a small "make your own" wine business on Way Back When farm in Clarksville, just off Route 32.

Ulman said he is proposing a zoning regulation amendment that would for the first time spell out how to gain permission to start a winery in the county. Current zoning regulations don't refer to wineries, and operators have said it would be very hard to qualify under current rules.

Ulman's proposal, which is being drafted, would go first to the county Planning Board, which would hold hearings and then make a recommendation to the County Council, which could approve the amendment. The concept calls for two classes of wineries, based on the number of people allowed at one time, the specific zoning and size of the site, and what activities could be offered. In some cases, a farm might have a right to have a small winery, while in others a conditional-use process requiring a public hearing would be necessary, officials said.

Dave Zucaero, owner of Tin Lizzie, said he has just planted vines that will take at least four years to produce grapes for wine, and he hopes to use the law to establish a winery. Now, he buys grapes and, for a fee, shows people how to make their own wine with his equipment and bottle it with their own labels. Several bottles on display had whimsical names such as ""Drop Dead Red," which pictures a provocative-looking woman on the label, with the words "produced by hip chicks do wine."

"We are a wine school and a wine-making school," he said.

Another landowner, Mario Mannarelli, 73, has 107 acres in Lisbon and makes wine for family and friends and said he might like to start a winery, too.

Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Wineries Association, said the business is growing in Maryland, with 30 new wineries created in the past decade. Ulman's initiative sends a signal, he said, "that Howard is open for business for wineries."

Most of the 186-acre Way Back Farm is in preservation, said Randy Roby, whose family owns the land, and Joy Levy, the county's agricultural preservation administrator, said owners of farms who have sold their development rights for preservation need more ways to make a living. Wineries, which are considered "agri-business" like pick-your-own fruit farms or roadside stands selling produce off an adjoining farm, can be one more tool for landowners who can't develop. Roby rents large fields on his farm for crop production, as well as to Tin Lizzie's operators.

"A lot of preserved farms have been in preservation for years," she said, and as new generations and owners take over, they need to make a living.

Howard Del. Gail H. Bates, who also attended the announcement, agreed with the move.

"With so much land in preservation, you do need to find productive uses for it," she said.

County tourism officials also welcome the proposed zoning changes, since as Atticks pointed out, every dollar spent on local wine is thought to produce up to $7 more spent in that jurisdiction on other tourism-related activities.

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