Maryland Historic Trust — White-Carlin Barn in Montgomery County

Last week, I might have been one of a few people excited to see that  Montgomery County had adopted new zoning regulations. I realize that ordinances are not fun to read. However, I see them as a window into the future land use patterns of a jurisdiction. Like them or not, zoning ordinances determine how communities are built or adapted to meet citizen needs and interests.

Long overdue, Montgomery County’s last full restructuring of the Ordinance was 50 years ago. While some viewed this update as a chance modernize the regulations and  to attract more millennials (people between the ages 18 and 34), I was interested in how a county with such a successful land preservation program would address agriculture and, more particularly, how it would accommodate our region’s local food movement.

mont.In general, the response to the ordinance has been positive. Some have expressed pleasure that more than 120 zoning classifications have been greatly reduced, Some have noted the  simplified land use tables with land use definitions and conditions clearly described. Others are praising the county’s reduction of parking spaces required for offices, restaurants, etc. that will reduce impervious surfaces and stimulate reuse of buildings.

Of course, I turned straight to the land use tables to see how the county would address agricultural uses in rural and urban areas. I am very pleased to find that agriculture is allowed . . .everywhere! Farming, the practice of agriculture, is allowed in Ag, Rural Residential, and Single-Family Detached zones. The full definition is broad and clear, and includes processing and agritourism.

Young farmer brigade 2 (2)Urban Farming, the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and ornamental plants, as well as the limited keeping and raising of fowl or bees and the practice of aquaculture,  is allowed in the Residential Townhouse, Residential Multi-unit,  Residential/Commercial, Employment, and Industrial zones.  Community gardens are a conditional use in all zoning districts.

The vast majority of agricultural uses enhance, not detract from, rural and urban landscapes. They help to built community and a sense of place. They create economies for those not inclined to sit behind a desk.  These uses are also needed in a region where people want to know more about how their food is being produced and how far it travels. 

However, in a state with small farm sizes and lots of suburban sprawl, regulations are needed to address land uses that can have an adverse impact on the use and enjoyment of adjacent properties.  As Maryland communities continue to evolve, it is important for farmers and their neighbors to have a clear understanding of what each can and cannot do. Like good fences, good zoning regulations make good neighbors.

Montgomery County’s new zoning ordinance is a model for farming regs, especially for counties with rural and urban lands.