Is Anne Arundel County hostile to agriculture? If not exactly hostile to agriculture, it does appear as if Anne Arundel is possibly harassing local farmers.
Below you will find two reports from Davidsonville’s Steuart Pittman (Dodon Farm). The first report outlines the victory of exempting ag buildings from the building permitting process. This victory brings Anne Arundel County more in-line with practices in other Maryland counties, and would also indicate that the current Anne Arundel leadership is trying to be “ag friendly.”
However, the second is a report about county officials imposing “industrial impact fees” on agricultural activities. If you have a farm in Anne Arundel County and have been assessed such a fee, please scroll down for more information or to contact Steuart Pittman.
NEW: No Building Permits Needed for Ag in Anne Arundel County
On March 19, 2012 the Anne Arundel County Council passed the final reading on Bill 1-12, which exempts most agricultural buildings from the requirement that they obtain building permits.
In addition to passing the bill, the council voted 5 to 1 in favor of an amendment that removes the 12,000 square foot size limitation on exempt buildings. This was the third amendment sought and won by the farm community, and the only amendment that required the council to override the will of the county executive and the director of Inspections and Permits. Councilman Trumbauer had supported our earlier amendments and supported the overall bill, but voted against last night’s amendment.
We owe a special thanks to the following people:
Councilman Jerry Walker not only introduced our amendments but very effectively countered the arguments of the director of Inspections and Permits through careful cross-examination.
Builder David Cross, of R and D Cross in Brandywine, testified very effectively about the structural integrity and code compliance of the many farm buildings that he constructs and compared the permitting processes throughout the southern Maryland counties that he serves.
Vice President Milly Welsh filled in very effectively for Anne Arundel County Farm Bureau President Jeff Griffith who has supported this effort on behalf of the board and membership, but was needed at a funeral last night.
It should be noted by all farm owners that we must still construct our buildings in compliance with county code, and that if buildings are designed for public use they are not exempt from the building permit. Electrical and plumbing must also be done to code and should be inspected. We also are not eligible for this exemption unless we have a current Farm Plan with Soil Conservation. Get your plan, sign your Cooperator Agreement, and then note that Soil Conservation is obligated under that agreement to provide engineering services for your farm practices.
Another amendment was presented to the council yesterday to include in the list of exempt buildings those that house value-added agricultural practices for the processing of crops grown on the farm. The amendment was particularly designed to address wineries, because some county officials have argued that a winery is not an agricultural building. Unfortunately, the wording of the amendment allowed for misinterpretation and it did not pass. Most of the council members, however, expressed support for the intent of the amendment and promised to present a revised bill in the future to clarify that wineries and other buildings used to process farm products are in fact agricultural and should be exempt.
Congratulations to everyone who has contributed to this effort since it began in June. Our next step is to address the issue of grading permits and the role of soil conservation versus the role of Inspections and Permits on our farms. We plan a meeting of state and county officials on that topic soon.
ALERT: Is Anne Arundel attempting to assess “Industrial Impact Fees” on Ag Have you been assessed?
Please read the letter below to County Executive Leopold. It was sent on April 8 and we await a response. We need you to notify us of any assessment of these impact fees on your farm. We believe that the assessments have been arbitrary and illegal, and that any funds that you paid to the county as impact fees should be returned. We also believe that nobody on the County Council or the County Executive authorized these fees. They were a policy decision made by county staff who were not elected to their positions.
Dear County Executive Leopold:
Members of the Anne Arundel County Horse Council and the Anne Arundel County Farm Bureau want to acknowledge our heartfelt thanks for the work that you and your staff did to draft and bring to the county council the recently passed agricultural building exemption from the onerous building permit process. We understand that there was resistance from within the administration and that your commitment to maintaining open space and farming was what overrode that opposition.
We want to assure you and your staff that farmers will continue to build our structures to code and continue to cooperate with the Anne Arundel County Soil Conservation District to increase our use of best management practices on farms as our contribution to the improved quality of county waterways. The requirement that the building permit exemption be linked to cooperation with Soil Conservation was a wise one. We have convened a working meeting of staff from county and state agencies at MDA on April 18 to discuss how the building permit exemption will affect grading permit requirements.
Unfortunately, we have been made aware of a major obstacle to the county’s policy goal of preserving agriculture and open space. The Office of Planning and Zoning made a determination in 2009 that agricultural activities should be classified as industrial and therefore be assessed development impact fees. This document identifies the following activities as industrial for the purpose of impact fee assessments:
- Barns, stables, and kennels for the sheltering, breeding, boarding, hiring, or selling of an animal and for storage of crops raised on the premises
- Farming or nurseries, including truck gardening, grazing of livestock, and other similar activities if the use does not change the stability of the land
- Stables, commercial or community, and riding clubs
We had no knowledge of Plan and Zoning actually assessing these fees until the week that a group of us testified in support of the building exemption bill before the county council. At the end of that week the applicants for a small winery on a large Davidsonville farm received a response to their building permit application that determined their building to be an industrial use and assessed a $49,500 impact fee. Note that the county’s definition of “farming” specifically includes “primary agricultural processing” and that the definition of that term includes “fermenting.” In addition to impact fees, the determination that an agricultural building is an industrial use brings with it enough additional code requirements that few farm operations could generate the revenue to support construction. We understand that plans for the Davidsonville Amish-built bank barn that was to hold fermenting tanks have come to a halt as a result of the industrial use determination. Grapes from that vineyard will be processed in another county.
Section 17-11-204 of the County Code shows the development impact fee rates to be assessed to industrial uses. As of January 2011, the assessment for 1,000 square feet of floor space in a new building is $3,816. For a farm owner who chooses to put up a typical 80′ x 200′ covered riding arena to train horses the impact fee will be $61,056. That building can be purchased and built for $120,00 and has no impact on county infrastructure. In fact, that building and all other agricultural structures are contributing to a crucial effort to keep farms in this county financially viable, thereby reducing the stress on county infrastructure. Assessment of impact fees for agricultural buildings not only works directly against the goals set forth in the county planning documents, but also is a direct challenge to all farmers who seek to stay in business by modernizing their operations.
There is no evidence that the county council or any county executive ever intended for agricultural buildings to be classified as industrial and thereby be assessed impact fees. This determination seems to have been the creation of people in government who were not elected to office. We are conducting outreach among the farm community to identify other instances where impact fees were assessed.
Mr. Leopold, please contact your Director of the Office of Planning and Zoning as soon as possible and instruct him to delete farming, agricultural activities, and agricultural structures from its list of industrial practices that pay development impact fees. We trust that these can be removed as quickly and as quietly as they were added.
Please also instruct your Director of the Office of Inspections and Permits to recognize your and the county council’s definitions of farming and agricultural structures and to end the practice of classifying these buildings and these activities as industrial. Please keep us informed on this matter so that we can keep the farm community and the citizens of the county informed.
Thank you for your dedicated support for the maintenance of open space and farmland in Anne Arundel County.
Steuart Pittman (Dodon Farm, Davidsonville; 410-507-3351, firstname.lastname@example.org)