Montgomery County officials have given rural wineries the ability to host more events, but a member of at least one civic association is not happy about how that permission came to pass, or the way her organization was portrayed.
“I’m just sort of aghast at the whole process and frustrated about the remarks,” Beth Daly, legislative director for Sugarloaf Citizens Association (SCA), said.
On July 10, the council discussed a change in the zoning code that would allow wineries in the Agricultural Reserve to host up to nine days of ticketed events without seeking county permission.
The council also debated another change from the SCA to describe those events to include unticketed concerts, fairs, festival and fundraisers.
The change was characterized as a last-minute request.
"This was a compromise solution and to now come up at the last minute, at the 23rd hour, and 59 minutes and 59 seconds to say, ‘Oh wait, we want to add something in,’ is disingenuous to the process," Councilman Craig Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said during the meeting.
But this was not the first time SCA suggested these changes, Daly said.
On June 19, Daly emailed Rice’s staff a four-page document, outlining SCA’s concerns and detailing suggested changes, including the same changes sent to Councilwoman Nancy Floreen on July 10 and discussed by the council.
Rice acknowledged his office received Daly’s email in June, but said those comments came after he held a meeting with stakeholders to discuss major concerns and reach a compromise on proposed language of the amendment.
Sugarloaf Citizens Association was invited to the stakeholder meeting but did not attend, Rice said.
At issue for the citizens association was the definition of events in the amendment as “ticketed.” The previous language did not define public events.
SCA felt that “ticketed” alone did not address the community’s largest concerns: number of attendees, noise and traffic.
Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park, chairwoman of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee which honed the amendment’s final language, said at the meeting she had not seen SCA’s requested changes until the day of the scheduled council vote, but that the committee discussed how to define events.
SCA’s specific request was not considered by the PHED committee, which includes councilmen George L. Leventhal (D-At large) and Marc B. Elrich (D-At large), both of Takoma Park.
Stakeholders also grappled with how to define events at the meeting, which SCA did not attend, Rice said.
While the organization’s comments were not forwarded to the PHED committee, which met June 25, Rice said his office did give SCA’s concerns fair consideration along with other comments that were submitted after the stakeholders met.
“I can't control the way a person feels, unfortunately,” Rice said. “I can tell you we value all our stakeholders that were there, and we value all those people who weighed in afterward. The challenge is just because a person sends in information doesn't mean it will be incorporated in the bill, but it also doesn’t mean we didn't value it or consider it as part of the bill.”
Were her organization’s comments fairly considered, even if not ultimately incorporated, Daly said she would not have taken issue.
But hearing Rice portray SCA as making a late request was upsetting, Daly said.
Daly said she felt SCA raised legitimate concerns, but most troubling was the way the entire situation was handled.
“This should not be how council members legislate,” she said. “[Legislation ] shouldn't just be for one person or one winery or one wealthy contributor who happens to want to build a museum.”
The full council did debate SCA’s language at some length on July 10 and declined in a 2-7 vote an additional amendment proposed by Elrich that would incorporate unticketed fairs, festival and cause-related fundraisers into the definition of the nine days of events permitted by-right at wineries in the reserve.
Councilman Hans Riemer (D-At large) of Silver Spring noted that including cause-related fundraisers could limit what the county’s sole winery, Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyards, already was doing and appeared as a “back-door effort to derail the entire amendment,” whether intended or not.
Elrich ultimately voted against the legislation, which he originally co-sponsored.
“It’s disturbing,” he said of how the organization’s comments were handled. “It’s not the way we do business here.”
He said that when he tells a citizens group he will consider something, he wants to actually consider it.
Council President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda, whose redrawn district now includes a swath of the area served by the Sugarloaf Citizens Association, said Monday that, while he does not anticipate any, “if there are issues going forward or abuses, I, for one, pledge to fill the loopholes.”