Tourists will be able to stay overnight on farms as part of agritourism activities if a new bill and zoning text amendment that was introduced Tuesday to the Montgomery County Council passes.
“The agritourism sector in Montgomery County’s agricultural reserve is growing and thriving,” said the bill’s lead sponsor, councilmember Natali Fani-González (D-Dist. 6), as she introduced the legislation Tuesday. “There are many farm breweries, wineries, pick-your-own farms … but there is no place to stay anywhere near these amazing activities.”
If passed, the new zoning measure would update the county’s zoning ordinance to allow incidental overnight stays on farms with agritourism businesses with certain limits.
“Our residents are looking for authentic farm experiences and there’s keen interest from local businesses in providing accommodations for overnight stays as an accessory component of farms’ agritourism activities,” Fani-González said.
Fani-González said overnight stays could range from farm-to-table dining experiences to educational opportunities.
According to the legislation, incidental outdoor stays would have to follow certain standards. Accessory agricultural education and tourism activities would have to be conducted as part of the farm’s regular operation. Overnight stays would have to occur in separate structures from any residence on the property, there could not be cooking facilities in sleeping quarters structures. Only two people over the age of 18 could stay in one structure, and only for a maximum of four days per week. Each facility could only have a maximum of 10 structures for overnight stays.
A public hearing on the proposed legislation will be held Jan. 31.
Preserving the tree canopy
Another bill introduced Tuesday intends to help preserve the county’s tree canopy by adjusting the fee for removing roadside county trees to accurately reflect the cost of the tree as well as the environmental impact of the removal. The goal is to fully fund the replacement of trees that are removed for development and construction.
The legislation, co-sponsored by Council President Evan Glass (D-At-large) and Vice President Andrew Friedson (D-Dist. 1) will increase the fee and also make it subject to review for inflation.
Under current county law, a permittee who removes a tree in the county’s right of way owes a fee to the county Department of Transportation’s Street Tree Planting Fund. However, the current fee structure does not accurately reflect the costs of tree planting and maintenance and does not factor in inflation, according to county documents.
If passed, the legislation would reflect inflation as well as the accurate cost for tree purchase and removal in accordance with the current consumer price index. It would set the initial fee payable to the Street Tree Planting Fund at $450 per tree and the fee payable to the Tree Canopy Conservation Account at $470 per tree. These rates would be subject to biannual increases with inflation.
“It’s easy to understand the value that trees provide to our ecosystem and to our communities. Trees … are among our most important renewable natural resources and play an irreplaceable role in reducing air water and noise pollution,” Friedson said. “They clean our air, they offset the effects of heat islands in our neighborhoods and they reduce our energy needs to improve the quality of life of residents by providing recreation, shade and positive mental and physical health outcomes.”
Friedson said he and Glass worked with state partners and environmental experts to develop the legislation.
All councilmembers except Will Jawando (D-At-large), who was absent from the meeting, signed on as co-sponsors shortly after the bill was introduced.
“I am very excited about this commonsense housekeeping measure that also meets our climate goals,” said councilmember Dawn Luedtke (D-Dist. 7).
A public hearing on the proposed legislation will be held Nov. 28.