What we have before the County Council now is a Limited Private Event Venue in the Agriculture Zone: Bill No. 17-05, brought forward by Council Member Tony Chmelik on Feb. 21. This bill raises a number of questions in my mind as I’m originally a farm boy and regard farmers and agricultural land as our lifeline for food and preserving our agricultural heritage.
There are a number of successful event venues in Frederick County that accommodate happy brides and grooms celebrating their auspicious day with family and friends. They also host graduations, celebrations and other festive occasions. Those already in operation have the support of their neighbors and community as they are great stewards of the land and respect their adjoining neighbors.
It is certainly of great concern that some of our Frederick County farmers are struggling to survive in this day and age. Having an option to increase their income is a welcome thought. However, there are some considerations that must be addressed in order for me to support this pending bill.
Do we want to use more of our limited agricultural land to hold weddings or parties, etc.? Are our farmers in favor of holding these events on small 25-acre plats? How much land does it take to be considered as a farm here in Frederick County? Are you happy to have neighbors holding reunions, weddings, celebrations and parties with up to 500 people every weekend across the way from you during the summer? Can you hear the music from inside your home? Does your house vibrate from the sound? And the hours — is it disturbing your peace and quiet when loud music is played in your side yard, hardly 100 feet away?
This bill may lead to commercial party venue operations being conducted in residential neighborhoods as the acreage requirement in this bill is for 25 acres. Many homes in the northern part of Frederick County have a large number of acres as the backdrop to their home property. But imagine a small cluster of homes, say 25 acres each, with a wedding venue holding events up to 500 people every weekend during the summer. Would that impact resale value of these homes? How is one’s stress level impacted with hundreds of cars on the narrow and windy roads with very little lighting at night, worried that their children are coming home on these same roads at the time the event is over?
And, thinking of the party-goers, they are out in the country for a big party. Middle of “nowhere” with the feeling that there is no law enforcement in sight. How much drinking will really occur? Combine that with the darkness of night, hazardous roads and unfamiliar area — you get the picture.
The peaks and valleys in the Frederick County landscape add to the sheer beauty of our surroundings. They also contribute to the sound reverberation, depending on decibel levels. Sure, you say, there is a county regulation on noise. Yes, and that means that once the sound gets very loud, you ask the neighbor to turn it down. They do. Then it goes back up. So, you call the sheriff’s office. They come out, give them a warning. Sound goes down. Deputy leaves the venue. Does the sound go up again? If yes, yet another visit by the sheriff’s office. And so it goes, every weekend for three months or more.
It is my genuine belief that most folks in Frederick County enjoy living here and are good neighbors. We take good care of our property, help each other and are on friendly terms with those around us. It would be a real shame if this changes due to unintended consequences from this change to use in our agricultural zone.
Lots of questions and considerations are before us in regards to this bill. I’ve taken some time to visit residents in Emmitsburg, who requested that I see for myself why they are very concerned about the way Bill No. 17-05 is currently written. Visiting families and driving around the area, their love of their land and its surrounding vistas is clear. Their dismay and frustration was also very clear. The bill reads, “Any building or temporary structure utilized for an event shall be at least 150 feet from any adjacent residential lot and 50 feet from any other lot line.” This may be infringing on the property rights of those next to these proposed venue sites. A person could lease or buy a 25-acre land parcel, till some of the land to meet the “actively used for agricultural activity” portion of the bill and conduct a private event venue business in the heart of our county.
So, how can we better address a way to make this work? Perhaps an amendment to increase acreage area from 25 acres to, say 50, 75, or 100 acres? This change would limit the accessibility to part-time landlords who may not live on the property, but opt to take advantage of the options available in the Limited Private Event Venue in the Agriculture Zone Bill. It would help the active farmers who live on their property, farm their land and want to use a portion of their farm for private events.
It is my understanding that this current bill is to help struggling farmers. Increasing the acreage will limit access to those with active and productive farms. Wording may be modified from “…must be actively used for agricultural activity” to “must be an owner-operator active/productive farm.” This would enable this legislation to support the struggling farmers, as intended.
From my experience, a 25-acre farm is not enough land to be financially viable to support a family. Family farms in the business are normally much larger in order to produce enough product for sale to support the financial needs of the farm itself and the family living off this income.
We must also protect our neighbors. The proposed site should also seek support from their closest neighbors. As we live in a community, we should be concerned about our impact on others. It works both ways.
If the zoning is accepted for this use, then events should be held when all permits are in place for all commercial assembly requirements, including, but not limited to, commercial septic, fire suppression, site, egress, etc.
Council member Chmelik’s Bill No.17-05 is slated to go to public hearing on April 4, at 7 p.m. here at Winchester Hall. I wholeheartedly encourage you to come out and give voice your thoughts — either pro or con — on this bill. It is only with the public’s input that we garner additional insight into issues before us.
Even after much research, I always learn something new from the residents who come and speak at the public hearings. It means a great deal that you take the time out of your busy day to express your opinions. If you are unable to attend in person, please consider emailing the full Council at CouncilMembers@FrederickCountyMD.gov.
My direct email is BOtis@frederickcountymd.gov Your voice matters. Thank you.
This column was also published here.
Read the bill here: https://www.frederickcountymd.gov/documentcenter/view/295684