HB 722 – Right to Farm in Ag Reserve: Does not pass
4/12/ Update: Despite the tireless efforts of Montgomery County and 20 stakeholder groups both HB 722 and emergency SB 1100 failed to pass. Further update will be posted shortly.
The lack of understanding of the public policy that created the nationally recognized 106,000 acre Ag Reserve in Annapolis, including several MC Delegates, was quite astonishing. Delegate Kathy Dumais, and her staff, did not even acknowledge that there is a public policy for the preservation of agriculture in Montgomery County.
Homeowners in one covenanted subdivision (constructed after the creation of the Reserve), who seem keen on living in the Ag Reserve but find that farming itself conflicts with their way of life and perception of what maintains their property values, cried foul – loudly. In Annapolis, they repeatedly misrepresented the issues and facts central to the serious problems created by allowing homeowners’ covenants to trump master plans, public policy and zoning.
This issue will be addressed in the fullness of time, as we press our General Assembly to embrace and support the Reserve and the public policy that guides it.
Fact and Law are helping stakeholders move this important legislation, sponsored by Senators Garagiola and Montgomery, forward. The MC Senate Delegation, led by Chair Senator Jamie Raskin, voted unanimously in favor 8-0 to move the bill forward with important amendments that would ensure that the over 1300 acres encumbered with ag conflicting covenants would be covered. Testimony before the Senate made clear that at the heart of this debate is clear, demonstrable public policy: The Preservation of Agriculture in the County’s Ag Reserve. Reserve Architect Royce Hanson offered a clear and compelling basis for passage of the legislation. Also it is important to note that this legislation is not plowing new ground: The State has previously limited the scope of homeowner covenants that clash with important public policy (renewable energy) and as recently as 2008.
What can you do before the bill, with amendments making it retroactive, is back before the MC House delegation this Friday? Call your Delegate and ask them to support the Senate version. This is about the ability to farm on at least 1300 acres of Ag Reserve land. A HB 722 myth.fact sheet should help you to understand some of the misconceptions that have entered into the issue.
Update 2/27 - Good news! A compromise amendment is making its way through channels and has thus far been favorably received. This compromise will ensure that the County would have standing, or the ability to participate, in any legal challenge to covenants that conflict with farming in the Reserve. Many thanks to the folks that have written in support of the bill and our farmers. The list of organizations that support the legislation is growing and includes:
Audubon Naturalist Society
1000 Friends of Maryland
League of Women Voters
Montgomery County Civic Federation
1000 Friends of Maryland
Montgomery Countryside Alliance
Montgomery Victory Gardens
Maryland Horse Council
Montgomery Farm Bureau
Montgomery County Ag Advisory Committee
Sugarloaf Citizens’ Association
Izaak Walton League
Montgomery Soil Conservation District
Mixed Greens Inc.
Montgomery County Park and Planning
Montgomery County Council
With each passing week more is learned about how widespread this problem is. Last week the MC Planning Board voiced concern about these restrictions, noting that they want to make an affirmative statement that they support the farmers and agricultural activity as the primary focus of the Reserve. The Board continues to support the legislation with the accepted amendment that excludes conservation easements.
The farmer that was willing to come forward and put himself and his family in the spotlight, Keith Ohlinger, made numerous and varied efforts to address his situation (which included a threat of lawsuit, complaints filed with County agencies about his current farming activities (which were not cited as violations), complaints about a meadow planted on his acreage to attract pollinators and threats to utilize other provisions of the covenants including prohibition against any commercial activity). The farmer sought answers as to how to address the situation, at each turn being told that he should pursue “legislative solution.” It was quite difficult to address this issue within the community once the formal letter of intent to sue was received The letter claimed the right to sue the farmer under provisions of covenants that were crafted by the developer days in advance of the final enactment of the Ag Reserve zone. What remains unknown, and is most troubling, is how many farmers have or will have abandoned their search for homes and farmland in the Reserve when they encounter these ag busting covenants. Thus, we, and a growing list of partners, are seeking passage of this important legislation to help Farmer Keith and others that face similar legal challenge to their ability to farm in MC’s Ag Reserve.
Your emails and calls are very important, see below for contact list!
Please oppose a proposed amendment from Delegate Barclay that calls for this legislation to apply only to covenants created after July 1, 2012, effectively allowing existing farming restrictive covenants to remain in force. MCA has met and talked with residents of the clustered subdivision in Laytonsville where the farmer profiled in our video lives. Our goal was to create a better climate for communication between neighbors in that community in order to ease concerns regarding the legislation and its purpose. We also wanted to see if there was a way to help folks mediate their issues rather than resort to litigation. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, a small group of neighbors in the Laytonsville development continue to assert that front yard farming (and fencing) will conflict with the vistas of rolling hills in their neighborhood and be unsafe for their children (this from their correspondence to the record). In should be noted that SDAT records reveal that every home in that subdivision was built and sold years after the Ag Reserve was created.
We Need Your Calls/Emails to Support Farmers’ Right to Farm in the Ag Reserve!
We ask you to convey the following:
~Support for right to farm legislation MC 16-12, with proposed amendment that protect conservation and other important easements .
~Support for the Ag Reserve and its primary purpose: farming
~Concern that suburban developments are trying to outlaw farming
in the Ag Reserve through homeowner’s covenants.
~Concern that our family farms are being sued by those who are promoting suburban property rights over that right to farm in the Ag Reserve.
~Opposition to spot zoning through homeowner convenants!
Contact Members of Land Use and Transportation Committee:
Pressed for time? Send one email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
For others that can (and it will help):
JEFFREY D. WALDSTREICHER
(410) 841-3130, (301) 858-3130
1-800-492-7122 , ext. 3130 (toll free)
CRAIG J. ZUCKER
(410) 841-3380 (301) 858-3380
(410) 841-3493, (301) 858-3493
1-800-492-7122 , ext. 3493 (toll free)
Democrat, District 19, Montgomery County
(410) 841-3528, (301) 858-3528
1-800-492-7122 , ext. 3528 (toll free)
(410) 841-3001, (301) 858-3001
(410) 841-3464, (301) 858-3464
1-800-492-7122 , ext. 3464 (toll free)
SUSAN C. LEE
Democrat, District 16, Montgomery County
(410) 841-3649, (301) 858-3649
1-800-492-7122 , ext. 3649 (toll free)
Democrat, District 15, Montgomery County
(410) 841-3090, (301) 858-3090
1-800-492-7122 , ext. 3090 (toll free)
Background: Currently, farmers in the Ag Reserve are face the threat of lawsuit and effectively being prevented from farming by residents in developments that have formed homeowner’s associations and rules (covenants) that do not allow for certain farm activities or structures in the Reserve. MCA, along with our partners including Audubon Naturalist Society and County Ag groups including the MC Farm Bureau, had confidence that this common sense legislation aimed at ensuring farmers the right to farm would easily make its way to passage at the State level. Other stakeholders, including the Maryland Environmental Trust, have been working with us to ensure that the legislation is crafted to protect farming as well as important conservation programs. The process has been thoughtful, collegial and public.