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Agritourism Study

Study Background

Increased interest in the economic development of Montgomery County’s award-winning Agricultural Reserve through tourism has led to this study in order to better understand ongoing issues raised by farmers, planners, entrepreneurs and county officials. The research will examine various aspects of agritourism, including events held on farms, wineries, breweries, produce stands and farm-to-table offerings, to understand the land use regulations associated with these activities. It will look at applicable sections of the county’s zoning ordinance and its subdivision regulations to determine if modifications in policy are needed to provide clarity and direction for property owners.

The project will involve an advisory committee of stakeholders drawn from county agencies, local farms and civic groups to advise the Planning Department team. Part of the communications effort is to ensure ongoing dialogue among members of this group through eletters, questionnaires and other outreach efforts. A secondary goal of outreach for this study is to raise the level of community awareness of the Agricultural Reserve’s value and how this rural area can continue to thrive as a powerful economic asset in the county.

Evaluation and updating of the 2002 Montgomery County Heritage Area Management Plan will be undertaken, possibly by a consultant, along with a comparative review of agricultural tourism practices in other jurisdictions. The final product of the study will be a white paper outlining economic development strategies and recommendations for modifying county regulations, based on feedback and research.

History of the Agricultural Reserve

The Agricultural Reserve is a contiguous 93,000-acre designated land use zone in the northwestern part of Montgomery County. Conceived in 1980, the Reserve was created to prevent suburban sprawl, protect farmland and limit development. Efforts to create this area stemmed from the increasing loss of agricultural land and open space due to development to meet the demand for housing in the region.

To safeguard the Reserve from sprawl, the county implemented several measures, including reducing the rate of new residential development from one house per five acres to one house per 25 acres. The county also implemented a transferable development right, which allows landowners to recover the equity in their land without having to sell it. These measures have helped retain 540 farms in the county and contributed millions of dollars to the local economy. Of the 93,000 acres in the Reserve, 63,493 acres are now devoted to farming.

Many counties from around the country, from California to Connecticut, have adapted the Agricultural Reserve model and its development transfer tools to preserve farmland and limit development in their own areas. Further, many farmers in Montgomery County have participated in more restrictive protective measures through conservation easement programs administered by the county and state. The Montgomery County Planning Department’s forward-looking efforts to create the Reserve and preserve its beauty were honored in 2017 with a National Planning Excellence Award for a Planning Landmark from the American Planning Association. 

Last Updated: October 24, 2017