Dear member of the Howard County Farm Community and/or Concerned Resident:
As you may be aware, the Howard County Council is in the process of adopting new zoning regulations for the County. At this time, it anticipates finalizing the regulations on July 25, 2013. Included among the changes being considered are ones which would very significantly affect the farm community, particularly those raising livestock (including horses) on small to medium size farms. From what can be discerned to date, these proposed regulations, if passed, will make it much more difficult for equine, as well as other specialty farming interests (i.e., sheep, goat and alpaca), to thrive. These interests are now the backbone of agriculture in the County and contribute vast sums to the County’s tax base and its economy.
Where We Are Now:
Currently, “farming” is defined broadly in the Zoning Regulations to include “[t]he breeding, raising, training, boarding and general care of livestock for uses other than for food, such as sport or show purposes, as pets, or for recreation…” (Section 103.0 (77), page 1 attached). As long as you are engaged in these or other activities also defined to be “farming,” you do not have to comply with any setback or other similar County restrictions, except that you can’t put your manure pile or a structure sheltering animals within 200 feet of your neighbors’ house. (Section 128.A.4, lines 16-25 on page 11 attached). There also is currently no limit on how may horses or other livestock you may have per acre. Thus, overall there is a tremendous amount of leeway with few regulations on how property is used for farming purposes. And since “farming” is considered a use as a “Matter of Right” in almost all areas of the County, except in Columbia and on other non-residentially zoned land, neither the County nor your neighbors can shut down your “farming” activities (including livestock keeping) because they don’t like the way you farm, where you put your ag buildings, or the fact that you may drive you tractor on a local road or operate noisy farm equipment at a time not liked by your suburban neighbors.
The zoning text amendments now before the County Council would change this regulatory environment very, very significantly. They would:
1) countywide, limit the definition of a “farm” to only those properties which have an agricultural tax assessment and whose principal use is agriculture.
2) make it a violation of the zoning regulations to keep livestock (other than cattle)1 anywhere in the County other than in the “western” portion (i.e., RC and RR zones—see attached map) if the property’s principal use is not a “farm” as defined above.2
3) change the keeping of livestock in the RC and RR zones from a use as a “matter of right” to an “accessory use. “
4) in the RC and RR districts, increase the size of a lot/land parcel needed to have any type of livestock from 40,00 square feet to a minimum of 3 acres;
5) for all properties, except “farms” as defined above, limit the number of livestock per acre as follows3:
Horses or Mules: 1 per 1.5 acres
Ponies, miniature horses or donkeys 1 per ¾ acre
Llamas or alpacas 1 per 16,335 sq. ft.
(slightly more than 1 per 1/3 acre)
Goats or sheep 1 per 13,036sq. ft.
(slightly less than 1/3 acre)
4) require all properties in agricultural use, except “farms” as defined above, to comply with side of property set back requirements. (Note: the proposed regs penalize lots/parcels over three acres by having a 30 ft side set back instead of a 10 ft setback for smaller properties). This means you can no longer put an ag structure right on or next to your side property line.
5) prohibit the operation of farm machinery on all properties on which livestock are kept (except on “farms” meeting the definition above).
What happens if your farming or livestock keeping operation does not comply with these proposed regulations if they are passed?
Existing uses will be allowed to continue, but if your noncompliance is brought to the County’s attention, you most likely will be required to go through an extensive County process to get a “nonconforming use” designation. This usually requires getting an attorney. There will be a hearing on the matter where you will be required to prove that the uses in which you are not in compliance were occurring before the new zoning regulations went into effect. If you cannot prove this, your farming/livestock keeping operation must come into compliance with the new regulations or it can be shut down.
If the regulations are passed as proposed, you will not be able to expand your livestock keeping to have more than the number of animals specified in the regulations and you will not be able to build anything in the side setback area of your property as of the effective date of the new regulations.
What can I do now?
E-mail members of the Howard County Council and the County Executive and say “STOP.” These proposed regulations have not been discussed with the agricultural community, particularly those on small to medium sized farms who will be most affected. It is extremely important that this discourse occur before any changes to the regulations are made,particularly since these proposed regulations would appear to seriously effect the long term viability of the horse and other specialty livestock industries in the County.
District 1 Courtney Watson firstname.lastname@example.org (Elkridge area)
District 2 Calvin Ball email@example.com (Columbia)
District 3 Jennifer Terrasa firstname.lastname@example.org (Eastern/South eastern portion of County)
District 4 Mary Kay Sigaty email@example.com (Columbia/ (Highland/Clarksville)
District 5 Greg Fox firstname.lastname@example.org (Western Howard County, including Highland and parts of Clarksville)
Drafted by Susan Gray 240-426-1655
Small Horse Farm Owner
Land Use Attorney
Resident of Highland
SPECIFIC ZONING REGULATION TEXT CHANGES PROPOSED
The entirety of the proposed changes to the Zoning Regulations can be found by goggling “Howard County Council.” You will see a header on the home page for Comprehensive Zoning 2013.” Click on this and a menu related to comprehensive zoning will appear. Click on “Text Amendments.” Specific relevant proposed text changes are attached.
The following are the specific zoning text changes proposed that would affect keeping livestock in Howard County.
Section 103: “Definitions” Section of Zoning Regulations
“Farm:” definition of “farm” is proposed to be changed to require a “farm” to not only require that “farming” be the principal use of the property, but also to require that the property have an agricultural tax assessment. (See unmarked page 30, lines 26-27 of full text of Zoning Regulations or attached page 1).
“Farming:” the existing definition of “farming” is proposed to be changed as follows: (see page 1 attached).
add phrase, “Not included in this definition [of “farming] are those uses subject to Section 128.0 permit requirements and Section 131.0 Conditional Use requirements.” See: page 31, lines 4 and 5, page 1 attached.
Implications of proposed change: It is not clear what the phrase “permit requirements” refers to. However, if the above proposed qualification is interpreted to apply to the proposed new section “Livestock on residential lots and parcels” found in Section 128.0 (see text of newly proposed Section 128.D.10 on page 12 attached), then, if you are raising horses, sheep, goats, etc. on a lot or parcel whose use is principally residential, (see proposed new definition of “Residential lot or parcel” on page 2 attached), you will be defined by the proposed new regulations to NOT be engaged in ‘farming,’ even though you are performing actions which under the existing Zoning Regulations constitute “farming.” Since by exclusion from the definition of “farming” you are no longer engaged in “farming” as defined in the Zoning Regulations, the raising, breeding, training, showing or recreational use, etc., of livestock are not activities you can do any longer as a “matter of right.” Under the proposed text changes to be further explained below, these activities become an “accessory use” only in the RC and RR districts (i.e., western Howard County). add the following text: “The operation of agricultural machinery and equipment that is an accessory use to a principal farming function. Agricultural machinery and equipment may be used on farms that are not the farm on which the machinery and equipment is normally stored.” (Page 1 attached.).
Implications of proposed change: Under Section 101.O of the existing Zoning Regulations, uses not specifically identified in the Zoning Regs as permitted, are not allowed. This section reads as follows: “All uses are prohibited unless specifically enumerated as a use permitted as a matter of right or as an accessory use in the various districts as provided by these regulations.” (Page 16, lines 11-12 of full text of Zoning Regulations.). Because of this restriction and the use of the terms “accessory use to a principal farming function” and the reference to the use of the machinery on “farms,” it would appear that this proposed text amendment would authorize the use of farm machinery only on properties meeting the definition of a “farm.”
“Residential Lot or Parcel: A lot or parcel improved with a single family residence as the principal use.” This is a proposed new definition. (See: page 45, lines 4,5 of full regulations or page 2 attached).
“Animal Unit:” Proposed new definition (page 21, lines 26-32,page 1 attached) defines the number of horses, mules, ponies, miniature horses, donkeys, sheep, goats, llama and alpaca that comprise one “animal unit” for the purpose of limiting the number of animals per acre on residential lots and parcels.
Section 104 RC (Rural Conservation)
Section 104B: Definition of “Farming” under section of “Uses Permitted as a Matter of Right”(see: page 55 --not numbered, lines 28-29, or page 3 attached) is proposed to be changed to delete the requirement related to lot size.
Section 104C “Accessory Uses:” This section is proposed to be revised to add keeping “Livestock on Residential lots and parcels “as an “accessory use,” and making such livestock keeping subject to the requirements of Section 128.0.D.” See page 58, lines 23,24 or page 6 attached).
Section 104E “Bulk Regulations:” Proposed text changes on page 60, lines 3,4 and lines 18,19, (see page 7 attached) impose 30 ft side property setback for ag structures as an accessory use on properties greater than 3 acres, and 10 ft setback on properties less than 3 acres in size, respectively.
Section 105: RR (Rural Residential) Zoning District
Section 104B: Definition of “Farming” under section of “Uses Permitted as a Matter of Right” (page 67 --not numbered, lines 18-19, on page 8 attached) changed is proposed to be changed to delete the requirement related to lot size.
Section 105C “Accessory Uses:” This section is proposed to be revised to add keeping “Livestock on Residential lots and parcels,” as an “accessory use” and to subject such livestock keeping to the requirements of Section 128.0.D.” See page 70, lines 7,8, on page 11 attached).
Section 105E “Bulk Regulations:” Proposed text changes on page 71, lines 30,31, and lines 45,46, or see attached page _____, impose 30 ft side property setback for ag structures as an accessory use on properties greater than 3 acres, and 10 ft side setback on properties less than 3 acres in size, respectively.
Section 128: Supplementary Zoning District Regulations
Section 128.A.4: Current regulations found on page 341, lines 16-25 are proposed to be deleted and new regulations on page 341, lines 27-41, on page11 attached, are proposed to be adopted. Proposed revisions keep current 200 foot setback requirement for manure pile and animal shelters from neighbors’ house on separate lot. Big change is found in lines 33-34 of propsed regulations which would require compliance with accessory structure setback requirements for applicable zoning district. These setback requirements are found in Section 104E for the RC district and Section 105E for the RR zone. (See pages 7 & 11 attached.).
Section 128.D.10: (See attached at page12). This proposed new section is hugely important. This section, when combined with the changes proposed to the definition of a “farm,” (Section 103.0 #76, on page 1 attached), the changes proposed to the definition of “farming, “ (Section 103.0 #77 on page 1 attached), and the proposed new definition of a “residential lot or parcel, (Section 103.0 on page 2 attached), eliminate the keeping of livestock on all residential lots or parcels as a “matter of right,” and allow the keeping of livestock on these properties “o]nly in residential districts where it is enumerated as an accessory use….” and only if the following conditions listed in the section are met (see Section 128.D.10 on page 12 attached):
The lot or parcel shall be at least 3 acres in size;
The single family residence on the property must be used as a dwelling;
The maximum number of livestock on the property is one animal unit per 1.5 acres;
Animal shelter locations must comply w/ the setback requirements in Section 125B.
The number of animals by type equally one “animal unit” is set out on page 1 attached.
The bulk requirements (now just setback limitations) are discussed Section 104E and 105E above.
How do all these proposed regulation work together?
As mentioned above, under the existing regulations, if you are engaged in various types of agricultural activities, including the “breeding, raising, training, boarding and general care of livestock for uses other than for food, such as sport or show purposes, as pets, or for recreation…” you are considered engaged in “a normal farming function” (see current definition of “farming” above) and thus your activity is allowed in many zoning districts in Howard County (west as well as eastern portion of County) as a matter of right.
Historically, and to date, in almost all zoning districts, whether you were engaged in farming activities allowed as a “matter of right” was simply determined by the actual activities you were engaged in. Up until, 2011 and the passage of a winery bill (CB9-2011), there was not even a definition of a “farm” in the Zoning Regulations. CB9-2011 added the term “farm” to the Definition section of the Zoning Regulations and defined it to mean “A lot or parcel principally used for farming.” This definition of a “farm,” because it requires the principal use of a property to be for agriculture, excludes most of the equine, and specialty livestock related activities taking place in the County because the vast majority of these activities are taking place on property where the principal use is residential. This definitional change, which would make the definition of a farm apply to only a small number of agricultural operations in the County has been meaningless, however, to date, because no distinctions were made in the Zoning Regs between “farms” meeting this definition and “farms” not meeting the definition.
Now, however, the proposed regulations, with their creation of a new category of “farms,” embodied in the new definition of “residential lot or parcel) (i.e., those where agricultural activities are being conducted on parcels or lots, principally residential in nature, and not having an agricultural assessment), creates for zoning purposes two types of farms: 1) those few whose principal use is agriculture & have an ag tax assessment, and 2) and everybody else who is engaged in the activities historically defined as “farming,” but just engaging in these activities on property whose principal use is residential. By creating this dichotomy , the County is able, in the proposed text amendments, to eliminate as a “matter of right,” the keeping of livestock on properties now-defined as Non-farm properties (see change in definition of farming. The keeping of livestock on these properties is now allowed only as an accessory use and only in the zoning districts where this accessory use is explicitly enumerated. Since this use is only listed as an accessory use in the western portion of the County (RR and RC zones), keeping of livestock on these non-farm properties in the eastern portion of the county would be prohibited, if the proposed text amendments are adopted. Almost all horse and other specialty animal owners and trainers in western Howard County would be subjected to new, stringent regulations on their animal keeping,, and because livestock keeping is no longer a use as a “matter of right,” but instead is an “accessory use, “ the continued future use of their property for animal keeping would become more tenuous.
The bottom line in all of this is that these text amendments, if passed, would in one fell swoop make Howard County a less than friendly place for the vast majority of horse and other specialty livestock owners, trainers, and other associated with these animals, if they are being cared for in Howard County. They clearly set the stage for driving Howard County’s major “farming” base out of the County.
Map showing RC and RR Zoning Districts (this is “western” portion of County) APPENDIX: Proposed Zoning Text Amendments4
Section 103.0; Definition Changes
(Page 21 of Zoning Regulations)
(Page 30 of Zoning Regulations)
(Page 31 of Zoning Regulations)`
(Page 45 of Zoning Regulations)
￼ (Page 55 of Zoning Regulations)
(Page 56 of Zoning Regulations)
(Page 57 of Zoning Regulations)
(Page 58 of Zoning Regulation)
(Page 59 – 60 of Zoning Regulations)
Section 104E Bulk Regulations
(Page 67 of Zoning Regulations)
(Page 68 of Zoning Regulations)
(Page 69 of Zoning Regulations)
(Page 70 of Zoning Regulations)
(Page 71 of Zoning Regulations)
Section 105E.$: Minimum Setback Requirements Structures (same as regulations at page 7 of this Appendix for RC Zone.)
(Page 341 of Zoning Regulations)
Section 128.0 Supplemental Zoning Regulations
(Page 356 of Zoning Regulations)