St. Mary's Co. OK's Distilleries in Rural Areas - Southern Maryland Headline News

St. Mary's Co. OK's Distilleries in Rural Areas

By Guy Leonard, The County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md.—St. Mary’s County long ago was famous for illegal stills dotting the rural landscape producing spirituous liquors for sale, but now the Board of County Commissioners has approved a zoning text amendment that makes distilleries legal in certain, mostly rural, areas of the county.

The text amendment received strong support from farmers who saw distilleries as a way to keep agriculture viable by finding a new market for corn and other grains produced locally. It received the full support of the St. Mary’s County Farm Bureau.

It is the first step, economic development officials say, in getting permission from the state and eventually the federal government through licenses to distribute hard liquor for sale.

“It’s about what do you do in this post tobacco buyout world,” said county economic development director Bob Schaller. “It could still take a couple of years to get licensing from the state and federal levels.”

It took more than a year to change the zoning laws to allow for wineries here, Schaller said, but that “heavy lifting” paved the way for a much expedited approval of the distilleries rule, which amounts to a modification of the winery regulations.

“91 days from start to finish, I think that’s a record,” Schaller said.

Richard Copsey, a local farmer who has spearheaded the effort to legalize distilleries here, hoped that the passage of the amendment will bear fruit.

“It’s a big step for that, the first thing the state asks for is local zoning,” Copsey said. “Hopefully we’ll get this done and it’ll take off.”

The commissioner board voted unanimously to approve farm distilleries Tuesday with no discussion or comments on the matter. The maximum output of a distillery would be 27,500 gallons a year in the rural preservation district (RPD), but there would be no restrictions on the amount produced in the operations that are allowed in certain mixed use zones with a slightly more urban make up.

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