Most council members were behind legislation that would update an existing program meant to support multi-generational farming in Frederick County, but concerns were raised at a workshop Tuesday night.
“[The ordinance] was designed to grant an impact fee waiver to help agricultural operators who wanted their children or grandchildren to be able to build a dwelling adjacent to their farm, then help them on the farm,” said Anne Bradley, the county’s land preservation program administrator.
Impact fees are a one-time charge to developers to support expansion of schools and libraries based on the impact development takes on those facilities.
Since the program started in 2014, 13 applicants have applied for the waiver and 10 have been approved, according to the draft legislation.
As it stands, there has to be “established agricultural activity” on the farm, the farm that the lot is subdivided from must be at least 25 acres, the house that the waiver is granted on must be on a legally subdivided lot, and the waiver can be given to children and grandchildren of the farm owner.
The person who gets the waiver also needs to live in the house for at least five years and offer a written statement about how they help on the farm.
The new legislation would clarify that the subdivided lot be a maximum of two acres, require that waiver applicants show that they “earn a majority of their gross income from an agricultural profession of the past three years,” allow both parents and siblings of the farmer to be eligible for the waiver, and require that the applicant “provide support to the farm operation an average of 20 hours a week all year.”
Changes would also be made to clarify ownership.
“In the past, staff had difficulty with interpreting eligibility on the farms owned by an entity other than individuals and many agricultural operators own land in family LLC’s,” according to the draft legislation.
At Tuesday’s workshop, many council members were supportive of the legislation’s ultimate goal of ensuring that waivers are granted to agricultural operators and supporting generations of farmers who want to continue the family business.
But Councilman Phil Dacey raised some concerns and questioned what problem the legislation is addressing.
“It’s only being used two times a year. Seems to me that it’s probably too restrictive,” he said.
Dacey also questioned the 20-hour-a-week requirement, the need for getting financial records and what would happen if an applicant had, for example, investment funds that were bringing in more money than the operation.
“Just because you might be having another source of income doesn’t mean you’re not an agricultural operator, does it?” he said.
Bradley clarified that getting financial records would not be difficult, because farm operators have a special tax form that shows their taxes from the agricultural operation.
As for the 20-hour-a-week requirement, Dacey said that excludes people who want to build homes for their elderly parents, as the parents may not be contributing the required hours.
Councilman Steve McKay shared some of that concern and said he would be in favor of releasing the substantial support requirement for the parents of the farmer.
Council Vice President Michael Blue also said he wants the program to be inclusive and Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater said the concerns brought up were legitimate but agreed with the general intent of keeping these active farms.
The legislation will be formally introduced during the July 21 council meeting.