Proposal For Frederick County Council’s Legislative Package Draws Opposition From Fire & Rescue Officials

It concerns farm buildings used for agricultural tourism.

Frederick, Md (KM) A measure which could become part of the Frederick County Council’s 2022 Legislative Package has drawn opposition from fire and rescue officials. The proposal from Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater would bring Frederick County in line with other counties when it comes to farm buildings used for agricultural tourism.

“This legislative proposal would have Frederick County join other counties in the state that would allow for us to be removed from an exemption in the state public safety articles that involves the number of occupants in agri-tourism buildings, and would increase the potential number of occupants up to 200,” says Councilwoman Fitzwater.

This would allow the number of  occupants in these farm buildings which have been converted into  entertainment venues to be up to 200. The current limit is 50.

Tom Barse, a farmer in Mount Airy, supports this change. “I think it would be a huge help to farmers that are already involved in agri-tourism enterprises, and farmers who are interested in getting involved in agri-tourism enterprise on their farms,” he said.

But Troy Grossnickle with the Division of Fire and Rescue Services in the County Fire Marshal’s Office testified against. “These older, wooden-type structures are prone to ignite with ease, and support rapid, intense, fire growth, “he said.

Chief of DFRS, Tom Coe, was concerned that any changes to the old farm buildings would not need a building permit as it is not considered a change of occupancy. “If this legislation is successfully enacted, the Division of Planning and Permitting, as well as the Fire Marshal, would be removed from completing the critical task to ensuring the buildings that are designed as related to agri-tourism meet the basic life safety codes  designed to ensure the safety of the structure’s  occupants,” he says.

Colby Ferguson with the Maryland Farm Bureau, spoke in support of the changes, noting that this is enabling legislation. “Right now, the county, even if they wanted to, would not be allowed to do any more exemptions other than the 50 people. And what this does is give the ability, if the county so choses, to exempt up to 200.  Montgomery County only exempts up to 100,” he said.

Ferguson also said this is only for existing farm buildings, not new ones. “But any existing barn that would like to expand or take their agri-tourism a little bit larger than 50 people, it would give them the authority. But it would still give the county the ability to be flexible and restrictive,” he said, further noting the county can prohibit  or restrict alcohol consumption at these agri-tourism venues.

The Council is expected to vote next Tuesday on whether to add this proposal to its legislative package for 2022.

The other counties in Maryland which have this exemption are Allegany, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Cecil, Garrett, Howard, Kent, Prince George’s, and St. Mary’s.

By Kevin McManus