New zoning allows side businesses that diversify farm income

Carlisle Wortman AssociatesSharon Township Planning Commission Chair Kathy Speigel wants to help farmers raising local food in Sharon Township.  So when local farmers asked if they could add a distillery or solar energy generation to supplement their farm operations, Carlisle|Wortman Planner Megan Masson-Minock suggested that the commission update the zoning ordinance to allow value-added and other activities to diversify farm revenue streams.

Megan brought examples from other CWA communities in Washtenaw County ranging from large solar energy allowed on farms in Sumpter Township to commercial kitchens in Ann Arbor Township.

“I was not only able to bring examples to the planning commission but also share insights from my colleagues who had developed similar zoning changes and seen the results on the ground,” she said.  At the advice of the township board, two planning commissioners also visited tasting rooms at small wineries to see first-hand what restrictions worked and which might be unnecessary. (It’s a dirty job but someone had to do it. -ed.)

In December 2018, the township board passed zoning ordinance amendments to allow as special uses small scale value-added activities on farm operations including small distilleries, small wineries, microbreweries, commercial kitchens, agricultural process and agricultural storage as well as large solar energy systems in their agricultural and resource conservation zoning districts.

Megan described these zoning ordinance amendments at  “Cultivating Local Farm Economies,” a May 21 Michigan State University Extension training session.