Garden Centers Face Legal Action

By Pat Piper

There’s a “growing” concern about commercial gardens in Anne Arundel County.

As of now, the county says any plant sold to customers at a garden center has to have been grown on site. Selling a Knockout Rose grown in another state or another region and trucked here in a plastic container to a county garden center for sale is illegal.

On June 21, county council members Jessica Haire and Amanda Fiedler will introduce Bill 57-22 to change this.

“It updates the definition of any nursery with landscaping and plant sales,” says Fiedler, “specifically how the plants are cultivated and grown, to reflect current industry practices.”

Haire, the lead sponsor and a candidate for the county executive position, adds, “Our code is outdated, and it is obvious we are regulating something that does not need to be regulated.”

Anne Arundel County agrees.

County Deputy Administrator for Land Use, Lori Rhodes, tells Bay Weekly, “We need flexibility to allow nurseries to sell plants grown at the nursery or in containers. The existing rule is very restrictive.”

Danny Summers of Georgia-based The Garden Center Group, assisting more than 170 retail nurseries across the country, says the current zoning requirement outlawing the sale of container plants “sounds like something from 1965. Container plants make up 90 percent of sales,” he says. Summers says that nurseries need space for providing sustainable soil and other “non-plant” products for use in landscapes and gardens.

But while there’s consensus to make this change, Rhodes wants to see more from the proposal.

“Bill 57-22 doesn’t go far enough. We are going to make recommendations to increase the amount of area on the lot that can be used to sell the plant material and some of the accessory products that go along with the plants.”

Two garden centers face legal action from the county and Rhodes hopes to fix part of that with the proposed changes. Neither business would comment on the pending litigation.

Notices were sent to both Riva Gardens & Farm Market and Bay Ridge Nursery regarding zoning concerns. Because business has been good, the properties have expanded but still operate in residential areas zoned R-1 with a conditional use permit. The problem is those permits allow no more than 1 percent of the land to be used for retail. Both are being questioned about exceeding that limit.

Bay Ridge Nursery is in such an area. “Because businesses grow over time, we need an updated site plan from them showing how their conditional use certificate meets the guidelines. An amended Bill 57-22 would fix this, but we need to see their updated plan,” notes Rhodes.

Bill 57-22 will be introduced June 21 at 7pm at the Anne Arundel County Council located at 44 Calvert Street. Once amendments are approved, a vote could be taken no later than August/September.                                                                     

For Riva Gardens, Rhodes says she received a complaint about their retail operations. “They were selling food without a food service license which has gotten the health department involved. And they were operating without an updated zoning certificate of use in a residential area. I’ve been in contact looking to assist them in getting a food service license and the need to submit a site plan that shows compliance without going to court.”

Councilmember Haire hopes there will be action for Anne Arundel County garden centers soon. “I’m glad the county agrees a change is needed—it’s unfortunate that it took my introducing legislation for them to realize that.”

Riva Gardens’ first notice was sent in 2019, with a follow-up in 2020 and 2021. The combination of the pandemic lockdowns, enforcement schedules, the business operator’s schedule and extensions were given as reasons the situation has taken longer than the usual 36 days.