Ocean City Today

Century-old farm finding new life

Twelfth generation owners of 1,800 acres can host parties, weddings, events
By Brian Gilliland | Jul 20, 2017

(July 21, 2017) The Worcester County Board of Zoning Appeals made use of a new rule enacted by the county commissioners in February to allow Castle Farm, part of the larger Johnson family farm between Snow Hill and Newark, to host a variety of non-agricultural events.

The rule was written specifically for Castle Farm, but passed in hopes of promoting alternate uses of existing farmland throughout the county.

The property has been in the same family for more than 100 years, and was designated a Century Farm by the state. To earn this designation, a single family has had to work the farm for a century, and must be lived on and farmed by the owner.

Catherine Casto, part of the Johnson family that works Castle Farm, said the move helps her maintain her part of the 1,800-plus acres the Johnson Family Trust owns in the area.

Casto said she is the 12th generation of her family to work the farm.

Three years ago, she said she hosted a wedding on the property and was later notified that that use wasn’t technically allowed under the property’s existing A-1 agricultural zoning.

“We wanted to host weddings, but we didn’t want to do it illegally,” she said.

The use was allowed by special exception, which required a trip to the Board of Zoning Appeals in January 2016.

Special exceptions are good for one year, and the family was back before the board in December 2016 for the one-time extension allowed by the code.

But by that time, the family had hired local land use attorney Mark Cropper to begin development of more permanent solution.

The county commissioners approved the resulting amendment to the zoning code in February, paving the way for the action taken by the Board of Zoning Appeals last Thursday.

Since the board had already approved similar events on the site twice before, there wasn’t much discussion before the request was granted.

“I think the county commissioners spoke when they made this law,” David Dypsky, BZA chair, said.

Now the farm can host outdoor celebrations, such as weddings or corporate events, while still continuing operations as a working horse farm.

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