Hearing on poultry house zoning changes set Thursday

The stress that has been the six-month exercise in dealing with a proposal to build a larger-than-usual poultry farm on Northwest Road appears to be headed toward resolution.

While the Wicomico County Council is advancing zoning-targeted regulations that are more detailed than previously followed, poultry skeptics who have spoken at nearly every public forum for months are unlikely to be satisfied.

The next step in the process occurs Thursday, when the county Planning & Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing to receive comments regarding proposed amendments to the Wicomico County Zoning Code related to poultry houses.

The County Council has placed before the public changes to Section 225 of the code — “Poultry Houses: Definition of Basic Terms” — as well as other related sections of Chapter 225.

The Planning Commission is accepting written comments prior to the public hearing and until Monday, June 13.

The Planning Commission will eventually forward a recommendation to the County Council and County Executive.

The hearing will begin at 6 p.m. in the Midway Room at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center.

In taking the zoning approach, the council appears to have attempted to take action while still appeasing poultry advocates, including the Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc.

New poultry houses and related buildings for poultry production would be prohibited within 400 feet of any home or similar building not on the farm; they would also have to sit at least 200 feet from any property lines.

In residential-only zoning areas, there would also be a 500-foot setback when exhaust fans are facing away from dwelling not on the property and 600 feet when any exhaust fans are facing toward any residential building not on the property.

County planners have also offered new specifics on the county’s zoning maps to help make future decision-making easier. Any new poultry houses proposed in a residential-zoned area could only be approved under a special exception at the hands of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The council’s frustration on the issue is evident. Within the legislation, the bill states that “the new poultry house complexes appear to be of a significantly larger size than average poultry houses in the past, which presents several concerns including, but not limited to, environmental issues, groundwater purity and noxious odors.”

Officials across county government have quietly conceded that neither a final decision on the Northwest Road proposal nor the new legislation will cure the community stresses over larger poultry farms.

Currently, Wicomico requires a 100-foot poultry house setback from all property lines.

The Concerned Citizens Against Industrial CAFOs, for example, has sought to ban new poultry facilities within 3 to 5 miles of homes and public dwellings.

Council members are also beginning to take the opponents’ attacks personally. In a meeting late last month, Councilman Joe Holloway — who has been seen as pro-poultry all during his council tenure — took exception with efforts to incite residents of an airport-area neighborhood.

“They says the council is in the pocket of poultry,” Holloways said. Then, looking up and down the table at his colleagues, the Parsonsburg resident asked: “Anybody here in the pocket of poultry?” When there was no movement or reply, he said: “I don’t think so.”


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