North West Road poultry appeal denied

The county’s Board of Appeals’ decision not to hear a plea to the development of a large chicken farm on North West Road – an operation that will produce millions of birds every year — was upheld in court.

Last fall, Wicomico County Board of Appeals members refused to hear a submission from Citizens Against Industrial CAFOs, because paperwork was late. The Citizens took the matter to court.

Last week, lawyers representing both the opposing group and the county met to determine if the complaint should have been heard, and Wicomico County Circuit Court Judge Jimmy Sarbanes upheld the Board of Appeals’ ruling.

The opponents’ case wasn’t denied on merits of the appeal, but entirely on timeliness, said Jack Lenox, director of planning for the city and county.

“If the appeal had been timely, the county’s Board of Appeals would have been directed to hear it,” Lenox said.

The opposing group faxed documents on the final they were due. Because the time on the documents was stamped as 27 minutes after county offices close, they weren’t accepted.

Reportedly, the lawyer representing the group countered that county code stipulates only the day documents are due, not the time of day. But Wicomico County Attorney Roscoe Leslie insisted rules have to be followed and Sarbanes agreed.

Lenox said members of Citizens Against Industrial CAFOS can take advantage of the 30-day appeal period, from the day of Sarbanes’ decision. If they don’t, the project will proceed.

Planned are 10, 60-foot-by-600-foot chicken houses near the intersection of Naylor Mill and North West roads, developed by Zulfiqar Ahmed of Virginia. He and his family bought the land for $377,000 and plan to reside on the premises.

Originally, the family proposed 13 chicken houses, but downsized after uproar in the community.

Early last year, Concerned Citizens Against Industrial CAFOs was formed, along with a Facebook page with the same name.

CAFO is an acronym for “concentrated animal feeding operation,” and is used by regulatory offices.

Krista Hughes, one of the opponents who lives on North West Road, told the Salisbury Independent at the time the opponents had “studies that show public health issues and infectious diseases that would be spread by flies.”

“It (the proposed site) is less than a mile from the PaleoChannel. The PaleoChannel is the aquifer for Salisbury and beyond,” she said.

But County Councilman Matt Holloway, at the time, said he isn’t concerned about any more pollution coming from the new, larger chicken farm than from any other active piece of farmland.

“The waste, chicken manure, would be removed from the site. There have to be concrete pads (to keep it from seeping into the ground) and it is trucked off the property.

“I don’t see how this facility would be any more detrimental than the north end of Salisbury, the industrial area that sits right over the PaleoChannel,” Holloway said.

Hughes, though, said the idea that it could become contaminated “is very disturbing to us.”

“It’s not that there would only be a few thousand birds. There would be 250,000 birds coming out of those houses every six weeks. The numbers are staggering. If this one goes through, it makes the next one that much easier,” Hughes said.

Holloway said the chicken farm “met with the current requirements for county and, from what we understand, at the state level, they are going through the proper procedures for stormwater management and soil erosion permits.”

He said the Delmarva Poultry Industry has a list of good management and neighborly practices that are recommended, from setbacks to vegetated buffers.

During the discussion, County Councilman Marc Kilmer said it “wouldn’t be right to step in, after somebody has gone through the process, to step in and say we are going to change the rules.”

“The County Council could change the laws, if inclined — and there is no indication the county would interfere in regulatory process,” he said.

While residents certainly have the right to object to what they perceive as lax county laws, he said, “I don’t think we have the right to stop this one.”

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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