Ruling awaited on Whitehaven sandblasting

The Holloway operation is at the top of the screen on the property with the white pole building. Habanera Farm is just across Whitehaven Road off Mezick Road. Whitehaven Village is at the bottom of the map.

The Wicomico County Board of Zoning Appeals is expected to rule Thursday night on a request for a special exception from a Whitehaven-area man whose sandblasting business has prompted neighbors to complain, saying it is too noisy.

Ron Holloway, who opened Eastern Shore Media Blasting on 45 acres in August 2017, requested the exception. If it is not granted, he plans to appeal.

Among the most outspoken opponents are Chris Himmel and Henriette den Ouden, who live at 2916 Whitehaven Road in Tyaskin, and own Habanera Farm, a business den Ouden described as being “based on silence.”

“Our business is a very special business,” said den Ouden, a self-described herbalist, master tea blender, farmer and health coach.

“It is a bio-diverse herb farm owned 100 percent by women, opened in 2006 and Maryland’s only certified herb processor,” she said.

And, it’s 40 feet from where Holloway sandblasts rust and paint off farm equipment and snow plows owned by the State Highway Administration.

“The noise is comparable to a passing train that never fully passes,” den Ouden said.

“Pending the size of the objects sandblasted, the noise is continuously for one to six hours with very few interruptions. The character of the noise is a very steady, loud, ongoing hissing noise. “This noise is not comparable to regular farm noise,” she said.

Holloway, though, dismissed the matter as “not really that big of deal.”

The sandblaster is no louder than a power washer, he said, and doesn’t even require hearing protection when he stands right beside it.

“I have had problems with anything on that road that is new. They want to keep everything as it is,” he told the Salisbury Independent.

“I’m just trying to make a buck. I work 8 to 5. It’s not constantly at all hours. I paint and take the rust off agricultural equipment. Farm implements are big this time of year. I work on snow plows. I have a State Highway Administration contract. I take the rust off those,” he said.

He started the business three years ago, then bought the farm last year.

Tensions from the start

“They have been complaining since after I got here,” he said of his neighbors. “I’m trying to be respectful. I don’t sandblast after 5 p.m. The past few days I’ve been quitting around 4:30,” he said.

The sandblaster isn’t much louder than a vacuum cleaner, he said, maybe 90 decibels.

The nearby residents offer a different assessment.

“He is a total liar, a total, total liar,” den Ouden said, her voice rising.

“That is ridiculous. A vacuum cleaner goes on for how long? His vacuum cleaner goes on for six hours without interruption. At the same time I am trying to teach classes. I have a high school class here. I have a group of blind people walking into here,” she said.

“It’s an agricultural area. We are in an agricultural area. We have always followed every rule. The work he is doing is not agriculture.

“I cannot imagine a county that has spent so much money in the historical area of Whitehaven will allow this,” she said.

Holloway, though, said his work is “nothing major.”

“There are no employees. I’m a one-man show doing a five-man job. They don’t have anything better to do,” he said of objectors.

“It’s pretty ridiculous,” he said not only about the uproar, but signs now posted around Whitehaven, at the church and school.

One has these words, handwritten in red and blue marker: “No sandblasting in Whitehaven.”

There is an unhappy face, drawn by hand, inside the ‘O” in the word “No.”

Other signs call for making the planet great again and urge residents to “Vote for the candidate who will stop sandblasting in Whitehaven.”

“I’m not even in Whitehaven,” Holloway said, calmly. “I’m in Tyaskin. Whitehaven is about a mile away. The signs just popped up. They are stirring people up. The bed and breakfast in Whitehaven isn’t complaining. They are nice people,” Holloway said.

As for candidates, another sandblasting opponent, Sharon Roeble, told the Salisbury Independent County Executive Bob Culver “came to our front door (on Oct. 15) arguing that we cannot hear the sandblasting from our house in the village.”

“We can hear it and have recordings to prove the fact. He threatened to retaliate for our objections by condemning one of my neighbor’s properties. My husband was present and can attest to this conversation,” she said.

Culver lives in the Whitehaven village.

At midweek, Culver said the county has a Zoning Appeals Board “to make decisions just like the one that is being handled at this time.”

“I have shared with some of residents of that area that they need to speak with the County Council because they are the legislative body. The council members are the ones that can make changes in the county code.”

He didn’t address Roeble’s statements.

Meantime, members of the Whitehaven Heritage Association submitted a message on Gov. Larry Hogan’s governmental website asserting allowing sandblasting “fails the county criteria for exception.”

“We urge you, as a champion of the citizens of this state and the health of the environment including the bay, to contact Bob Culver and put a stop to this action,” members wrote to Hogan.

Hogan’s Deputy Communications Director couldn’t be reach for comment.

In lengthy and detailed information submitted to the Board of Zoning Appeals, owners of Habanera Farm explain they grow, dry and package herbal teas for retail and wholesale, offer healthful living classes and coach the ill and grieving.

“We have been on this location since 2006 and received a special exception in 2007 allowing us to hold classes at the location. We have been featured on Maryland Public Television and on WBOC, several articles have been written about us including most recently Edible Delmarva. We are a resource and serve our local area in many ways,” she wrote.

“We work with the high school students from the Wicomico County FFA program both on the farm and at their location and offer them practical experience in value added farming.

“We offer a class on our farm as part of the summer program for middle school girls organized by Salisbury University; we are listed as a local activity for Whitehaven Hotel guests; we offer presentations for master gardeners’ classes and we receive visits from many local residents eager to improve their wellbeing or who are interested in improving their gardening skills …  Henriette is partnering with the UMES to serve as the resident expert on the herbs being studied. She is also their expert in growing medicinal herbs, where she is designing and guiding their new show commercial herb garden and teaching workshops. Habanera Farm’s location will be used in the beginning years of the project,” the information states.

The women said they chose their location “for the peacefulness and stillness of the surroundings, the cleanness of the air and the high quality of the ground water needed for irrigation and washing.”

Residents plead with board

Agreeing, Roeble, who lives on Church Street in Whitehaven, said sandblasting is being done “within yards of the Historic District, sensitive wetlands, and a unique organic farm.”

Charles Denton and Isabelle Fair of 2764 Whitehaven Road submitted a letter to the Board of Zoning Appeals stating his family’s “historic country home is located near this property.”

“The blasting that is now occasionally being done at the property is noisy and performed in the open environment.”

“We live in the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area and have many rules we live by and want to see enforced for preservation of the environment. The potential airborne dust and waste material generated from blasting old equipment in the open is not defined or limited.

“My neighbors and I are located ‘out in the country’ from Salisbury. We are a small village community and have invested significant money and our lives improving and preserving the properties we own. We enjoy the rural agricultural small village life. We support farming. We do not now have noisy commercial/industrial enterprises of any type located in our community.

“I believe the proposed ‘Special Exception’ use is not compatible with and will be detrimental to the use and property values of the general neighborhood. I ask that you not agree to a special exception permit,” he wrote.

Den Ouden said she is “pretty sure (Holloway) is going to be denied to special exemption.”

“I can’t imagine he will win.

“It does not stop. He has a new one (machine) that is really, really loud. He has done it the whole weekend until 8 p.m. Sometimes he stops and paints in the evening.

“If you want to compare the noise it’s like a train that never passes. I can deal with a little noise for like five minutes — starting up a car or a motorcycle — but ongoing this long is irritating me,” she said.

“We came here because it’s beautiful. The soil is good for the earth.

“We are the only tea farm in Maryland. We are having people come from all over Maryland to learn how to do this and even from farther away than Maryland.

“You can’t concentrate. You see birds fly but you don’t hear them anymore.”

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