Ocean City Today

County poultry house meeting mostly amicable

Industry complaints about landscaping, setbacks and buffers heard, explained
By Brian Gilliland | May 18, 2017

(May 19, 2017) When dozens and dozens of people attend a public hearing on new legislation, they’re usually angry about something.

When poultry farmers and industry representatives crowded into the county commissioners meeting room on April 25 for the public hearing on more stringent regulations for chicken house placement in Worcester County, some sporting pro-poultry buttons on their shirts, the stage was set for a showdown.

But that didn’t happen.

Some questions were more pointed than others: a family from Pocomoke City wondered about their options concerning a farm under construction near their home, and Kathy Phillips, executive director of the Assateague Coastal Trust, pushed for even stronger regulations, but for the most part the hearing was amicable.

The changes made are sweeping, but not complex. First, poultry operations were given their own heading under zoning code, rather than existing as a subsection of other portions of the code. This sparked some smaller changes throughout the county’s laws, producing plenty of paperwork for a relatively minor alteration.

Generally, the measure concerns the use of land to grow, breed and feed fowl, but not process them for human consumption. The new code also groups these operations into three categories by size: small, medium and large, with different requirements for setbacks and the number of units allowed on a certain lot size on each.

The designations are based upon the number of poultry houses with a gross floor area of 44,000 square feet or less. Small operations are defined as containing not more than one, medium from two to four and large from four to eight poultry houses on a parcel.

Small operations would require no buffer, medium operations require a buffer where tunnel ventilation — the large exhaust fans seen on the houses — is employed, but only where ventilation fans emit its waste, and large operations require buffers to surround the poultry house.

The new code also sets rules for how existing poultry houses, not subject to the new provisions, could be repaired, reconstructed or even upgraded.

Jim Passwaters and Bill Satterfield, both representatives of the Delmarva Poultry Industry — a nonprofit trade organization operating on the lower shore, said their primary concerns were with the buffers.

Passwaters said the organization has found that warm season grasses are the most effective filters they’ve found for the exhaust fans commonly installed on chicken houses, but only when placed about 20 feet from the fan. The current version of the new requirements provides for a 50-foot setback on poultry houses.

Ed Tudor, the county’s development review and permitting director, said there was nothing in the code preventing owners from installing grasses within the setback, but reminded the audience that grasses require maintenance.

Satterfield said he would like to see lifted the requirement that vegetative buffers are installed before the certificate of occupancy is issued, because of certain tree shortages and other problems.

Tudor said the request is a common one, but the requirement is the same for all the other uses in the county, residential and commercial included. Without that rule, those buffers would never be installed, he said.

“We wind up chasing people for days, weeks or months. If we start giving extensions, it will be a nightmare chasing them down,” he said.

Chicken farmer and former commissioner Virgil Shockley was concerned about the numbers. By manipulating the square footage of houses, Shockley said it was possible for an owner to exceed a limit of only eight houses allowable per parcel.

Tudor explained that the operative phrase in the code limiting the number of houses is “or less,” meaning the hard limit couldn’t be exceeded.


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