SALISBURY – After agreeing to extend a moratorium on the issuance of building permits for certain agricultural storage tanks, county officials last week outlined their plans for exploring potential zoning code amendments.
In a work session last week, the Wicomico County Council agreed to extend a moratorium on the issuance of building permits for dissolved air flotation (DAF) storage tanks that hold poultry rendering waste. The moratorium, which will be introduced at the council’s next meeting, will last one year as officials work with the county’s planning and zoning department to consider possible zoning amendments.
“The purpose of the moratorium was to allow further study and action to change the zoning code,” council attorney Robert Taylor said. “So I’m not going to say we are at ground zero, but we haven’t progressed very far from that.”
Last year, Wicomico County Planning, Zoning and Community Development issued a building permit that allowed a Wicomico County farmer to construct a three-million-gallon storage tank containing poultry by-products on his property in the area of Porter Mill Road. Since that time, several nearby residents have shared their concerns with the council regarding the smells and potential hazards associated with the tank. There is also litigation in Wicomico County Circuit Court challenging the validity of that storage tank and the permit issued for its construction.
While the moratorium – first passed in November 2019 – does not affect that particular project, officials in Wicomico County argued it would allow for further review of the permitting process and zoning issues related to DAF storage tanks.
Citing the need for additional time to consider possible zoning code amendments, the council in April extended the moratorium another six months. And with that second moratorium set to expire in November, the council last week agreed to introduce legislation at its next meeting extending the moratorium another year.
“If you are going to change the zoning code, the process would be to suggest an amendment to the planning director. The planning director will then issue a report on the proposed amendment that would go to the planning commission. The planning commission would make its recommendation, and then it would come back to council …,” Taylor said. “That process is probably going to take the better part of six months, even if you started very quickly to move forward, because the first thing you have to do is decide what you want to do, what you want to propose as an amendment.”
Councilman John Cannon attributed recent delays in exploring zoning amendments to the council’s inability to meet with county planning and zoning. Under the former administration the council was barred from speaking with county staff.
“This council hasn’t really been stalling on this issue …,” he said. “Planning and zoning over the last year has not been allowed to sit with the council to review this. I think things may be different now, where we can work hand in hand with planning and zoning to figure out what the solution might be.”
Cannon added Queen Anne’s County had developed a permitting process for DAF storage tanks that required a special exception and public hearings.
“What we really need to talk about instead of tanks is the storage of this material …,” Councilman Joe Holloway added. “Somebody could come in and say they are building a silage tank or building a tank for a hog farm and it be used as a DAF tank in the future. Instead of addressing the tank issue itself, it’s the storage of the product.”
With the extension of the moratorium, Taylor encouraged the council to act in a timely manner.
“There’s a general risk in imposing any kind of moratorium on land use that to some extent it is a depravation of someone’s right to use their property …,” he said. “The courts are rather lenient as long as the legislative body is proceeding in a reasonable and serious way to address the underlying issue that caused the moratorium, but it can’t go on endlessly forever. My suggestion is if you are going to extend the moratorium you need to be more actively involved in this and see if you can’t get it wrapped up in a reasonable time period.”