Ag Tank Zoning Amendment Proposed In Wicomico

SALISBURY – A discussion on proposed zoning amendments related to agricultural storage tanks highlighted this week’s county council meeting.

With roughly five months remaining on a moratorium relating to certain agricultural storage tanks, the Wicomico County Council on Tuesday held a work session with planning and zoning staff to discuss proposed zoning amendments that address the permitting process and zoning-related issues.

“This is certainly the right direction,” Councilman Bill McCain said.

In November, the council voted to extend a moratorium on the issuance of building permits for dissolved air flotation (DAF) storage tanks that hold poultry rendering waste.

The topic of DAF tanks was first introduced in 2019, when Wicomico County Planning, Zoning and Community Development issued a building permit allowing a local farmer to construct a three-million-gallon storage tank containing byproducts on his property in the area of Porter Mill Road.

Several nearby residents have since shared their concerns with the council regarding the smells and potential hazards associated with the tank. There is also pending litigation in the Wicomico County Circuit Court challenging the validity of that storage tank and the permit issued for its construction.

While the moratorium – first enacted in 2019 – does not affect that particular project, officials in Wicomico County agreed it would allow for further review of the permitting process and zoning issues related to DAF storage tanks.

In this week’s work session, Planning Director Lori Carter and county attorney Paul Wilber presented the council with potential modifications of the county’s zoning code. While the regular permitting process would still apply for storage tanks in the I-1 and I-1 Industrial districts, a special exception is being proposed for storage tanks exceeding 250,000 gallons placed in the Agricultural and Village Conservation districts.

“So that would require a notification to the neighbors and a hearing, and the board of appeals would be able to set conditions,” Wilber said. “I think that’s the key though … 250,000 gallons for an open-top storage tank. Above that, a special exception.”

Wilber told council members this week the proposed amendments would address two major concerns – public notice and tank size. Staff also suggested a minimum setback of 200 feet and lot size of five acres.

Council members this week applauded the department’s efforts. They questioned, however, if the amendments would address what is placed inside the tanks and how it would be used.

“Is it industrial or agricultural?” McCain said. “What went in those tanks is obviously a major issue here.”

Council members also questioned if the amendment would place restrictions on the number of storage tanks permitted on a property.

“We can look at that,” Carter said. “That’s why we’re here, to see if there are other things you guys want to see in this.”

Councilman Joe Holloway said he wanted to see a larger setback, while Councilman John Cannon urged staff to consider traffic restrictions relating to the operation of the storage tanks.

“We do not legislate or regulate traffic, so that’s an area we would not be looking at …,” Carter replied. “Having it come before the board will help because that’s going to be able to give these citizens an opportunity to say these are some actual concerns.”

When asked about the appeals process, Wilber said the public would have an opportunity to voice any opposition regarding a special exception at an appeals board hearing. Any challenges to the board’s approval of a special exception would then be appealed to the circuit court.

Officials noted the proposed zoning amendments would go before the planning and zoning commission before being brought to the council.

“There would be two separate public hearings,” Cannon said.

After further discussion, the council agreed to hold another work session to review a draft bill of the proposed zoning amendments before it is sent to the county’s planning and zoning commission.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.