Zoning Amendment Tweaks Eyed For Ag Storage Tanks

SALISBURY – Discussions on proposed zoning changes related to certain agricultural storage tanks continued at the county level this month.

Following a work session with planning and zoning staff on July 6, the Wicomico County Council agreed to rework proposed zoning amendments pertaining to certain agricultural storage tanks.

Officials say the changes would restrict the use of dissolved air flotation (DAF) storage tanks to the county’s industrial district.

“I don’t think that’s going to compromise the agricultural industry or the poultry industry one bit, but I think it will benefit the citizens of Wicomico County …,” Councilman John Cannon said. “I think industrial is the perfect solution to these tanks.”

In November, the council voted to extend a moratorium on the issuance of building permits for 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. Since that time, several nearby residents – joined with environmental interest groups – have shared their concerns with the council regarding the smells and potential hazards associated with the tank.

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 tanks.

To that end, planning and zoning staff met with council members last month to discuss proposed modifications to the county’s zoning code.

While the regular permitting process would still apply for storage tanks in the I-1 and I-2 Industrial districts, officials proposed a special exception for storage tanks exceeding 250,000 gallons placed in the Agricultural and Village Conservation districts. The proposed amendments also suggested minimum setbacks and lot sizes.

After a lengthy discussion, the council agreed to hold another work session to review a draft bill of the proposed zoning amendments, which was submitted to council members last week..

“It’s just something for you guys to begin to look at and consider,” Planning Director Lori Carter said.

During public comments last week, several residents came before the council with their concerns surrounding the proposed legislation. John Groutt, a board member for Wicomico Environmental Trust (WET), questioned why the county would continue to permit DAF tanks.

“Why should the county permit an outdated nuisance system to operate in our county while it’s forbidden in neighboring counties, and for good reasons?” he said.

Others argued the proposed legislation failed to address impacts such as traffic, safety and real estate values.

Monica Brooks, founder Concerned Citizens Against Industrial CAFOs, suggested that DAF tanks should be restricted to the county’s industrial district.

“While these tanks are regulated under agriculture, we still believe they should be regulated instead as industrial, and thereby placed in industrial zones,” she said.

Brooks also questioned how DAF tank operations would be regulated.

“Who specifically is going to ensure that these things that are coming to town are not polluting our air, polluting our land and are not creating problems?” she said.

During Tuesday’s work session, McCain questioned the special exception process, and if DAF tanks should even be allowed in Wicomico County.

“Do we want this in the county?” he said. “Some counties don’t allow it. Some allow it in the industrial district with heavy regulation.”

Cannon said he supported the idea of restricting the use of DAF tanks to industrial areas.

“The public, as a whole, is not interested in seeing DAF tanks in the agricultural district, in their communities,” he said.

County attorney Paul Wilber said he and Carter could work on a new legislative bill that restricted DAF tanks to industrial.

“I’d like to see what other counties are doing, how they are handling this specifically,” Councilwoman Nicole Acle added.

After further discussion, the council agreed to hold another work session at a later date.

Councilman Ernie Davis noted that any proposed zoning changes would not affect the two DAF tanks that are currently established in Wicomico County.

“This is future legislation,” he said. “This will not go after the two DAF tanks we have in the county.”

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.