Wicomico Considers Storage Tank Zoning Legislation

SALISBURY – As a moratorium on the issuance of building permits for certain agricultural storage tanks is set to expire at the end of this year, county leaders last week convened to discuss proposed zoning amendments.

In a work session last week, the Wicomico County Council met with the Wicomico County Planning and Zoning staff to discuss a recommended text amendment regarding dissolved air flotation (DAF) storage tanks that hold poultry rending waste.

While the storage of the liquid organic fertilizer is currently permitted in various zoning districts, Planning Director Lori Carter told council members a recommended text amendment from the Wicomico Planning and Zoning Commission restricts the use of such tanks to the A-1 district and establishes a special exception process.

“If enacted, any DAF storage for use on a farm will only be considered in the A-1 zoning district …,” she said. “It’s important to remember that this would have to be done through the actual Board of Appeals, based on achieving certain criteria, based on a per-site evaluation, and conducted during an open process for public comments.”

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, however, have since shared their concerns with the council regarding the smells and potential hazards associated with the tank. There has also been litigation in Wicomico County Circuit Court challenging the validity of that storage tank and the permit issued for its construction.

In the years since the issue was first brought to the council’s attention, the legislative body has enacted – and extended – a moratorium on the issuance of building permits related to the construction of DAF tanks.

Now, with the latest moratorium set to expire at the end of the year, officials got to work last week to review a proposed text amendment aimed at addressing citizens’ concerns.

“This is the information of where we’ve been, what we’ve gone through and where we are now,” Carter said.

The proposed amendment presented to the council last week recommends the use of DAF tanks be limited to the A-1 agricultural zone, with setbacks of 200 feet from all property lines, or 400 feet from any residential dwellings. The amendment also recommends the use of DAF tanks be approved through a special exception by the Wicomico County Board of Appeals.

“The recommendation from the planning and zoning committee to be a use allowed by special exception opens any further tank request to go through the public hearing process with public notification and posting at the property …,” said Planning and Zoning Administrator Clark Meadows. “It’s a strict review process.”

Members of the council, however, took some issue with the zoning recommendation. Councilman Bill McCain noted more than 70% of the county was zoning agricultural.

“This is an industrial product,” he said. “It is not produced on the farm, it was produced in an industrial setting and brought to these tanks. That’s why it should be in the I-2 zone, as a majority of this council recommended.”

Carter noted that the county’s industrial zones were densely populated and limited in size. She noted, however, that the council could make any modifications to the proposed legislation.

“You as a council have an opportunity to add as many restrictions as you choose,” she said. “This is the framework that the planning commission started and what they felt based upon the information they had.”

Councilman Ernie Davis said the issue of DAF storage was not the tanks, but the matter that was found in them.

“It’s what’s in the tank that’s the problem, and who approved that,” he said.

Officials, however, noted that DAF was considered a soil amendment and regulated by the state.

“It sounds like an issue that needs to be addressed with the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Maryland Department of Agriculture, not Wicomico County Planning and Zoning,” said Meadows.

Council attorney Andrew Mitchell questioned if the county could prohibit the storage of DAF product.

“You said the state does safety, use, application and inspection, but the county does storage,” he said. “Could the county say you can use it hear, but you can’t store it here?”

County attorney Paul Wilber said it was something to consider.

County residents also came before the council last week to voice their concerns regarding the proposed legislation. Porter Mill Road property owner Lynette Kenney suggested legislation that addressed the size of the tanks, site acreage, traffic and grading, to name a few.

“We respectfully submit that this does not offer the needed safeguards to prevent another situation such as ours,” she said.

Wicomico County Farm Bureau President Eugene Lowe agreed.

“We’re quickly becoming a collector for everybody else’s waste out of these plants,” he said. “It’s not something generated on a farm, it’s something generated in a processing plant.”

After further discussion, the council agreed to hold a future work session on the issue.

“We’ll start with what we have before us,” said President John Cannon.

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.