Set­ting prece­dent a dan­ger­ous mis­step

Cecil Whig - - OPINION -

Over the last few weeks, the chicken lit­ter has been fly­ing in Ce­cil County.

An or­ga­nized group of con­cerned cit­i­zens have been vo­cally op­pos­ing a planned chicken farm in the Zion area, which is cur­rently prop­erly zoned and per­mit­ted. They ar­gue that they pur­chased homes near the Horst fam­ily farm be­cause it was a farm, but the cur­rent pro­posal ap­pears more like fac­tory pro­duc­tion rather than Old MacDon­ald. They fear that the con­struc­tion of four large chicken houses with 37,800 chicks in each house and five flocks per year would pol­lute the nearby air, land and wa­ter, while also de­creas­ing prop­erty val­ues.

“This is a fun­da­men­tal change with these gi­ant chicken houses,” res­i­dent David Nolan told the county coun­cil at a meet­ing ear­lier this month. “The con­cerns of 400 house­holds should be weighed with that of one farmer.”

Res­i­dent Brian Frymi­are, who has or­ga­nized sev­eral com­mu­nity meet­ings on the is­sue, called on the coun­cil to is­sue a mora­to­rium on chicken farm con­struc­tion un­til the is­sue could be in­ves­ti­gated.

“The cost of not stop­ping this will be tremen­dous to this county, you will burn this county down fi­nan­cially; our real es­tate, schools and nurs­ing homes will be dev­as­tated,” he said.

Such grass­roots cam­paigns have had success else­where, as Som­er­set County, which has sev­eral large chicken houses, re­cently passed stricter reg­u­la­tions on how and where new poul­try houses can be built.

De­spite in­creas­ing pub­lic pres­sure, how­ever, Ce­cil County of­fi­cials con­tinue to weigh their op­tions.

“At this point, we are not con­sid­er­ing any changes,” County Ex­ec­u­tive Tari Moore told the Whig, not­ing that this process is un­der­way and any ac­tion to change the rules could prompt a law­suit. “We can’t change in the mid­dle of the stream.”

“We’re re­view­ing all the in­for­ma­tion, but we must al­low for due process,” she added. “We are a ‘Right to Farm’ county and we sup­port agri­cul­ture in our com­pre­hen­sive plan and strate­gic plan.”

Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Robert Hodge, who vis­ited a sim­i­lar, smaller op­er­a­tion to the pro­posal in Ear­leville, said the coun­cil is “tak­ing the is­sue very se­ri­ously while try­ing to sep­a­rate facts from fic­tion.”

But dur­ing a Cit­i­zen’s Cor­ner meet­ing with dozens of the project’s op­po­nents, Hodge also rightly raised the ex­am­ple of the county’s past law­suit over the Rose’s Diner project. At that time, a methadone clinic wanted to lo­cate into the for­mer Route 40 prop­erty in Elk­ton, but raised the ire of nearby res­i­dents who ap­proached the then-Board of County Com­mis­sion­ers. Led by a three-mem­ber vot­ing bloc, the board retroac­tively passed reg­u­la­tions that squeezed the clinic off the prop­erty, and in turn the de­vel­oper sued the county. The re­sult? Ce­cil County lost the law­suit and its insurance pol­icy was forced to pay out $450,000, Hodge said.

“There’s a right way to do this and a wrong way. Once you let the horse out of the barn, it’s hard to put it back in,” he told the chicken farm op­po­nents.

We agree that the county should not set a prece­dent on this is­sue by at­tempt­ing to retroac­tively pro­hibit the prop­erly zoned project. While county zon­ing reg­u­la­tions re­quire a set­back of 300 feet from an ex­ist­ing home on an ad­ja­cent lot, the Horst pro­posal is more than 500 feet from the near­est homes.

Should the county at­tempt to in­ter­vene, what kind of mes­sage does that send to fu­ture em­ploy­ers look­ing to lo­cate here? Set­ting such a prece­dent could have dam­ag­ing reper­cus­sions long into the fu­ture.

Mean­while, we also sym­pa­thize in the plight of the home­own­ers and sug­gest they look to con­vene a round­table or com­mit­tee with county of­fi­cials to study cur­rent reg­u­la­tions and sug­gest im­prove­ments to sub­jects like no­ti­fi­ca­tion, set­backs and mon­i­tor­ing.

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