Howard's Fox to submit zoning amendment for composting in rural zones

Howard County Council member Greg Fox told members at a Dayton community meeting Thursday night that he did not support a proposal for a compost and mulching facility off of Green Bridge Road. 

Fox , a Republican, said he thought the composting processes permitted under a new definition in the zoning regulations passed by the council last summer were more industrial than agricultural.

Under the regulations, a composting facility, distinct from a yard waste composting facility, is defined as "a facility where organic material, specifically limited to vegetation, food waste and manure, that is obtained principally from off-site locations is processed to generate a product through the microbiological degradation of this organic material through aerobic conditions." 

Fox said that during comprehensive zoning discussions, he and other council members agreed to re-examine any regulations that, in practice, generated concern. 

"A lot of the council members said if we see things that are hurting farming or the community, we would go back and take a look," he said. 

Fox said he planned to submit a zoning regulation amendment by the end of the month to restrict the type of composting allowed under the new definition  in rural areas and permit it instead in M1 industrial areas. He said he would likely keep yard waste composting as a use in rural zones. And, he said, he would be careful not to impact any existing operations. 

About 300 community members gathered Thursday in the cafeteria of Dayton Oaks Elementary School to discuss the proposed composting facility. 

Howard County-based RLO Contractors hopes to move its wood mulching and composting operations from a current site on Cemetery Road in Elkridge to two new locations -- one in Sykesville and one in Dayton. 

The Dayton plot, on the site of a 150-acre farm, would incorporate about three acres of mulching and topsoil operations as well as composting operations on another 13 acres. Local farmers would continue to cultivate the land around the composting and mulching activities.

But community members said they are concerned about the potential for traffic problems from trucks entering and exiting the property, as well as noise, potential groundwater contamination and the consequent devaluing of home prices, among other things. 

The land is under an agricultural preservation easement, which under the previous zoning regulations did not allow woodchip mulching. Now, that's possible as a conditional use. 

At a community meeting last month, RLO president Bob Orndorff insisted he wanted the property to remain largely unchanged.

"It's a nice, beautiful piece of property in our community, and I want it to remain that way," Orndorff said. 

Community members vowed to push back against the proposal. 

"Many of us are passionate about this project. We think it has no use in rural Dayton," said John Tegeris, an owner of the Rural Dayton Preservation Society, LLC, a group formed to fight the composting facility. 

"We are going to fight this thing, he said, even "if it takes us multiple levels, multiple years through the process to win this for the community."

Tegeris said the group had retained an attorney to help. The next step for the project would be for RLO's plan to be presented to the hearing examiner, who has the power to grant or deny conditional use applications. 

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