The issue of mulching on agricultural land in the county has, in the span of just about two months, risen from obscurity to become one of the hottest topics since comprehensive zoning to land in the County Council's lap.
Monday night, County Executive Ken Ulman weighed in, adding his support to calls from western county residents to roll back changes made during comprehensive zoning that allow mulching facilities as a conditional use on agriculturally preserved land without limiting the space these facilities can occupy.
Ginnie Gick, a staffer for Ulman, told a gathering of some 500 mulching protesters April 28 at Ten Oaks Ballroom in Clarksville that the county executive supports a size limit for mulching operations of 2 percent of the property or 1 acre - whichever is smaller - on land with rural conservation zoning.
Ulman, she said, is “dialed in to your concerns. He gets it. He’s heard all you loud and clear.”
She said the county executive hoped to “strike a balance between the needs of the residents and those of the farming community” by limiting the scope of mulching on all agricultural land. He will submit the proposed cap on mulching operations in the RC district as an amendment to legislation before the County Council.
Members of the Dayton Rural Preservation Society, a group leading the charge against large-scale mulching on agricultural land, met with Ulman on Friday to discuss their concerns, which include fears that mulching operations will cause mulch fires, water contamination, air pollution and heavy traffic conditions on country roads.
“He was very receptive,” Rick Lober, a member of the group, said about the meeting. “He seemed to take a lot of interest, in particular, on the environmental, health and traffic issues.”
“We are very appreciative that he took time to focus on this and came up with a solution to move this in the right direction,” John Tegeris, another DRPS representative, said.
Ulman isn't the only politician to get involved in the mulching issue.
County Council member Greg Fox, who represents Dayton and Woodbine, where residents have protested a mulching facility operating without a conditional use, has filed a bill that would cap mulching on agricultural preservation land to 2 percent or 1 acre.
Council members Mary Kay Sigaty and Courtney Watson are co-sponsoring Fox's bill.
DRPS members have submitted their own legislation, which would ban wood mulching facilities altogether in the RC zoning district.
“With all of us working together, DRPS is confident that needed changes will be made to the zoning regulations in order to protect our rural communities,” DRPS leaders said in a statement. “That said, in light of the potential health, safety and environmental consequences that can result from a mulching operation even one acre in size, we will continue to push to disallow any type of industrial mulching on anything but areas zoned industrial.”
Other politicians who attended the gathering Monday night included state Sen. Allan Kittleman, who spoke before the crowd, Harford County Executive and gubernatorial candidate David Craig, District 13 delegate Frank Turner and a host of candidates: Dan Medinger (District 9 Senate), Leslie Kornreich (school board), Allen Dyer (school board), Nayab Siddiqui (District 13 House and Democratic Central Committee), Lisa Markovitz (Council District 1) and Alan Schneider (Council District 5). A representative for Heather Mizeur, a state delegate and candidate for governor, also attended the event.