Animal crematorium approved for northern Harford farm

The controversial farm animal crematorium planned to be built on a northern Harford County farm will move forward as scheduled after the county council approved the project last week.

At its April 16 meeting, the council, sitting as the county Board of Zoning Appeals, unanimously approved the zoning hearing examiner's ruling approving Carl and Brenda Nash's special exception petition to build an animal crematorium on their 77.5-acre farm at 1106 Heaps Road in Street.

Council President Billy Boniface said one of the biggest arguments made against the proposal was that the farm is in an agricultural preservation easement; however, the council said that should not matter and he disagreed the use is not consistent.

As a longtime horse breeder, Boniface said, he supports farmers' attempts to keep themselves economically afloat.

"As someone who's in an ag easement himself and in a farm trying to make a living and not just selling our property… we need to give our ag community every opportunity possible" to keep them economically viable, he continued.

"I don't buy that because they've sold the easement, they've sold all the rights to operate as a business," he said.

Councilman Jim McMahan agreed with Boniface, saying he saw no reason to deny the application.

Eleven conditions imposed

Easement sales to the county restrict using the property for housing or similar developments and are designed to give farmers compensation for continuing to farm, rather than selling to a developer. During what had become a protracted zoning proceeding, the Nashes argued the crematorium – which is to be used to dispose of animals from area farms – is consistent with their farming business. Opponents, many from a nearby residential subdivision, said the crematorium would degrade the environment and depress their property values

Earlier this month, attorney Brad Stover, who represented the Nashes in final arguments before the council, explained that the hearing examiner granted the special zoning exception for the crematorium to be built but included 11 conditions, such as requiring the crematorium to be on a concrete pad, providing a holding area for the animals before they are incinerated and providing some type of enclosure around the property.

The incinerator would also be limited to one animal at a time and regulations about the manner in which animals are stored and brought onto the property were mentioned, he said.

Stover explained the property is zoned for agricultural use, said traffic impacts will be minimal as the crematorium will be limited to disposing of one animal per day and the operation would continue the farming tradition in Harford County.

"It's a lengthy process and we are at the beginning of it," he said about the regulatory approval process.

Stover also said the operation would not violate the ag preservation easement that the property is in, saying the examiner found that use to be consistent.

'Highly contested' testimony

Lisa Sheehan, the people's counsel who represented neighbors opposed to the crematorium, said the zoning hearing examiner heard three nights of "highly contested" testimony from "a lot of disgruntled neighbors who were very upset about the possibility of a large scale animal crematorium in their backyard."

She said it is not an appropriate use for the property as it would not be a limited business and too many factors are unknown.

"This is a full-blown commercial operation," she said. "The issue, is what are you going to have coming on the ag preservation property? When you're bringing in dead animals from around the county, around the state, possibly out of state, you don't know what you're dealing with. You don't know what you're bringing on to that piece of property."

She also said the impact on Broad Creek, which residents use for fishing or other purposes, is unknown.

The residents of Grande View Drive cherish their "very unique community with 55 homes, with its own lake and walking trail," Sheehan said, wondering if the crematorium would affect those residents.

She said she does not know what condition the animals will be in when they are transported through the neighborhood, adding that even though one of the conditions from the zoning hearing examiner was that they not be visible from the trucks, it is unrealistic to enforce that.

Brenda Nash said after the hearing that there are other similar crematories throughout Harford County. She also said none of the neighbors had approached her or Carl Nash personally about their concerns.

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