YORK — The York County Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of a new commercial oyster farm operation.
The Board of Supervisors will get the final say at its Sept. 16 meeting.
The application, submitted by Lee Riggins Rich who lives at the end of Calthrop Neck Road near the intersection of the Poquoson River and Lamb's Creek, included a request for three non-resident employees to help haul cages and harvest oysters from the water near her home. Rich has leased 60 acres of oyster grounds from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission in the waters adjacent to her property.
This is the third application for a home-based watermen business, which until Jan. 1 requires a special-use permit, in the county since 1991 — when the last one was approved. Just last week, real estate broker Greg Garrett dropped his permit request that received mixed reviews from the commission last month.
Another application submitted by Anthony Bavuso, who lives in the Seaford neighborhood York Point, was supported by the commission back in 2011, but ultimately denied by the Board of Supervisors.
Rich's property totals 2.56 acres and is heavily wooded, according Earl Anderson, county planner. The nearest home is 470 feet away from her shoreline, where Rich proposes to do most of the on-land work involved with the operation.
"The operation will be conducted mainly from a pontoon boat that is docked and unloaded in the city of Poquoson," Anderson said. "Activities on the property will be limited to storage and washing of 10 to 20 cages ... in a 10-foot by 10-foot area on the western side of the property and the loading of oyster seeds into bags. Once loaded into bags, the oysters would be walked out to the oyster grounds to be placed in the cages. No loading or off-loading between the shore and the boat will take place and no harvestable oysters will be brought onto the property, except for the applicant's personal use."
Two of Rich's proposed employees, she said, are her son and son-in-law. A third employee is a student at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. He travels to the farm every other day to clean the cages or bring new seedlings.
Scott Dinning, the VCU student, said the cleaning is very minimal because the location of the oyster grounds is on a nearly 2-mile sandbar. Danning said he does most of the cleaning in the water with a toilet brush rather than a power washer.
A nearby neighbor, Fred O'Brian, said he was concerned that adding oyster cages to the already shallow water would cause a hazard for locals who kayak, water ski and boat through narrow the Poquoson River channel often.
"That is a very heavily utilized waterway," he said. "And that will be York County Rescue that will have to go get kids there when they get injured."
Many of the commissioners agreed there may be some risk there, but that it is VMRC, not the county, that controls the water-based operation.
Rockett can be reached by phone at 757-247-4942.