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Hearings to resume on a request to allow surface mining next to landfill

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Zoning hearings on Spencer Sand & Gravel Inc.'s request to resume surface mining next to its closed rubble landfill in Abingdon will be restarted tomorrow night in the Harford County Courthouse.

Owners of the controversial mining and rubble fill business are contesting a 1994 decision by the county zoning administrator requiring them to obtain a special exemption to resume mining activity in what today is a largely residential area.

Attorneys for the family-run sand and gravel business have argued that the Spencers are "intensifying" an operation that existed before Harford County even had a zoning code.

The family's property is a "nonconforming use," which requires no further zoning approvals, they say.

The Spencers have owned about 150 acres on the east and west sides of Abingdon Road just north of Interstate 95 since the 1940s, when the area was rural.

The county contends that the Spencers' right to mine extends only to the 11 acres covered by a mining permit granted before the neighborhood was rezoned for low-intensity residential use.

Residents surrounding the Spencer property fear a resumption of mining will lead to the reopening of the rubble fill, which the Spencers operated on the same site as its sand and gravel operation for about 15 years.

The rubble fill was closed in 1992 by the Maryland Department of the Environment after repeated infractions ranging from illegal dumping to ground water contamination.

In September, the state Department of Natural Resources granted John W. Spencer Jr. a permit to surface mine 18 additional acres on the east side of Abingdon Road on the condition that the operation comply with county zoning requirements.

But in November, then-county Planning Director William Carroll informed Mr. Spencer that any new mining on the 84-acre east-side tract would require applying for a "special exception," which allows a commercial venture in a residential zone.

Mr. Spencer appealed Mr. Carroll's decision to the zoning hearing examiner.

In three hearings on the appeal in May, witnesses for Spencer Sand & Gravel testified that the family had been mining sand and gravel on parts of its east and west properties before 1957, when zoning was established in the county.

Aerial photos taken at various times between 1938 and 1989 also were presented, revealing topographic changes in the Spencer property through the years and increasing residential development in the surrounding area.

l When hearings resume tomorrow night, questioning of an environmental site assessor hired by the Spencer family to investigate the history of their property will continue.

Harford County attorneys have yet to present their case.

They are expected to argue that the company repeatedly has mined outside its permitted area and that any expansion into a new area would require additional approval by the county Board of Zoning Appeals.

The Abingdon area has changed considerably since the Spencer operation obtained its first mining permit in 1977.

In 1988, the Master Land Use Plan designated the family's property on the east side of Abingdon Road as low-intensity residential and the west side as medium-intensity residential.

Since 1990, more than 540 single-family homes have been built or approved for construction in the area surrounding the rubble fill and mining operation on the east tract.

Tomorrow's hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the County Council chambers on Level A of the courthouse in Bel Air.

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