The Carroll County commissioners unanimously enacted an ordinance yesterday that will allow bioscience research facilities to operate in areas zoned for agriculture.
The ordinance could affect any possible expansion of Spring Valley Laboratories in Woodbine, the county's only animal research facility. The facility, on a 110-acre farm, has housed labs for breeding and testing animals since 1980. The business tests vaccines and has contracts with the National Institutes of Health and several private companies.
The ordinance allows research laboratories to conduct clinical testing on animals, plants or food as a conditional use on farmland.
"Conditional use ensures that this will be a public process," said Steven D. Powell, the commissioners' chief of staff.
The conditional-use designation would require applicants to seek approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals. Before any hearing, the county would post prospective properties with information about the proposed facility and would notify adjoining property owners by mail. The county zoning administrator would review such applications.
"No matter what, there will have to be a public hearing," said Neil Ridgely, Carroll's zoning administrator, who helped draft the ordinance. "There is good opportunity for public input throughout the process."
The ordinance includes several restrictions regulating new facilities. They would be regulated by several federal agencies, which would also monitor any testing and conduct random inspections. The ordinance requires the facilities to be located on a minimum of 25 acres with at least a 400-foot separation from adjacent property.
At a public hearing last month on the ordinance, the attorney for Spring Valley Laboratories asked the commissioners to ease the restrictions, particularly the setback requirement. Charles O. Fisher, a Westminster attorney who represents Robert Shaw, owner of Spring Valley, called the setback requirement "wasted space."
Kimberly Millender, county attorney, said yesterday, "We are comfortable with the proposal as drafted."
The commissioners said they hoped the ordinance would attract biotech industry to the county, but they declined to weaken the proposal. Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said the ordinance welcomes biotech research and protects surrounding properties.
"We need to crawl before we can leap," Gouge said.
Fisher said the ruling could have an adverse impact on his client, which employs 30 scientists and lab technicians, and had a payroll of nearly $1.2 million last year. Spring Valley began as a kennel on the Shaw farm in the 1970s.
"I regret that the commissioners didn't see fit to lessen the setback," said Fisher. "In reality, nothing outside the labs themselves could affect anybody. I guess we will have to live with it."
Shaw had invited the commissioners to tour his laboratories before voting on the ordinance, but the board was unable to schedule the tour this month.
"The issue is about bioscience and not a specific facility," said Commissioner Dean L. Minnich. "We can make a decision on the ordinance that will regulate wherever somebody wants to put a laboratory."
Testing cannot go beyond a level-two designation established by the federal government, said Powell.
"That is basically preclinical trials for medications," said Powell.
Barbara Kreinar, a Woodbine resident, had urged the commissioners to adhere to the conditional-use designation.
"It gives neighbors the right to find out what is going on and establishes a buffer zone that is a layer of protection," Kreinar said. "You don't want to tell your neighbors what they can do, but I don't want what they do to affect my family or my quality of life."