Howard council votes on mulching regulations

Saying they wanted to give the community more time to work out a difficult issue, Howard County Council members voted Monday to approve a bill that would essentially return zoning regulations related to mulching, composting and wood processing on agriculturally preserved land to what they were before last summer's comprehensive zoning process.

The council also introduced a companion resolution that would create a task force to study "mulching, composting and wood processing policies and regulations with respect to Howard County land use planning processes and zoning regulations." 

The group would be composed of 13 members, including representatives from the community and the agricultural industry, as well as health and environmental experts, to study best practices and optimal sizes and locations for mulching, composting and wood processing. The task force would submit a report to the council by Nov. 15. 

Council members Greg Fox, a Republican who represents most of the western county, and Mary Kay Sigaty, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Clarksville and Columbia, worked on amendments to the bill, which was also co-sponsored by council member Courtney Watson, before it was approved Monday. 

Fox said that, while the bill mostly returned mulching regulations to the pre-comprehensive zoning status quo, "we actually, in the process of going through this, strengthened" some of the regulations. 

He said that he wanted "to make sure that we're protecting both sides." Hundreds of community members, including local farmers both for and against the new bill, testified before the council at a public hearing last month. 

Sigaty said she supported the bill and resolution as a way of "calming the water, making sure that things that need to be talked about, that in fact really need to be figured out within our community -- that we have time to do that." 

John Tegeris, who as president of the Dayton Rural Preservation Society helped lead a citizen effort to protest the new regulations, which would have allowed mulching as a conditional use on agriculturally preserved land without capping the amount of land that could be used for the operation, said the group was "very pleased with the outcome.

"We look forward to being part of the task force to ensure that both the health and safety of the community is protected, as well as the rights of the farmers to continue supporting their existing farming operations," he said. 

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