The following statement was issued on April 23 by Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman.
Since the county council will be discussing CB 21-2018 at the work session [in late April], I wanted to let you know about amendments that I will be proposing to be considered by the council when they vote on the legislation on May 7. …
From the beginning, my goal has always been to a) ensure the health and safety of all our residents, b) prohibit industrial mulching on agricultural preservation properties and c) enable farmers to continue to perform activities necessary for their farming operation. I believe that CB 21 does not accomplish those goals in its current form.
It is my hope that these amendments will provide greater confidence to the community that mulching and composting activities will be conducted in a safe manner. While the current legislation requires a 500-foot setback from any school property, my amendments will also prohibit mulch/compost facilities from being located closer than 1,000 feet to a school building. In addition, my amendments address a community concern by specifically requiring that every mulching operation control for dust.
CB 21 requires an owner of an agricultural preservation property to get a conditional use for a mulch facility. However, unless the property abuts an interstate, the operation cannot be larger than one acre, must be accessory to a horticultural nursery and onsite sales are restricted to five percent of the total yearly production, as reported to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE). To further ensure that no industrial mulching occurs on agricultural preservation properties, my amendments specify that any off-site sales must only be shipped with trees, shrubs or plants.
As many of you know, there are two current mulching and composting operations that have not caused concern among the community. Both operations abut Interstate 70. CB 21 will allow these two facilities to continue to operate. However, any similar facilities in the future must also abut an interstate, thus prohibiting such facilities from being located in other areas of the RC and RR zones.
Other than composting facilities that abut an interstate, my amendments restrict the total sales (onsite and offsite) to five percent of the total yearly production as reported to MDE. Understanding the requirement to remove excess compost from their property in accordance with a nutrient management plan, this limitation allows farmers to sell excess compost, but not to a level that will require industrial activity.
Many farmers, who need to compost on their properties, do not own large scale equipment, which prevents them from putting compost in high piles. Therefore, one acre may not be sufficient for their needs. Currently, CB 21 allows a composting facility under a Permit for Special Farm Uses to be up to three acres. My amendment will allow such farm activities to operate on up to three acres, but only if the pile heights are no higher than five feet. This limitation will still allow farmers to compost for their farm activities; however, when you combine this limitation with the five percent restriction on sales, it ensures that the activities will not result in heavy scale industrial activity.
There has also been a concern that mulching and composting facilities would be allowed to operate on dedicated easements created through the cluster subdivision process. While I believe the intent was to not allow this activity on those easements, my amendments specifically prohibit mulching and composting facilities on such properties.
Howard County has a long tradition of farming. It is important that we find ways to allow farmers to continue to operate in this ever-changing environment while at the same time protecting the health and safety of those who live near them. I believe my amendments help find the appropriate balance that will enable farmers to continue to operate in a productive and safe manner.