Cape Charles Mirror Report
by Wayne Creed
The Northampton Board of Supervisors met for a marathon, three hour session Monday which covered topics from future land use mapping and lot coverage limits, Town Edge and agritourism. The topic of intensive poultry farming coming to the county however, was once again front and center. With somewhat confusing and contradictory information about intensive poultry operations coming from both staff and the Board, citizens have been looking for some notice about what the future holds. Once again, there was contradictory information being passed on to citizens–on the one hand, staff claims there has been little or no contact with the poultry industry, and a few moments later, the Board informs its constituents that the industry would ‘prefer’ to build chicken houses north of Eastville, so as to avoid contaminating the breeding facility there.
County staff attempted to alleviate some general fears by providing input on ‘worst case’ scenarios, as well as retaining current setback limits. Long range planner Peter Stith leveraged the county GIS system to create a model of parcels that might be able to handle poultry operations. Stith’s model was based on chicken houses scaled at 60 feet by 600 feet. The model excludes storage areas, feed storage bins, as well as setbacks between other parcels. According to Mr. Stith, using this model, there are now 14 parcels where poultry houses could be placed, with a maximum of eleven chicken houses that could be placed on certain parcels. In this scenario, a grand total of up to 172 chicken houses could be built in the county. Both Supervisors Trala and Hogg voiced concerns that there could be that level of intensive poultry farming taking place in Northampton, “If you look at this, 154 poultry houses are allowed in Northampton County. I have some concerns about the number of poultry houses according to this chart. We are missing the boat. I heard there were only nine, now there are fifteen on this chart, ” Trala said.
Chairman Hubbard added, “I spoke with Nature Conservancy and they said a conservation easement would not automatically eliminate some of these parcels from use for poultry farming.”
“It depends on the terms of the easement,” responded Stith.
Supervisor Hogg, who had conducted some research in the placement of poultry operations noted, “I have had the pleasure of doing a significant amount of reading, there are several studies that have been done and it appears that some of those setbacks we may want to take another look at. It was interesting to learn how that the poultry industry was looking at it, and it was no different than what Tyson did the other day up in Accomack, they elected to go beyond what it was recommended because their experience in the past…one of the main issues that was brought up was that the location of homes should be the number one consideration when evaluating potential locations for poultry operation (Tennessee’s) the distance should be greater if the prevailing winds were in that direction. I don’t know that it’s really clear, even after all this reading that, technically that I am satisfied with the current setbacks.”
Hogg also told the Board that South Carolina has established setbacks from residences at 1,000 feet (compared to Northampton County’s setbacks of only 400 feet) to attempt to account for prevailing winds, which may carry odors and possibly noxious fumes, “How to keep nearby homes out of the wind shed area. I don’t know how we take that into consideration.”
Supervisor Hubbard commented, “I want people to be aware of that there was a lot of time and effort put into the current rules and regulations, which to my knowledge have been very successful in regards to poultry operations. We are looking at strengthening those not weakening those.”
Hogg was also concerned with water use, even though the county does not actually regulate it, “It is one of the big things…the Delmarva poultry industry is saying the demand with a four house group would be 48 gallons a minute…which is seven times (300,000) what we hold them to now. We do not regulate that.”
“The State does regulate it, we need to be sure the state is doing it properly,” Hubbard said.
“I should remind you that you are regulating it through the setbacks; if you feel the setbacks are insufficient, and you want to alter those, that is what needs to be articulated by the Board,” Administrator Katie Nunez said.
Supervisor Hogg responded, “That is my point , to look at this data, and maybe look at adjusting the setbacks. I do want to point out, the EPA says waste products, like litter is a local, not a state issue.”
Supervisor Hubbard then engaged staff to once again try and put to rest the notion that the poultry industry has designs on Northampton County, “There are many, I mean that we are being bombarded by requests from the poultry industry. I am not aware of those.”
Ms. Kellan once again stated that there had been no formal applications sent to the county (there had been one in the past, but it never matured), “We are asked about certain things, like setbacks, but have not had any site plans submitted for poultry houses.”
Chairman Hubbard then appeared to contradict Ms. Kellam by noting that the poultry representatives did talk with someone about setting up shop north of the Eastville breeding facility, “The poultry industry has indicated it would like to stay north, due to supply, and they would like to stay away from; I don’t know what away means- from the breeding facility in Eastville to avoid contamination. It cuts down the potential number of houses (thirty eight). ”
Chairman Hubbard then said that, before the Board decides what to do about setbacks, he needed to hear from the Poultry Industry and get their perspective on current or proposed setbacks, “Do we want to interact with the Poultry industry?”
It was the consensus of the Board that they would invite a representative from the Delmarva Poultry Group to give a presentation and explain what the industry might need in regard to setbacks and other regulations that might make poultry farming more feasible in Northampton. Given that this same Board has been loath to engage with either the public (input) or scientific data, suddenly wanting to engage with this poultry group to ascertain its wants and needs appeared to be inconsistent with previous precedents.
Hubbard added, “Delmarva Poultry Group. Do we want to set up something in September? So much is being made on assumption. The poultry industry has not told us they are not interested, or they may be interested in a thousand houses. We need to address with facts and not hearsay.”
“We will schedule as soon as we can,” Administrator Nunez said.
“The negative impacts on shellfish if stormwater gets in there. We’ll have a chance to ask him that,” Hogg said.
Supervisor Hogg also noted that, from his research he found that in Accomack County, with the hundreds of poultry houses there, there was only 39 jobs generated in the chicken raising industry, but over 1,000 in the processing plants.
“Impacts on the labor pool, in the Delmarva study, according to the jobs, the amount of money that was being generated; only 39 jobs in Accomack in chicken growing; but over a thousand in chicken processing.”
The Board consensus was to have staff do more research and analysis regarding setbacks for poultry houses from schools, churches, parks, as well as prevailing winds.
Lot Coverage Limits
Mellissa Kellam told the Board, based on their direction; the setbacks in the current 2009 zoning ordinance would be put into the current draft. “You directed staff to return to the setbacks that were in the 2009 ordinance, that were in the current in terms of intensive farming; we also made changes to the traditional setbacks, it covers traditional, domestic and intensive.”
Ms. Kellam noted that staff had removed lot coverage limits in the draft zoning due to the new state storm water regulations, and that lot coverage limit ratios of 16% were a left over from the 2000 zoning ordinance, and were redundant in the new proposed zoning ordinance.
“Should the Board remove lot coverage maximums from the current code? Current code contains lot coverages 25 to 75%. The proposed draft removes this chart and in its place the new storm water regulations address impervious surfaces. That is why staff recommended the removal of the lot coverages. The storm water regs do the same thing as the lot coverages. We were using two sets of regulations to regulate one piece of property. If you believe impervious surfaces are covered in the storm water regs than we need to affirm that you are going to remove the lot coverages,” Kellam said.
Ms. Kellam did advise the board that there was a possible loophole, or gap the regulations. After review, staff found that, without limiting the amount of land that can be paved or covered to 16%, there is the possibility of over-paving of a parcel.
The Board reached a consensus on maintaining lot coverage limit ratios as they are in the current ordinance.
Future Land Use Mapping
Supervisor Hogg questioned staff projections and mapping, due his belief that it did not accurately reflect increases in density the proposed zoning may promote. He noted that under the current ordinance 1 house per 20 acres (ex: new development around Oyster and Willis Wharf). However, the proposed ordinance changes that ratio to 4 in 1. Hogg stated that the Board needs more data and analysis before moving forward.
Town Edge Districts
Supervisor Hubbard questioned staff about the status of Town Edge, and how the Towns themselves reacted to the changes. Hubbard stated that he thought the Towns were all on board with reinstating the Town Edge districts, but has heard that some had issues with changes to density and acceptable uses. When asked if the Towns had been consulted about any of this, staff replied that they had not been. Administrator Nunez stated that while the County valued input from the Towns, Town Edge districts were still located in the county, and it was the County’s responsibility to manage development and growth in these areas.
The Board and staff plan to continue refining this in the future.
County Attorney Bruce Jones and staff debated the implementation of agritourism in the County. While staff felt that agritourism could be allowed by right under (within the proposed ordinance), County Attorney Jones felt it was his interpretation that it “could only happen on a working farm”. Katie Nunez countered that her interpretation of the state regulation was that agritourism could be conducted by right where an “agricultural operation” was being conducted. She also noted that the county allows agricultural operations in most zoning districts. Jones held firm, saying that it could only be allowed on an “active farm”. Consensus was to hold a joint meeting of the Planning Commission and the Board to hash this out further. Melissa Kellam pointed out that the county is required to update its agritourism ordinance to be in compliance with the state law.