County approves yard waste facility

The Sussex County Council this week approved an organic yard waste and composting facility near Millville by a vote of 3-1, with Councilman George Cole recusing himself. Councilwoman Joan Deaver was the lone councilperson in opposition.

Jeremy W. Smith’s facility is proposed to be located on 17 acres within a 39-acre parcel of land west of White’s Neck Road and south of Old Mill Road, outside Millville town limits. The Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission had deferred action on the application twice, as did the county council, in recent months.

Many people in the surrounding neighborhoods expressed concerns about the project during public hearings on the application, and about 150 people signed a petition in opposition, citing concerns ranging in nature from traffic and noise to odor and impacts on property values.

“Everyone that voiced an opinion, your cares and concerns were duly noted,” said Commissioner Rodney Smith at the commission’s Dec. 8 meeting. “And we have the same concerns: noise, odor, well contamination, buffers, days and hours of operation, etc… but the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) has a whole other layer of permitting that will determine its success or failure…”

He added that his “preference would have been to have some of the concerns and realities defined by DNREC” but said DNREC officials would not act on and spend time on the application without knowing whether it would move forward at the county level.

He also pointed out that open space could be lost if the property were to be developed into housing instead, and he noted that the proposed facility has gotten an endorsement from the state Department of Agriculture, “which considers it forest and forest products, which is permitted. You know this is AR-1 zoning… We as a committee have done what we can do. We do not have influence over the traffic.”

Councilwoman Joan Deaver expressed concern over approving something that had “substantial opposition.”

“If we approve this, we are now telling people they have no say. There is a lot of opposition, and it is in conflict of the existing uses all around it.”

Councilman Vance Phillips said he appreciated what Deaver had said but added that “you have to understand what can [already] be done on this site. As difficult as it is for some that objected, I think I will vote yes.”

Permitted uses-by-right in an AR-1 district for farm parcels of 5 acres or more in size include agriculture (including horticultural, hydroponic, chemical or general farming); truck gardens; cultivating of field crops; orchards, groves or nurseries for growing or propagation of plants, trees and shrubs; forest use (tree farming), including use of heavy cultivating machinery; spray planes or irrigating machinery; dairy farming; keeping or the raising for sale of large or small animals, reptiles, fish, birds or poultry; and structures for processing and sale of products raised on the premises, with conditions.

Also permitted are dog kennels, grain storage structures and hospitals or clinics for large or small animals.

The property has existing chicken houses on it that Smith has said have not been in operation since the early 1990s. The rest of the property is currently used for farming.

Addressing the concerns that the site will adversely affect neighboring properties, Councilman Sam Wilson opined, “These are silly arguments. Nothing but a few twigs and leaves. And how we call that pollution – I don’t understand it.”

Council President Michael Vincent added that the P&Z had put a lot of effort into the conditional-use application and it was “pretty much just for organic yard material. I vote yes,” he said.

The conditions of the approval are that the hours of operation would be 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. It would be limited to organic yard waste and would not be permitted to have poultry manure or sludge or solid or liquid waste brought in. It would not be permitted to have lumber, stumps or construction waste. It would have to comply with all DNREC and Sussex Conservation District requirements.

Other conditions include that it will have to have a 20-foot buffer between Lots 12-18 of the adjacent Squirrel’s Run development and a 50-foot buffer at the rear of the property, and the final site plan will have to be approved by Planning & Zoning.

Accepted materials would include pieces of wood less than 4 inches in diameter, grass clippings, tree debris, etc.

The P&Z recommendation and the county council’s decision to approve the conditional-use application are the first steps in the approval process for the project. Other permits, such as an organic yard-waste and composting permit and an air permit from DNREC, are necessary before the facility would be operational.