County P&Z recommends approval of yard-waste facility

The Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission has recommended approval for an organic yard waste and composting facility near Millville.

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. P&Z 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 if my motion is even seconded and forwarded…”

He added that the “preference would have been to have some of the concerns and realities defined by DNREC,” but said they would not act on this and spend time on this application not 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 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.”

He said he had walked the site and “got a good feel for the 17 acres within the 39 acres.”

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 said have not been in operation since the early 1990s. The rest of the property is currently used for farming.

The conditions of the approval recommendation are that the hours of operation would be 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturday 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 requirements.

Other recommended conditions include that it will have to have a 20-foot buffer between lots 12-18 of the Squirrel’s Run development next door 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 be pieces of wood less than 4 inches in diameter, grass clippings, tree debris, etc.

The commission voted 4-0 to recommend approval, with Commissioner I.G. Burton abstaining.

The P&Z recommendation to approve and, ultimately, the County Council’s decision on the conditional-use application, is just the first step 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.

The P&Z at their Dec. 8 meeting also recommended approval for a barbecue preparation and sales facility to be located near Route 20, under an application by Stephen Krebs and Barbara Krebs. The facility currently has a conditional-use for a commercial greenhouse and garden center, and the commission recommended that, if approved by county council, that conditional use be repealed, replacing it with the new one.