County P&Z defers on yard-waste proposal, again

No decision has been made about a proposed organic/yard waste composting facility near Millville. The Sussex County Council deferred action after a Nov. 15 public hearing on a conditional-use application from Jeremy W. Smith of Ocean View. The county’s Planning and Zoning Commission had also deferred action on Oct. 27, at the first public hearing on the application, and deferred action again on Thursday, Nov. 17.

The commission has 45 days to act on an application. Once they make their recommendation to council, the council can place it on their agenda again to make a final decision.

Smith’s application is for a yard waste and composting facility, 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, near Millville.

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

About 10 people spoke in opposition to the application on Nov. 15, before the council asked opponents for a show of hands. In addition, 161 area residents signed a petition in opposition, citing reasons ranging from concerns about truck traffic and noise to odor, and 33 sent letters and emails in opposition.

Bonnie Patrick, who spoke at the public hearing in front of Sussex County Planning and Zoning last month, in which they also deferred a decision, spoke of her concerns about potential traffic and noise pollution, as well as the possibility of groundwater contamination and fires.

Smith and his representatives tried to alleviate many of the concerns from the first hearing, saying odor would be minimal because the DNREC permit would only be for organic yard waste, not animal or kitchen waste. They also said a perimeter of existing forest would limit noise, and tractor trailers were expected to only come in the first few months of operation before compost and mulch could be produced and then only at a rate of about one per month.

Patrick rejected that defense, saying that, in her development, Squirrel’s Run, there is “not a 10-foot buffer.”

“I understand these facilities are needed, but not in the middle of residential neighborhoods,” she said.

Many people who spoke also expressed concern over the proposed operation hours of 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., six days a week, with Sunday hours by appointment or demand. While Smith said actual business hours would be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., he said he or an employee would need to be there in the morning and then again from 4 to 7 p.m.

Nearby resident Penn Fry expressed concern about many of the same things, including truck traffic, odor, noise, water migration for possible well contamination and property values. He said the use fits more as a “commercial/industrial” use than a conditional use in an agricultural-residential area.

Other area property owners expressed concern about littering, and the health and welfare of nearby residents.

Councilwoman Joan Deaver asked what else would be permitted on the site as it is, and County Planning And Zoning Director Lawrence Lank said it could be subdivided to accomodate about 80 to 100 homes, or if re-zoned to match neighboring property’s zoning, about four residential units per acre. Councilman Sam Wilson added that poultry and hog farming were also applicable uses.

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 P&Z recommendation and, ultimately, the County Council’s decision on the conditional use application, is the first step. Other permits, such as an organic yard-waste and composting permit and an air permit from DNREC, are necessary before the facility could be used.

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.