Question from a Howard County Voter
“What is your position on the previous attempts to allow for increased flexibility on mulching and composting on land in Ag Preserve program? See CB60-2017.”
Thank you for your inquiry.
This is a very heated and complicated issue. As I see it, there are two distinct components that have sometimes been conflated in this discussion.
First, with regard to traffic and noise from existing operations, I believe that the County has been lax in its enforcement of existing nuisance laws. I support (1) vigorous enforcement of existing laws, and (2) restrictions on operating hours and conditions of industrial mulching operations. I am opposed to what has been described as "industrial mulching", but as is often the case, the devil is in the details. One resident's "industrial mulching" could be another farmer's "regular agricultural use". My opinion is that regularly trucking in, processing, and trucking out, wood and compost material as a sole operation is indicative of a non-agricultural industrial business as opposed to an agricultural use.
Second, with regard to the actual practices of composting and mulching, I am concerned that overly-broad regulations intended to rein in two large-scale operators could instead ensnare an ordinary farmer trying to carry on routine agricultural operations. The vast majority of my research on the subject has been highly favorable of the environmental impacts of composting and mulching. Composting produces soil amendments that help produce crops with naturally rich organic matter, reducing the need for petroleum-based supplements. Mulch is another by product of yard wastes and biodegradable materials, which many home owners use on their property to help prevent weed growth and to preserve soil moisture. Mulching and composting, properly done, are sound ecological practices that keep biodegradable waste from clogging up our limited waste facilities.
Furthermore, any regulations should not be limited to agricultural preservation land. Although the current problems have been encountered on agriculturally-preserved land, that may not be the case in the future. In addition, zoning regulations should be tied to the zoning area itself, and not be dependent on extraneous factors such as whether or not a property is in agricultural preservation. Despite the high levels of emotions on all sides of this issue, I remain optimistic that we can find a compromise that everyone can live with.
Board of Appeals, Zoning Board, Zoning Examiner Defined:
The Howard County Board of Appeals (BOA) is made up of 5 individuals nominated by their district’s county council member. The BOA receives appeals of cases from the hearing examiner (1 individual not a board). These cases only come to the BOA when one party is dissatisfied with the hearing examiner’s decision. The BOA is required to make its decision based on the law and the facts of the case.
A sampling of cases heard by the BOA include:
- Proposed gas stations
- Proposed assisted living and age restricted housing
- Proposed cell phone towers, typically on residential or church properties
- Proposed child care centers
- Proposed solar farms
10-15% of cases heard related to neighborly issues - variances for garages, swimming pools; shops, garages or swimming pools built within setback lines because of unique circumstances for a particular property.
The majority of large development projects comply with code and regulations, and were therefore approved by the hearing examiner. Sometimes, neighbors continued to oppose a project and bring the case to the BOA for a new hearing. Only four large development projects came before the BOA during my tenure.
The policy-making bodies involved in planning and zoning are the Howard County Council and the Howard County Zoning Board. Although technically two different panels, in Howard County the Council also sits as the Zoning Board.
A proposed development is subject to review by several agencies, all of which are required to follow the rules established by the Council and the Zoning Board:
- Department of Planning and Zoning
- Design Advisory Panel
- Planning Board
- Hearing Examiner
- Board of Appeals
If a party is dissatisfied after all these processes, they may file a further appeal with the Circuit Court for Howard County.
Board of Appeals heard only 4 large development projects during my tenure. Decisions were rendered on each project based on facts and the law. As a result 3 development projects were rejected and 1 approved. The approved project related to two 4 story condo buildings in Turf Valley
ELECTION CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE
Jim Walsh, Council District 5
Howard County Executive and Council Candidates
1. Please share your vision for fostering a pro-business environment, spurring job creation, and private investment.
The highest priorities for County government are education, public safety, roads and
infrastructure. Specifically for the business community, the best things that County
government can do for business are (1) provide adequate infrastructure, (2) impose clear, reasonable, consistent and universal regulations, and (3) get out of the way. To achieve these objectives requires fiscal responsibility. Howard County already has the highest average property tax bill in Maryland, and our local income tax is at the highest level allowed by law. I recommend allowing more commercial development by re-zoning more land from residential to commercial. Commercial and industrial development does not add to the burden of our schools, while providing a lucrative tax base. Additional funds can be directed towards the infrastructure improvements and enhancements necessary to attract additional business development via private investment