Accomack County OKs chicken farm over objections

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BY CLARA VAUGHN, Eastern Shore Post —

A Savageville poultry farm is poised to resume operations, despite objections from over a dozen neighbors.

The Accomack County Board of Zoning Appeals in a 3-2 vote granted exceptions to the county’s poultry ordinance that allow the six-house operation to resume raising chickens, pending owner Le Ung receiving required state agency permits and providing a suitable landscaping plan to the county.

Residents during the board’s meeting Wednesday, Sept. 6 raised concerns ranging from the environmental impacts of runoff from the chicken houses to odor, noise, and airborne particles they generate.

But board members cited Accomack County code in their decision to grant the variances that allow the operation to reopen.

“I wish I could pick the chicken houses up and move them,” said the farm’s manager, Mark McCready, addressing the board’s chair. “Ma’am, I can’t move them.”

Accomack County allows poultry operations by-right in its agricultural zoning district, where Ung’s farm is located.

However, because her poultry houses opened before current county guidelines were established, they do not follow some of Accomack’s ordinances.

That was not an issue until Tyson Foods canceled its contracts with poultry growers during the pandemic and the Gaskins Road operation shut down, McCready said.

“This farm did not get shut down due to performance or poor management,” he said.

“The farm was actually shut down by Tyson. In the meantime, we still have a mortgage to pay.

We still have taxes to pay … It’s an extreme hardship,” he said.

Ung is seeking to reopen the poultry houses to generate income but, because the operation has been inactive for over two years, it must follow Accomack’s poultry ordinance or receive approval from the board of zoning appeals for exceptions to those rules.

Exceptions granted during Wednesday’s board meeting include a variance of 190 feet from the county’s 200-foot setback requirement from property lines — meaning one manure shed is 10 feet from a neighboring property.

The board granted another request for a variance of 41 feet from Accomack’s setback requirement from roads, which is 125 feet from the center of state- or county-maintained roads.

The 60-acre site in Savageville includes six poultry houses, each able to hold around 23,000 birds, McCready said.

It is in an historically Black neighborhood and several community members spoke out against reopening the chicken houses.

“I felt like a prisoner in my own home because of the stench, and it’s a quality of life issue,” said Alvin Bailey, who lives nearby on Gaskins Road.

“I am not looking forward to that stench again if those houses are re-opened,” he said.
Janet Conquest Powell agreed: “It is a detriment to our homes and we adamantly oppose it.”

Other concerns included the impact of runoff from the poultry facility on surrounding Leatherbury and Onancock creeks; human health concerns due to particulate matter released from the chicken houses; impacts to nearby property values; and negative effects on tourism and nearby businesses.

Several speakers noted a 2015 manure shed fire on the property, which smoldered for several weeks.

“There is a lot of opposition. That’s a concern of mine,” said board member Gracie Milbourne before the board ultimately gave the green light for the poultry operation to start the process of re-opening.

“I just have some issues with the neighbors not feeling like they’ve been heard,” said board member Gary Miller.

“It just seems like it’s a major concern in that neighborhood,” he said.

Before resuming operations, Ung must obtain permits required by Virginia and the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, Water Control Board, and Department of Conservation and Recreation.

She must also submit a landscaping plan including a vegetative buffer that visually screens the poultry operation from Gaskins Road, according to Accomack County code.

There are no plans to add more chicken houses to the property, McCready said after the board meeting. According to Accomack County code, Ung could add six more poultry houses to the property.

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