Accomack County brokers possible truce in poultry farm disagreement

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BY CLARA VAUGHN, Eastern Shore Post —

Accomack County is poised to reach a compromise after over a dozen neighbors spoke out against a decision allowing a poultry farm to resume raising chickens in Savageville — but the agreement hinges on an appeal filed with the circuit court.

“This is a contentious issue to many folks,” said County Administrator Mike Mason, who was tasked with mediating between farm owner Le Ung and concerned neighbors by the Accomack County Board of Supervisors last month.

“The property owner has listened to us when we have reached out and tried to find some common ground,” he said in an update to the supervisors on Wednesday, Oct. 18.

The pending agreement between Ung and Accomack County comes after the Accomack Board of Zoning Appeals on Sept. 6 granted Ung exceptions to the county’s poultry ordinance, including a variance of 190 feet from the county’s 200-foot setback requirement from property lines — meaning a manure shed is 10 feet from a neighboring property.

The BZA also granted 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 board of zoning appeals acts separately from the county board of supervisors, which cannot alter its decision to grant the exceptions.

“I know none of us would want a manure house 10 feet from our property line,” Supervisor Donald Hart said.

“In the southern end of the county, the majority — 90% — of the chicken houses … are always in minority communities,” he said, “and it has always bothered me.”

The Gaskins Road farm is in a historically Black neighborhood.

Accomack allows poultry operations by-right in its agricultural zoning district, where the farm is located. But because Ung’s poultry houses opened before current county guidelines were established, they do not follow some of Accomack’s ordinances.

The farm closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Tyson Foods canceled its contracts with poultry growers, farm manager Mark McCready said.

Residents raised concerns during the board of zoning appeals’ Sept. 6 meeting about re-opening the six poultry houses that ranged from the environmental impacts of runoff from the chicken houses to the odor, noise, and airborne particles they generate.

A group took action Oct. 6, when Geraldine Ficklin and Concerned Citizens of Savageville filed an appeal with Accomack Circuit Court requesting the board of zoning appeals’ approval of the setback variance be rescinded.

Over 30 residents signed the petition asking the court to enforce current poultry regulations on the Gaskins Road farm, Accomack Attorney Jan Proctor said.

Ung planned to sign an agreement with Accomack County on Thursday requiring her to build a new manure shed at a different location on the property, Mason said.

One condition of that agreement is it will not become effective unless the case is dismissed by the court.
Proctor said the outcome of the appeal is hard to predict.

“You not only have the adjoining property owner, but also approximately 32 citizens who signed the petition as Concerned Citizens of Savageville, so we’d have to have all of those people” withdraw the appeal, she said.

But “if the court were to dismiss the case on procedural grounds or merits, then they would move the manure shed,” Proctor said.

“We don’t necessarily have to have a voluntary withdrawal of the appeal,” she said.

Visit https://tinyurl.com/yu4hxaa9 to read the agreement between Ung and Accomack County, which was still pending Ung’s signature at press time.

Read a copy of the appeal Ficklin and Concerned Citizens of Savageville filed with Accomack Circuit Court at https://tinyurl.com/mrxu2rpb

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