A group of Cumberland Township citizens have called for zoning laws to be amended to prevent concentrated animal farms from opening in much of the municipality. But an attorney for one local farmer cautioned that doing so could violate state laws intended to protect farming.

The majority of those who testified at a public hearing Tuesday evening were in favor of amendments to limit concentrated animal farms in Cumberland Township. The amendment would block such farms from opening in the Agricultural/Residential zoning district, which makes up a large portion of the township.

The citizens group submitted the amendment after a local farmer submitted a plan to house 60,000 chickens on a 54-acre property at 1714 Mummasburg Road.

Though the amendment comes too late to block this poultry farm proposed by Brandon Keller, the township held the hearing to consider public opinion on the amendment.

"These industrial agricultural operations are not farms in the usual sense," said township resident Steven James. "They're animal factories."

Keller plans to sell eggs to a distributor and house 30,000 chickens in each of two layer houses. The project has been met with criticism from neighbors who say they fear the potential for odors and pests. Opponents also say they're concerned that more than 1,000 tons of chicken manure produced annually at the farm could contaminate local waterways.

"I appreciate everything that a farmer does, really. But how much of the chickens are we going to be smelling?" asked Mike Reetz. "We have an awful lot of retirement-age people moving in and this could be a detriment to their health."

The citizens' amendment has attracted about 198 signatures in support and, if approved, new concentrated animal farms would only be permitted to operate in the Agricultural zoning district, located mostly in the southern end of Cumberland Township.

A majority of those who testified were in favor of the amendment. But a few farmers said it threatened their way of life.

"This is a farming area and we are a rural community and please don't take that away from us," said Linda Moose, who operates Chapel Ridge Farms on Barlow-Greenmount Road. "If you don't let us make a living, I got news for you, there won't be any farms left."

Municipalities are legally obligated to permit such farms, even though residents almost always fight against them.

An attorney hired by Keller argued that such an amendment would violate the state laws intended to protect farmers. Such laws permit the state Attorney General's office to review local land-use ordinances and file lawsuits to overturn them if deemed too restrictive to concentrated farms.

"Completely eliminating these farms is a violation," said attorney Aaron Marines, of the Lancaster-based law firm Blakinger, Byler & Thomas, P.C. "My point isn't to scare or threaten the township. But this is a delicate balance."

Marines said farming has evolved so that concentrated animal operations like Keller's proposal are the way of the future.

"They need to be given the freedom to farm in ways that make sense," he said. "You should not paint with too broad a brush and say all (concentrated) farms are bad."

Township solicitor Sam Wiser declined to say whether he believed the amendment would violate state laws.

If the amendment were to be rejected, the citizens group requested that setbacks be increased from 200 to 500 feet on such farms. This alternative measure also calls for the minimum acreage required for such farms to be increased from 25 to 100 acres.

As part of the hearing, the township supervisors also heard a few speak in favor of changes to public posting requirements. Such changes would require those living beside future development projects to be notified of public hearings 30 days in advance, and for the notice to be sent through certified mail to all properties within 1,000 feet.

The township supervisors will vote on these amendments at a future meeting, though they declined to say when a vote will take place. Officials also said the process to consider these amendments has cost the township several thousand dollars, according to officials. 

Keller's proposal was rejected by the supervisors in March because his plans failed to identify ground slope, which could indicate manure runoff. Keller also failed to submit to the township a manure-management plan, identify potential wetlands or prove the property meets acreage requirements for such a farm.

But last month, Keller resubmitted the plans, this time including an extensive series of documents identifying the proposed locations for two chicken houses and a storage facility for manure.

IF YOU GO

Cumberland Township supervisors will hold a public hearing to consider Brandon Keller's new submission at 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 23, at the Barlow Fire Co., 2005 Taneytown Road.