Rubble Fills Imperiled By Proposed Zoning

March 17, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

New zoning regulations being considered by the County Council could affect the status of proposed rubble landfills in Havre de Grace and Joppa because zoning standards can be applied retroactively.

However, council members have denied that the legislation, reviewed at a public hearing Tuesday, is aimed at nixing either project.

More than 200 people, including opponents of the Gravel Hill rubble fill, turned out for the public hearing to support the bill as it is written.

Nearly every hand in the council chamber shot up when Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson asked how many people were in favor of the legislation. Only four opponents raised their hands.

Thebill was introduced last month by all seven councilmembers in the wake of months of public controversy over the status of a proposed Havre de Grace rubble fill. The rubble landfill proposed by Maryland Reclamation Associates would be located on Gravel Hill Road.

"If we'renot careful, Harford County will be inundated with rubble fills," said Council Member Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C, who explained the bill to the audience at the hearing. "It's quite obvious we need legislation to protect us. The regulations as far as buffers does not exist for rubble fills."

Donna Hausmann, who lives near a rubble fillsite on Oak Avenue in Joppa, testified in favor of the bill while holding up a jar of American cockroaches, which are not native to Maryland. The roaches migrated to Hausmann's home and others in her neighborhoodfrom the rubble fill site, state Department of Environment administrators have said.

"I want to applaud the council for taking the first step in a strong initiative," said Hausmann. "This is a jar of what is living in my home now. There's a lot of moaning and groaning about the restrictions, but there has to be equality in concerns for business and residential areas."

Among other requirements, the bill would mandate that rubble landfills be at least 100 acres in sizeand have a 1,000-foot buffer between the fill and neighboring properties.

The bill also would require fencing and would limit the height of the pile of rubble in the fill. In addition, the bill calls foroperators to show a need for the landfill and to prove there would be no "negative" effects on the environment.

But the small group ofopponents, including the Harford County Homebuilders Association's president, urged the council to reconsider the size and setback requirements.

Bob Ward, Harford County Homebuilders president, even urged the council to consider withdrawing the legislation while studying alternative requirements.

Don Stephens, of H. Carl Stephens Inc., a Harford County-based developer, testified the bill "will eliminate the possibility of new rubble fills in the county."

"There's not one open in Harford County now, so I don't understand how we're being inundated," said Stephens, referring to Spencer's Sand and Gravel, which closed March 6 because it was nearly full.

"Where would you propose the rubble be taken?" he asked.

County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann also objected on 14 points, including some questions of whether parts of the proposal would be constitutional.

If the legislation is passed, it would take effect immediately, said James D. Vannoy,a council employee who drafted the bill. The council has delayed itsvote on the bill until at least March 19.

"In general terms, you can retroactively apply zoning regulations to property as long as it doesn't prevent the owner from a reasonable use," said Vannoy. "Whether this situation would be one of those is hard to say. Also rememberthe property owner can apply for a variance."

Terry Stancill, president of Pappy Inc., a rubble landfill operated on Oak Avenue in Joppa near Hausmann's home, said if a bill is passed and applied retroactively, his 39-acre site would not qualify.

The Pappy Inc. rubble landfill has delayed its opening after discovering American cockroaches on its property in August and in area homes. However, Stancill said the roach problem at the rubble landfill site has been solved, and the fill is scheduled to open April 1. He said there are still some

problems with cockroaches in private homes, but not as many homes were affected as in August.

"We wouldn't qualify under the size or the buffer requirement," said Stancill, explaining that the property,a former mining site, has a 200-foot setback. "There's no doubt in my mind that the effect of this bill will be that there won't be any more rubble fills in Harford County. I'm concerned there would be an increase in illegal dumping along back roads."

A proposed Fort Hoyle Road rubble landfill site, 79 acres, also could be affected.

Although the 55-acre Gravel Hill project proposed by Maryland Reclamation Associates is in the second-phase of a three-stage process to receive a state permit, it, too, could be affected by the new zoning standards.

The council has tried to stop the Gravel Hill project by appealing the court ruling that cleared the way for the state to consider issuing a permit.

"But I don't believe this bill is aimed at Gravel Hill," said Council Member Pierno. "It could impact a lot of other projects, too."

Controversy over the Gravel Hill site began in November 1989 when the council voted to include the rubble fill proposed by Maryland Reclamation Associates in its solid waste management plan, a prerequisite for obtaining a state permit. The council, however, reversed its decision in May 1990, and Maryland Reclamation sued the same month.

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