Neighbors say he's spiteful, but farmer calls complaints about pigs hogwash

January 13, 1992|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

It isn't so much the noise of late night truck repairs that has upset Anthony Bressi.

Nor is it the smell of diesel exhaust from the trucks. Nor the tractor-trailers crowding the narrow road that leads to his waterfront home in Earls Beach.

The problem is the pigs.

Pigs started arriving last month from farms in Pennsylvania and have since transformed the small, quiet community along the Bird River east of White Marsh into a veritable bay of pigs.

There are about 400 pigs around Mr. Bressi's home of 17 years. When the wind blows north, his backyard becomes filled with the stench of swine.

"It's terrible, and when spring comes and brings the warm weather with it, it's only going to get worse," said Mr. Bressi. He also fears that his well water is being contaminated by pig waste.

Mr. Bressi and some of his neighbors are convinced that the neighboring farmer, Donald Parlett, brought in the pigs out of spite because he lost a three-year zoning battle with Baltimore County.

Mr. Parlett faces $18,200 in fines for nine zoning violations, including "location of hogs within 150 feet of land used or zoned for residential purposes."

Neighbors say Mr. Parlett has gone out of his way to annoy them, even allowing his laborers to assign their names to his pigs and call out the names when they feed.

"It's strictly out of spite. There's no other reason in the world," said Bernard Robier, president of the Earls Beach Community Association, which was formed in response to complaints about the pig operation.

But Mr. Parlett and his partner say the pigs' presence is an economic necessity, not a shot at vengeance.

"These pigs are here to keep us in business," said Guy Milwee, Mr. Parlett's partner in the operation.

Mr. Parlett said he acted for a simple reason: Pigs pay.

For about five years, he and Mr. Milwee had run an excavating business, clearing land and debris at construction sites around the region. But the recession has crippled the construction industry, including their excavating business, so they looked for other ways to make money from the 75-acre property.

"These people are complaining, but they've got a paycheck or a source of income coming in. This farming operation is our only income," Mr. Milwee said.

They ruled out raising vegetables, which reap a marginal profit and require hard-to-find seasonal help willing to work for low wages. They also ruled out beef cattle because they cost too much -- up to $400 per steer -- and take a full year to raise, Mr. Milwee said.

By contrast, it only takes three to four months to bring pigs to market.

Mr. Milwee and Mr. Parlett, boyhood friends raised on nearby farms, said they might have 5,000 pigs on the property one day. In the next few months they hope to build up their stock to 1,000 pigs, they said.

At $50 per pig, that's a $50,000 investment. "You don't spend that much money just to get back at someone," said Mr. Parlett, 35.

But it is evident that animosity is running deep between the two men and their neighbors.

The two farmers say their neighbors are "using their every waking moment" to harass them and finding county agencies to investigate their operations.

"They're not fighting us on issues. They just hate my guts," Mr. Parlett said.

He and Mr. Milwee have siblings who married into many of the families fighting them now. They say many of their neighbors forget how they plowed snow from the private driveways of people who are now their opponents, and how they gave away produce each summer.

Neighbors say problems go back at least five years, when Mr. Parlett bought up to 70 trucks and pieces of heavy excavating equipment and began repairing them on the property, which had been a vegetable farm.

Neighbors complained to county officials, who investigated and forced the two farmers to file a request for a special exception to county zoning codes that would allow them to continue storing heavy equipment and trucks in a residential community.

Mr. Parlett was denied the exception March 31, 1989, and appealed to the county Board of Appeals. He withdrew the appeal last March. Since then, the county has issued citations that require him to clean up the site and remove the heavy equipment. The citations have been largely ignored, county officials say.

The dispute has prompted dozens of visits to the property by county zoning, environmental, health and highway officials, has sparked dozens of heated community meetings and has prompted numerous internal staff reviews of land-use regulations by county officials.

"It's a massive violation. It's probably the biggest set of violations I've seen since I've been here," said Frank DiMeglio, a zoning enforcement inspector for three years.

Councilman Vincent Gardina said he hopes to work out a compromise that satisfies the pig farmers and their neighbors.

Mr. DiMeglio said county officials are considering seeking an injunction in Baltimore County Circuit Court to require the farmers to clean up the property and remove the half-dozen pieces of heavy equipment they still use in their contracting business.

He said county officials also are looking into neighbors' concerns that the pig operation could pollute surrounding wells, that it violates state and federal wetlands regulations, and that Mr. Parlett may have buried fuel tanks nearby that also could pollute ground water.

Mr. Parlett, who lives nearby and whose parents live on the adjacent tract, denies those allegations.

"I'm not about to do anything that endangers my family," he said. "I'm not about to do anything that endangers anyone in this community."

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