Plans to rebuild renderer advance

Animal processor wins grading permit, over objections of neighbors

Anne Arundel

November 05, 2003|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

A Curtis Bay animal rendering plant inched closer this week to securing the permits it needs to rebuild, angering residents who say they can't bear to go back to the days when putrid smells from the plant permeated the air.

The Anne Arundel County Board of Appeals' vote Monday granting Valley Proteins a grading permit is one of several steps needed to rebuild a portion of the plant that a fire destroyed last year.

Before the fire, Valley Proteins' cooker rendered animal carcasses into livestock feed and other products. Since the fire, the Virginia-based company has limited operations at the plant straddling the Anne Arundel-Baltimore City line to recycling restaurant grease, largely an odorless process.

A Waldorf-based developer, Stephen McAllister, had challenged Valley Proteins' request for the grading permit on the grounds that he is a nearby property owner and that the rebuilding would harm him. McAllister is assembling property in Brooklyn Park and Cedar Hill for a development called Glen Abbey, which will include about 1,000 single-family homes and townhouses stretching from Ritchie Highway to Pennington Avenue.

About 40 Brooklyn and Curtis Bay residents attended this week's hearing to support McAllister's fight, wearing buttons that read: "No permit for Valley Protein means no stink from Valley Protein. Please help our communities."

Valley Proteins' lawyer, Marc Cohen, argued Monday night that McAllister had no standing to challenge the permit because McAllister's property was not adjacent and because McAllister only has the property under contract and does not yet legally own it.

The board voted 5-1 to dismiss McAllister's objection, and grading is expected to start next week. But Valley Proteins still needs a county building permit and an air-quality permit from Maryland Department of the Environment, and McAllister plans to fight both of those.

"The air quality is where they're going to get hurt," he said. "They can't have a plant like that next to a residential property."

Although the residents had no legal grounds to fight the permit, they have a lawyer from Baltimore's Community Law Center and will likely speak at the MDE hearing.

For years, residents endured the smells emanating from Valley Proteins and some of the other industries ringing Curtis Bay, knowing that the factories brought much-needed jobs.

But in recent years, many of the plants have closed, workers have moved away, and residents have said the area is looking and smelling better. Now Curtis Bay is in the midst of a revitalization that it hopes will turn Pennington Avenue into a Main Street-style shopping district.

"This is just not in keeping with what we're doing," Carol Eshelman, director of the nonprofit Brooklyn and Curtis Bay Coalition, said of Valley Proteins' reopening.

Eshelman said she also is worried about Valley Proteins' track record. In the past 18 months, officials in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Pennsylvania have charged Valley Proteins with permit violations at six of its 13 plants.

Company executives have promised that the new plant, which will cost about $5.5 million, will have state-of-the-art odor controls.

"That new plant is going to be a wonderful plant," Cohen said. "It's going to be a whole new structure."

McAllister's lawyer, Kathryn Dahl, said she's concerned that a rebuilt plant and its accompanying smell will turn away potential Glen Abbey buyers.

"If people say, `That's a great house,' and then they get out of their car and say, `What's that smell?' then it's going to hurt," she said. "I don't think that I've ever had a case where it was more clear of an adverse outcome to one of the properties."

Many Curtis Bay and Brooklyn residents say that the potential they now see in their neighborhood is fueling their fight against Valley Proteins. Those at Monday's hearing vowed they would attend the MDE air quality permit hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.

"A lot of people say, `Why are they complaining now?'" said Linda Bardo, a community activist who has lived all her life in Brooklyn and Curtis Bay. "But things are changing for us now. And to me, there's hope."

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