Developer aims to keep plant from reopening

Animal-rendering facility was destroyed by '02 fire

Anne Arundel

January 27, 2004|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

A Charles County developer is pushing ahead with his fight to keep a Curtis Bay animal-rendering plant from reopening its cooker, contending that the smell from the operation would ruin his plans to revive the area.

Stephen McAllister, who is calling his proposed development of 1,000 houses and condominiums Glen Abbey, is fighting Valley Proteins at several turns as it seeks permits to rebuild its plant straddling the Anne Arundel County-Baltimore border. The Anne Arundel County Board of Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments in the case tonight in County Council chambers, weather permitting.

The latest permit challenge is part of a multilevel strategy to keep the Virginia-based company from emitting the odors that residents of Curtis Bay, Brooklyn Park and Pasadena tolerated for decades. When a July 2002 fire destroyed the cooker and Valley Proteins restricted its operations to recycling grease from local restaurants, residents noticed the neighborhood smelled better.

At the time of the fire, the down-on-its-luck Curtis Bay neighborhood was undergoing a renaissance and property values on the Anne Arundel County side of the line were rising. McAllister, who saw the potential for affordable single-family homes and condominiums in a county with soaring real estate prices, began talking to property owners in the Brooklyn Park area about selling.

McAllister estimates that he owns 85 acres and has 150 more under contract. Townhouses in the development would start at $160,000.

"We're just battling them out on every issue," he said of Valley Proteins. "We don't want them to expand the plant back to taking dead animals. We're appealing it every step of the way."

McAllister said he is concerned about Valley Proteins' odor-control record. When the cooker was operating, the Maryland Department of the Environment received 86 odor complaints about the plant from 1994 to 2003 and issued nine notices of violation. In the past two years, officials in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Pennsylvania have cited Valley Proteins for permit violations at six of its 13 plants.

Valley Proteins attorney Marc Cohen said the technology at the plants that produce offensive odors is about 25 years old and that the new $5.5 million facility in Curtis Bay would be a marked improvement.

"We're opening up an entirely new, re-engineered process that I know is going to be far, far better than any of the past operations," Cohen said.

McAllister lost his first permit challenge in November, when the board ruled he did not have standing to oppose the grading. Cohen predicted the developer would lose again at tonight's hearing - the lawyer argues that McAllister's property isn't close enough to his client's.

The property owner next to Valley Proteins, a wood processing plant, has written a letter stating it has no objection to the cooker. Cohen also said the site of the proposed rendering operation is in an area zoned for industrial use.

If the board dismisses his latest challenge, McAllister plans to return to oppose Valley Proteins' building permit.

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