Bill would allow creameries on farmland

Balto. County Council drafts measure recommended by Planning Board in wake of controversy in Long Green area

April 09, 2009|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

A dispute over land use among neighbors in Long Green Valley has prompted the Baltimore County Council to draft legislation to permit creameries to operate in agricultural zones.

The measure, recommended by the county Planning Board and set for introduction April 20, may settle the debate, waged in court and before the council, between land preservationists who say the law would open the door to factory operations in their midst, and farmers who insist that they must diversity to stay in business.

The conflict centers on the creamery that Bobby Prigel has built - but has yet to open - at his Bellevale Farm, a dairy operation on about 260 acres, and his plans to sell organic products made from milk his cows produce.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Thursday's editions about a proposal to allow creameries in Baltimore County's agricultural zones gave the wrong date for a council workshop on the bill and should have said the legislation was drafted by County Executive James T. Smith Jr. The County Council will introduce the bill April 20, at Smith's request, and will take public comment at a May 12 workshop. The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.

Several Long Green residents insist that a commercial enterprise has no place in a valley where numerous farms, including Prigel's, are permanently safeguarded from development through preservation programs.

Others disagree. "If you deny this farmer the right to earn a living, no one will put their land in preservation," Mickey White, a Hydes dairy farmer, said at a council hearing Monday night. "Maybe we should charge people to look at our farms, rather than sell our products. How can we survive, when we are getting $1 for a gallon of milk?"

The issue drew a standing-room-only crowd to council chambers, and about 40 people addressed officials.

Carol Trela, secretary of the Long Green Valley Association, called the proposed legislation "a Trojan horse that will open the gates of destruction on the conservation zone. It is a license for farmers to do as they wish."

Gary Bowers, a neighbor, said Prigel "is moving into 21st-century agriculture. It is hard to believe a farmer would be denied the opportunity to sell his goods."

A county zoning administrator has twice upheld Prigel's right to operate the business, and last month the Baltimore County Circuit Court ruled in his favor. Many residents have rallied to Prigel's cause and have planned a benefit next month to help him defray $100,000 in legal costs.

Council members said they will take the next week to study the issue and possibly visit Prigel's farm and the 10,000-square-foot creamery. Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, who represents the district, said he is still gathering information.

"I am listening to all the people," he said. "This issue has brought terrible dissension to a lovely and loving valley. I will have to decide what is best for the county as a whole."

Council Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder, who, as a farmer, likely will recuse himself from the vote, said he will continue to search for a reasonable compromise.

The council will accept additional public comment at its April 14 work session.

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