After much debate, CFO restrictions written into law

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After months of debate, the location of confined feeding operations will be restricted in Montgomery County, with critics saying the rules infringe on the rights of neighboring property owners.

Without discussion Monday, the board of commissioners voted 2-0 to write the restrictions into the county’s zoning ordinance. Commissioner Dan Guard was absent.

Farmers will now need a county building permit, along with the required state permit, to build a confinement operation. The facilities are restricted to agriculture zoning districts.

What arrived on the commissioners’ desk was notably different from the amendment first proposed last summer after a series of changes recommended by a citizen review committee and the Montgomery County Plan Commission. The amendment was drafted after neighbors organized against a Linden-area farm’s plans for a nearly 9,000-head hog operation last year.

The final version doesn’t include the original incentives for managing manure, though incentives remain for reducing odor. Applicants who make some effort to control the smell will be allowed to build closer to non-participating properties.

A points system for evaluating permit applications was removed. And after farmers said it would be all but impossible to find enough land, a 40-acre lot requirement was also eliminated.

In another significant change, minimum separation distances will be measured from both the foundation of the CFO structure and property line of the parcel to those of the neighboring residence.

The foundation of the CFO structure must be at least a half-mile from the adjoining residence, but the setback can be reduced to a quarter-of-a-mile with the use of up to four odor mitigation steps.

The minimum property line setback is a quarter-of-a-mile, or 660 feet with the odor controls.

Possible odor reduction methods include a deep pit, slatted floors, berm and vegetation screens and regular power washing of the CFO barns.

Measuring setbacks from the foundation “has the effect of imposing upon contiguous property owners the loss of use” of their properties, said local resident Michael Sutherlin, who has advocated for stricter environmental and public health regulations in the amendment.

“The commissioners are being asked to consider an ordinance which has very little, very little oversight at all,” Sutherlin said during a public hearing. He urged the board to send the amendment back to the plan commission for additional review.

Resident Bill Milam was the only other citizen who spoke at the hearing. Milam called the final version of the amendment a “compromise” against health and safety, property values and individual property rights, and urged commissioners not to approve the latest version.

“I have talked to some who plan to move out of Montgomery County,” he said.

According to the amendment, separation distances apply to the CFO only and “do not in any manner restrict the rights” of neighboring landowners “to use, develop and enjoy” their properties.

Neighbors can file a waiver from the separation distance, which must be submitted with the permit application to the zoning administrator.

Confinement operations must be built at least one mile from schools or educational institutions, cities and towns.

The minimum setback from churches and religious institutions, residential subdivisions, high employment centers with at least 100 full-time employees, businesses or commercial buildings is a half-mile.

Operations have to be at least three-quarters of a mile from Nucor Road.

The rules take effect Saturday.

The zoning administrator has 10 days to determine whether the permit application meets the requirements. Applicants are given a month to provide any missing information.

If a permit request is denied, applicants have 30 days to file a written appeal with the board of zoning appeals.

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