The Harford County Circuit Court upheld the decision in Case 5886 to deny the tire pyrolysis operation by Auston Transfer and Processing on 6 acres in Joppa off Route 7.
The property, Auston Transfer, used for shredding and recycling scrap tires requested a new system to incinerate tires within a closed chamber. The property is zoned CI- Commercial Industrial. Planning & Zoning approved the use in this zoning category.
Within the time frame allowed, two Joppa citizens appealed the determination made by the Director and asked that the matter be reviewed by the County’s Hearing Examiner. They were assisted by the People’s Counsel. That decision was appealed because it considered the determination of the Planning and Zoning Director to allow this use in CI, was improper and that the pyrolysis system belonged in GI-General Industrial zoning.
As of this decision, the Hearing Examiner, County Council and now the Circuit Court all agree that the Director of Planning & Zoning overreached his authority and made a “legal error” in deciding to allow this use in CI.
In addition, the Circuit Court added that material and information which is not in the Zoning Code itself, should be made available to the public. In this case it was the Industrial Codes used by the Department of Planning & Zoning.
Why is this relevant?
Friends of Harford is sharing news of this decision because it is an example of how the system is supposed to work. The community had concerns about the potential for negative effects to the environment and of the proximity of the tire burning near their homes. At each level, the facts were brought to light and the decision was made not to allow this type of facility in a Commercial Industrial Zoning. Had the tire pyrolysis plant been allowed in CI, it would have set precedent for future types of facilities in CI zoning.
The Zoning Code tells us what we may do with our property. Build a house? 7 houses? A restaurant? A gas station? We read the code to find out what uses are automatically permitted, but there are exceptions to the rule. If the code shows a use as a special exception, it may be approved with certain extra conditions to protect the neighbors, or it may not be approved at all. That use must also be compatible with what is already allowed in the neighborhood.
A Special Exception is unique in that neighbors can object to the proposed site plan during a required, formal hearing. The public may be represented for free if the People’s Counsel agrees to represent the interests of the public.
The overriding rule for a Special Exception is if it causes too much harm to the neighbors, and changing the site plan won’t stop the harm, it should not be approved.
In all there are 10 requirements** for approval of a Special Exception. So for example, the code states one may build a sawmill in CI (Commercial Industrial) or GI (General Industrial) zoned properties, but one must ask for a Special Exception for a sawmill on an AG (Agricultural) zoned property.
A Hearing Examiner decides whether the request is approved or denied for that plan at that particular location. The decision may be appealed to the County Council which sits as the Board of Appeals.
** Special Exceptions consider the effects of the proposed site plan on: the number of people living or working in the area; traffic conditions; orderly growth of the neighborhood and any fiscal impact the County may have because of the approval; the effect of odors, gas, smoke, fumes, vibration, glare and noise on the surrounding properties; if there is adequate police, fire, water, sewer or garbage services; if the development is consistent with good planning; any harm to existing structures nearby such as churches, schools, etc.; environmental impact or opportunities for recreation or harm to sensitive land; the preservation of cultural and historic buildings or places.