UPPER MARLBORO – The community came out in force, and the county planning board took notice, agreeing to the residents’ request for a public hearing on a proposed concrete batching plant in Bladensburg. At the June 29 planning board meeting, a divided board heard from residents and business owners near the Ernest Maier concrete blocking […]
UPPER MARLBORO – The community came out in force, and the county planning board took notice, agreeing to the residents’ request for a public hearing on a proposed concrete batching plant in Bladensburg.
At the June 29 planning board meeting, a divided board heard from residents and business owners near the Ernest Maier concrete blocking plant at 4700 Annapolis Road, who were requesting an additional public hearing on Ernest Maier’s proposal to become a concrete batching plant. A narrow majority of the board, Chair Elizabeth Hewlett and Commissioners Manuel Geraldo and William Doerner, agreed to the community’s request, setting a date of Sept. 28 if the zoning hearing examiner (ZHE) has not issued a decision on the case by that time.
“Sometimes the ZHE holds the record open. There have been other instances where their hearing has been before ours,” Hewlett said. She added that the hearing includes ample opportunity for public comment and the submission of evidence. “Typically, in most cases, they’re so straightforward, there’s no reason for the planning board to have a hearing. This may not be one of those cases.”
The case is scheduled to go before the ZHE on Aug. 2. It could take several weeks for all the testimony to be heard and the final verdict rendered. If that has not happened by Sept. 28, the board’s public hearing will proceed. If a verdict has been issued, the hearing is “moot,” said Hewlett, because the final decision is not in the planning board’s hands at that point.
Planning department staff had recommended approval with conditions for the company’s request of a special exception and variances from county zoning laws to allow them to construct the necessary infrastructure to do the concrete batching. However, some boardmembers and many community members expressed concerns about the completeness of the staff report.
“I don’t think the staff report has enough factual evidence for us to make the decision, and in fact I don’t think the variance actually meets the three criteria for a variance as outlined in the staff report. So I would actually like to have more time,” Doerner said. “We have a lot of leeway and a lot of discretion on the health, safety and welfare. But just because agencies haven’t responded and indicated a health, safety or welfare concern does not mean that there are no health, safety or welfare concerns.”
Sacoby Wilson, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, testified that the staff report did not include enough data relating to the emissions of the current facility to allow an informed decision to be made.
“One of the issues is air pollution. With concrete batching plants, there are important pollutants that can impact human health, including carbon monoxide, particulate matter – that’s the dust in the air – sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides. These are pollutants that can cause asthma, heart disease, lead to infant mortality, also cause stroke, Alzheimer’s, cancers,” he said. “There’s no baseline data right now on the levels of these contaminants from the facility.”
Community members also raised concerns about traffic, pedestrian and bicyclist safety, and environmental impacts such as runoff.
Denise Hamler, a community organizer, said the Port Towns (Bladensburg, Colmar Manor, Cottage City and Edmonston) have recently put a lot of effort into creating an EcoDistrict that will promote environmentally-focused tourism and economic development, and this change threatens that work.
“This is a designation we’ve been working on for a long time. We want to be a place where we have sustainable businesses,” she said. “We’ve been working with government agencies in the county so we can start to market this area.”
Dan Lynch, lawyer for Ernest Maier, said the company already had public meetings, both formally at a town council meeting and informally with the church across the street from the property. The town of Bladensburg’s council has also voted to support the proposal, he said.
“I understand the concerns raised by the community, but also keep in mind that the town is supporting this,” Lynch said. “One reason that the town is supporting is because Ernest Maier is a good corporate neighbor.”
Doerner noted that some of the improvements proposed by Ernest Maier could help in reducing the dust the community raised concerns about.
However, the planning board was not looking at the specifics of the case during this particular meeting. Nevertheless, the majority of the commissioners agreed the citizens made a strong case for holding their own public hearing.
Hamler said she “absolutely” considers the vote a victory for her coalition.
“We wanted a public hearing so we could have an opportunity to present all of the facts,” she said. “We wanted an additional hearing to really voice the concerns of the community. Every single person we talked to said, ‘this isn’t what we want in our community.’”