A Hagerstown-area couple’s plans for a 20,000-hen egg farm have been delayed a second month because of problems with notification of the neighbors. At the same time, the town is searching for a new building commissioner.
The town Board of Zoning Appeals canceled an Aug. 23 hearing. The date had been scheduled during a July 26 meeting after three neighbors complained that they had not received a hearing notice by certified mail, as required by law.
Building Commissioner Bob Bullock said during the meeting that it looked like he had not mailed them a notice since he had not received signed receipt postcards from them.
The BZA is supposed to review Gideon and Anna Ebersol’s plans for an egg farm on their land east of Hagerstown at 12627 Indiana 38. It is zoned for agricultural use but requires a variance to zoning standards so they can have as many as 20,000 chickens.
The BZA would normally have met Aug. 16 but delayed the second meeting by a week to avoid conflicting with the town’s Jubilee Days festival.
However, the town’s new notice to neighbors stated the hearing would be Aug. 16. A monthly meeting notice posted at Town Hall also listed the Aug. 16 date. The incorrect date was brought to attention of Rick Cole, BZA chairman, who notified town staff. Corrected notices were sent to adjacent landowners.
Cole said he contacted the town attorney, who advised postponing the hearing because of the notice confusion. Cole canceled the meeting and said he asked that neighbors be notified. When people arrived for the hearing, a sign taped to the locked door stated it had been canceled. They had not been notified, they said.
The Ebersols want to build a large barn to house 20,000 chickens. They would be paid to feed and care for the birds and harvest their eggs under contract with a New York-based company that would own the chickens. The arrangement is similar to one at a farm north of Hagerstown.
A man who came on Aug. 23 and lives just north of the Ebersol farm showed a site map. He expressed concern over where chicken waste would be disposed of and the egg farm’s effect on neighboring property values.
On July 26, the BZA had asked Gideon Ebersol to provide more information about his plan, specifically about disposal of dead birds.
Cole said the hearing would probably be on BZA’s normal meeting date, Wednesday, Sept. 13. But Bullock said he doubted BZA would meet then since he will be out of town.
Bullock, who said on July 26 that he had mailed notices to all the property owners he could identify using the Wayne County GIS (Geographical Information System), said on Thursday that he is still acting as the building commissioner because the town has not been able to replace him.
The building commissioner serves as field staff for the town’s Advisory Plan Commission and BZA, and is responsible for administering regulations about building permits and inspections.
A 2006 town ordinance states that the commissioner is appointed by the town council president for life or until they leave the position, unless removed “for cause.” A 2007 ordinance states that the commissioner is “under the management of the Town Manager.”
The Town Council has publicly discussed replacing Bullock due to his pending retirement. The town had advertised the job with an annual pay rate of about $10,000.
In a July 27 email to Western Wayne News, Town Council President Becky Diercks said the town had “a viable candidate” for the job and that the Plan Commission would meet with the candidate before the town would hire them.
Bullock said Thursday that “for what they want to pay someone and make (the job) 20 hours a week, I don’t think they’re going to find anyone to take it.” He added, “I’m staying on until they get someone.”
Bullock said he is “head over heels” busy. He said the council had asked if he could train a new building commissioner in three months.
He said, “I’ve been doing this for 23 years and I’m still learning things.”
A version of this article appeared in the August 30 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.