- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Residents on Petzhold Drive in Waldorf have raised concerns about a slaughterhouse operation on their road that they believe is operating against county laws, and the county has responded by taking the issue to court.
The operation called Rick’s Butcher Shop, allegedly is operating without county permission and not in compliance with zoning laws, according to court documents filed by the Charles County Attorney’s Office on April 10.
Because the property is in the agricultural conservation zone, the operation requires permission, called a special exception, from the county’s Board of Appeals.
Court documents state that the property owners, Richard and Carol Turner, would need to file for two variances in addition to the special exception with the Board of Appeals in order to continue operating their business on their premises.
Court documents also state that Turner’s business will need to comply with several site plan requirements, including the refrigeration of waste materials from processing meat.
The county does not have a permit on file for the operation, county spokeswoman Crystal Hunt said.
The county’s zoning ordinance does not define slaughterhouse; therefore the standard definition of slaughterhouse — an operation that kills live animals — applies, Hunt said.
The owners of Rick’s Butcher Shop, Richard and Carol Turner, did not respond to several requests for comment.
Neighbors on Petzhold Drive said they were particularly concerned about trucks driving too fast on the private road to get to the slaughterhouse, what they said is improper disposal of animal remnants, noncompliance with the county’s zoning laws and a meeting between county officials and state Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles).
Middleton met with county staff and Richard Turner in November to discuss Turner’s operation.
Ray Johnston, a resident on Petzhold Drive, said he wanted to know why Middleton got involved in the local zoning issue and was present at the meeting with county zoning officials.
Middleton said he called for the November meeting after he received a call from Turner about complaints from neighbors about traffic on Petzhold Drive and allegations that he was operating a full-fledged slaughterhouse.
Middleton said that he and Turner have a “history of friendship.”
“My purpose for calling the meeting was to figure out what he would have to do to comply,” with county zoning laws, particularly if any aspect of the operation was OK, and if not, what steps he would need to take to get in conformance with county laws.
“The issue is not to disregard the concerns of neighbors. My involvement is [about] what can Richard do to bring his business into state conformance,” he said.
Middleton added, “In no way did I force my position [as state senator] on county staff to say what was illegal or legal.”
Middleton said he thought the meeting resolved the issue, as he understood that the Turners’ operation might be a permitted use if it were defined under another land use category, but heard more recently that the county had shut Turner’s operation down.
In an email from county zoning officer Reed Faasen to Johnston, Faasen wrote that “during the meeting there was in depth discussion of the need for the services that Mr. Turner provided and how the use was not permitted. At the end of the meeting Mr. Turner wanted time to explore options to see if there was a way to operate in that location legally. Therefore, we granted him a 90-day stay on any action by our office. This is a common practice, provided that the individual is working with our office to resolve a violation.”
Middleton said that Turner’s business has provided a resource to deer hunters and farmers who take cows and deer there to have them processed.
“Rick’s a decent, hard-working man, and his business is a family operation,” Middleton said.
Middleton said that his understanding was that Turner took the tobacco buyout — a state payment to farmers in exchange for a promise not to grow tobacco anymore — and used the funds to transition into a slaughterhouse operation.
Middleton said that as a state senator, he has advocated for the diversification of agricultural development, and that Turner serves farmers who need to process meat.
However, Middleton acknowledged concerns about Turner’s operation.
“Personally, I think the slaughterhouse is in a bad location, given that the neighborhood dates back to a time when gravel roads were used in the county,” Middleton said.
Johnston said that the slaughterhouse has been in operation for several years, estimating that several thousand deer are processed at the slaughterhouse every year, along with several pigs, goats and cows.
Johnston said that Petzhold Drive is a private dirt road and that trucks are speeding up and down the road, making it dangerous for families living on the street.
Rick Blevins Sr., another resident on Petzhold Drive, said “there’s too much traffic for this gravel road. People are driving too fast,” adding that the dust generated from the traffic is “terrible.”
Blevins said the neighborhood put up a 10 mph speed limit sign, but trucks continue to disobey the speed limit on their way to the slaughterhouse.
Johnston said that the Charles County Sheriff’s Office cannot enforce the speed limit because the road is privately owned.
“Our biggest beef, besides the trucks, is where did all the disposal go?” Johnston asked.
The zoning ordinance states that waste, byproducts or any decomposable residue from the slaughterhouse must be refrigerated while on the premises.
Neighbors have alleged that the waste is not being refrigerated, but is being disposed of improperly.
“One time we watched a truck come and picked stuff up. We assumed they were guts. We’re not sure if the guts were buried or not,” Johnston said.
Noncompliance with zoning laws is another concern of the neighbors.
According to the county’s zoning ordinance, slaughterhouses can only operate on properties 20 acres or larger and must have direct access to a collector or arterial road.
Court documents state that the Turners need to apply for variances for their lot size and for a lack of direct access to a collector or arterial road.
The Turners’ property is approximately 10.14 acres, according to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation website.
Johnston said that the property is only 10 acres, but that the operation has gotten too big for a neighborhood.
“The business got so big — it does not belong in a housing area. There are places for that thing and it’s not in a neighborhood with children,” he said. “The whole neighborhood has a problem with this.”
Southern Maryland farmers have sought to find a location to slaughter and process livestock, as no operation with U.S. Department of Agriculture certification has been approved until recently.
In February, Johnny Knott, the president of the St. Mary’s County Farm Bureau, received a conditional use approval for a mobile meat processing trailer from St. Mary’s County’s Board of Appeals.
The trailer will be the only USDA-inspected operation in Southern Maryland, which will allow Knott to sell meat from livestock on the market.
Charles County Farm Bureau President Pat Wathen said that the farm bureau did not take an active role in getting the approval, but supports a place for farmers to have cattle slaughtered.
“Farmers in Southern Maryland who want to slaughter their cattle for beef don’t have much of an option,” Wathen said.
The county gave Turner 90 days to comply with zoning laws, which ended March 7.
On March 7, county zoning officers investigated the property and found the slaughterhouse operating in violation of zoning laws, according to court documents.
After that period ended, the county issued a “last notice” letter March 13, giving Turner 15 days to comply with zoning laws.
On April 10, the county filed an injunction against the Turners’ slaughterhouse.