NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Plans are underway to build a poultry farm in the northern end of New Hanover County and there is not a lot anyone can do to stop it.
Earlier this month, New Hanover County’s planning department was asked to provide a zoning determination letter for 6810 Sidbury Road in Castle Hayne. The property is located about 1 mile from 750 homes under construction in D.R. Horton’s Sidbury Station.
The request was submitted by the law office Lee Kaess, of which District 7 Sen. Michael Lee is a partner, on behalf of property owner John McCormick.
Per a conditional farmer exemption certificate submitted with the request, the poultry operation is considered a “bona fide farm.” Because it is in an unincorporated area of a county, the farm would be excluded from zoning requirements under its R-15 residential district.
NHC Planning Director Rebekah Roth notified county commissioners and other county staff of the exemption in an email on Nov. 9.
“I wanted to make sure you were all aware of this before we provided the final letter to the property owner as there may be complaints and concerns from adjacent property owners due to the type of common impacts for this type of farm use, namely the smell,” she wrote.
According to info she gathered from the property owner’s attorney, the 10.4-acre property will house a 15,000-square-foot poultry house. According to Penn State, it is suggested each chicken can be allotted 2 feet of space within a structure; using that number, around 7,500 chickens could be housed in the structure. It is unclear whether outdoor space will be allocated for the animals.
The owner would most likely be under contract with a larger poultry company, according to Roth, where he would raise the birds but transport them off-site for slaughter and processing.
Roth also noted, while backyard chicken coops arecommon, she isn’t aware of any other large-scale chicken operation in the county.
The county’s northern territory has long hosted agriculture ventures, such as bona fide farms Azalea Coast, Russell’s Reach and the Trask-owned Blue Clay Farms. In recent years, developers have set their sights on plats for residential use near these areas, as the county runs out of room elsewhere. Along with Sidbury Station, though not near the proposed chicken farm, the 85-apartment Estrella Landing was built on Gordon Road and 82-home Sunset Reach on Rockhill Road.
In North Carolina, bona fide farms are protected from zoning regulations in counties and municipal extraterritorial jurisdictions. These farms must contribute to the production of agricultural products, the marketing and selling of products, or agritourism on-site. The farms are also exempt from some sales and property taxes.
To be determined a bona fide farm, the property owner must provide sufficient evidence the land will be used for agricultural purposes. On Oct. 6, McCormick submitted a sales tax exemption certificate to the county, issued by the North Carolina Department of Revenue.
As a result, no plan submission or permits from the county are needed to erect the poultry farm. In response to Roth’s notification to county employees, county manager Chris Coudriet replied: “We need to give consideration to how this information is made public.”
In the age of modern farming and growing agritourism — where land is rented for events, such as weddings and parties, or farm owners host petting zoos and horseback riding — the definitions of bona fide farms have been the subject of legal disputes and neighbor conflicts.
Earlier this year, Pender County reined in Surf City Farms for outsourcing a portion of produce to sell on the farm. The Wilmington Business Journal reported neighbor complaints about delivery trucks prompted the county’s planning board to examine the bona fide farm regulations. It ruled against the resale of imported produce if the property owners wanted to retain its bona fide farm status, received in 2019. An appeal from Surf City Farms was also denied by the board of adjustment.
A poultry farm also raises environmental concerns. In 2020, NC Policy Watch found the state’s 4,700 poultry farms create 5 million tons of waste per year. The birds “excrete manure and feces that can affect soil health and contaminate waterways, such as the Neuse River, through runoff, groundwater infiltration and poor waste management.”
New Hanover County’s northern region is home to multiple waterways and wetlands, the main one being the Northeast Cape Fear River. Development growth in the area — which includes 34 acres dedicated to the Hampstead Bypass — will increase impervious surface, resulting in more runoff. Waste collection from the farm will need to be carefully managed to avoid water contamination.
North Carolina regulations mandate the operation maintain a Certified Animal Waste Management Plans for liquid waste, when applicable, and Poultry Dry Litter Management Plans for dry waste. Litter can be used as fertilizer, but if too much runs off into the soil or water, it can change soil chemistry, affect crop yields, and cause algal blooms, according to NC Policy Watch.
Port City Daily made multiple attempts to reach Lee Kaess attorneys representing the land owner and received no response. PCD also reached out to D.R. Horton for comment but did not hear back by press.
Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at firstname.lastname@example.org