A public hearing on a proposed mobile meat processing facility in Mechanicsville scheduled for Thursday, December 8 has been postponed. The hearing was originally scheduled before the St. Mary’s County Board of Appeals but was changed to a hearing examiner after it became clear that a quorum would not be in attendance. Calvert County attorney Jack Upton was scheduled to act as the hearing examiner.
A neighbor of the property on Reeves Road complained about the change at the county commissioners’ public forum on Tuesday. The commissioners recently voted to allow hearing examiners to expedite controversial cases. County Attorney George Sparling said the appeals board could accept the hearing examiner’s recommendation or hold another hearing. The neighbor didn’t like either option because one didn’t give the appeals board a chance to hear all the facts and the other required residents to attend two public hearings.
According to a release from the county’s public information office, the hearing will now be in January or February and will be advertised. Staff of the Office of Land Use and Growth Management (LUGM) recommended approval of the mobile meat processing facility on the 33-acre farm owned by John, Jr. and Donna Knott. The property is a working farm with 32 cows and a number of chickens. It is surrounded by a mix of farms and single-family residences.
According to the LUGM staff report, “The applicant proposed to operate a state-of-the-art, USDA-inspected meat processing facility on the property solely for the processing of meat from large animals that have been butchered, skinned and eviscerated off site. The dressed animals are then transported to the property by way of a refrigerated mobile meat processing unit. Once dressed animals reach the property, they are aged in a separate, refrigerated fixed trailer in preparation for cutting and packaging the meat. Once the meat is packaged, it is frozen in a second trailer.”
The report said all three trailers are self-contained, designed to prevent odors, offal, gray water, and fumes from escaping to the outside. The Knotts plan on operating the facility four days a week in the cold months. Three to four cattle would be processed a week.
The LUGM report points out that St. Mary’s County has a right-to-farm ordinance. According to the report, “The property has historically been used for crop production and for raising farm animals. In addition to the single-family dwelling, the property contains a silo, two barns, two sheds, and chicken coops. It looks and smells like a farm.”
The report says the proposed use falls under a conditional use category in the Rural Preservation District in which the farm is located. The appeals board thus has the right to impose conditions, including buffering, hours of operation and numbers of trucks using the road.