Gallins a ‘bona-fide’ farm

Published 4:48 pm Tuesday, August 18, 2015

It’s not a landfill. Even the county attorney admitted that.

But when the Davie County Zoning Board of Adjustments was done on Monday night – members had declared that Gallin Family Farms on Farmington Road was a bona-fide farm.

That means that Peter Gallins can continue making compost on a small portion of the 156 acres adjacent to the new Davie High School, which is under construction. Organic materials is brought to the site from restaurants, mixed with other organic materials (wood), and mixed in a wyndrow until a nutrient-rich compost is ready for sale.

The issue started earlier this year, when Gallins, who had been operating under a temporary permit, applied for a five-year permanent permit to make compost from the N.C. Department of Environment and Human Resources. Part of that permit requires that he receive a letter from the county stating that he is in compliance with local zoning ordinances.

County zoning enforcement officer Andrew Meadwell visited the site, and came away saying the operation is not listed in the county zoning ordinance. When Gallins’ attorney pressed for a zoning determination, Meadwell wrote them a letter saying it was a landfill, the closest thing he could find in the ordinance, because waste was brought there from other sites.

Gallins appealed that ruling, and for more than two hours Monday evening adjustment board members heard testimony, much of it claiming that the operation was nothing like a landfill, but more like an agricultural or agri-business use.

When it came time for closing arguments, Gallins’ attorney, Bill Sturges, said he had been to more than 1,000 board of adjustment meetings, and had never heard anything like what County Attorney Ed Vogler said.

“I do not believe it is a landfill, agriculture or agri-business,” Vogler said. The operation is more akin to making fertilizer, and it should be treated as such. “Mr. Gallins is a manufacturer of natural organic fertilizer.”

Vogler went on to say that Gallins is a “wholesaler” of the product because he sells to others, who re-sale it at a higher price.

Since the appeal was to reverse Meadwell’s decision that the operation was a landfill, Sturges said the question was easy to answer. “It’s clear the zoning administrator’s decision should be reversed.”

He went on to comment about Vogler’s statement. “I have never heard a county dcleare they want to classify it as something else. Making that in a final argument … you should have evidence supporting it. All farmers are wholesalers … that doesn’t make them manufacturers.”

Sturges continued: “Why are we here?”

Board Chair Mike Branham may have had the answer to that question.

What Gallins does is keep organic materials out of landfills, the antithesis of a landfill, Branham said. A 14-year member of the board, he praised Meadwell, calling him honest and fair with the best interest of the county as his goal.

“But he was caught between a political rock and a hard place,” Branham said. The county should encourage rather than “weave a web” of problems for such businesses, he said.

Meadwell had received one complaint about odor from the composting operation – and that came from Chad Fuller, chair of the county board of education. Gallins and school officials had been in contact with each other – with Gallins saying he refused to sell land when asked to by Fuller and Superintendent Dr. Darrin Hartness; and Hartness saying that the schools refused when Gallins offered to sell them land.

The adjustments board members went further than acting on the appeal that it is not a landfill, which is within their duties. They declared the operation a bona-fide farm, which means it is exempt from zoning regulations. They also, on a motion by Linda Mace, ordered the county to write DENR the letter saying Gallins is in compliance with county zoning ordinances.

It was pointed out during the hearing that Gallins has a conservation plan, a forest management plan and a farm tax deferral for the property, all common on bona-fide farms.

The county can appeal that decision to the court system.

In September, the county board of commissioners is scheduled to discuss a proposal that would add composting to its list of uses. Gallins would still be allowed to operate the composting business because of the adjustment board’s decision.