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Williamsport Town Council to address zoning change request for Spirit Services oil recycler

November 10, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • Spirit Services oil recycler located on Lockwood Road near Williamsport.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

WILLIAMSPORT, Md. — On Monday night, the Williamsport Town Council is scheduled to address a zoning change request for an oil recycler using the county’s old Nicodemus sewer treatment plant, an issue that has raised other questions regarding the property, Mayor James G. McCleaf II said Thursday.

The county owns the old sewer plant property but has been leasing it to Spirit Services, McCleaf said. McCleaf said testimony during a Nov. 5 public hearing before the mayor and Town Council about the rezoning request included information that Spirit Services’ proposed purchase of the plant is contingent upon a change in zoning for the property.

The former Nicodemus sewage plant is within Williamsport town limits, said Richard Grimm, the town’s zoning administrator.

With several area residents voicing their concerns, the Nov. 5 zoning hearing ended up raising questions about how Spirit Services could be operating an oil recycling business with truck traffic on narrow Lockwood Road without town officials knowing about it and without residents having an opportunity to provide input, McCleaf said. There was concern the county did not communicate properly the use of the property, he said.

“I think we need to know what’s going on there. I’m not pointing fingers and saying anyone did anything wrong deliberately,” McCleaf said.

According to a letter county Public Works Director Joe Kroboth wrote to the town clerk, the oil recycler has been using the Nicodemus facility “intermittently since 2005.”

Sarah Lankford Sprecher, a spokeswoman for Washington County, said on Thursday she would try to provide more information about the county’s connection to Spirit Services, but had not responded as of press time Friday.

The property on Lockwood Road, near the Potomac River, is zoned suburban residential, according to a hearing notice and Grimm. Spirit Services is requesting the property be rezoned as an employment center, which would permit Spirit Services’ industrial use of the plant, Grimm said.

The town’s zoning took effect in 1977, but the county’s sewage treatment plant has been there since 1964, Grimm said. The old sewer operation was legal as it was “kind of grandfathered” in, Grimm said.

Spirit Services recycles oil, a use that is not permitted in a suburban residential zone, Grimm said.

“They should not be operating right now because they didn’t go through the proper zoning,” McCleaf said.

Jason Divelbiss, an attorney who represented Spirit Services at the Nov. 5 hearing in Williamsport, could not be reached for comment on Thursday and Friday.

According to Spirit Services’ website, at www.spiritservices.com, the company’s Nicodemus facility processes used oil for reuse for various industries. The company also “receives used oil filters, antifreeze and non-hazardous solids” at the site in bulk or in drums, the site states.

About 40 to 50 people were present for the Nov. 5 public hearing at Williamsport Town Hall, with about 20 residents speaking during the hearing, McCleaf said.

Residents do not want the zoning changed, he said.

Area residents aired concerns about noise, odor and truck traffic, saying five to 10 tanker trucks or tractor trailers a day travel Lockwood Road to and from the plant, McCleaf said.

The beginning and end of Lockwood Road are in town limits, but the middle of the road is in the county’s jurisdiction, McCleaf said.

Kroboth wrote in a Nov. 2 letter to Williamsport Town Clerk Donald Stotelmyer that Lockwood Road must be at least 18 feet wide for the new zoning designation and recommended any approval of the zoning change be conditional upon the narrow sections of the road being widened by the property’s owner or developer.

Kroboth said that for most of the length of the road in the county, the paved width is 14-foot-3-inches to 16-foot-2-inches, according to a copy of Kroboth’s letter. When a tractor-trailer takes the sharp curve in the road, it can cause other vehicles to leave the paved road and possibly drive on private property, the letter states.

McCleaf said he and Stotelmyer review utility accounts twice a year to see if they are missing anything. Around last March or April, they were reviewing accounts while preparing the proposed budget and saw an electric bill for Spirit Services. McCleaf said that was how he learned the company was operating in town.

Further research revealed the company was renting the county facility, which prompted McCleaf to wonder if the town should be receiving property tax revenue from the company because the facility was no longer being used for a government operation, he said.

That led to the discovery of the zoning issue, McCleaf said.

“We’ve been hit hard for revenue, especially with the power plant closing,” McCleaf said. “We’re going to lose significant amount of money there.”

If the Nicodemus facility is sold to the company, it will be taxable, he said.

McCleaf said town officials are always looking to see if there’s something they missed.

“Why we missed it before, I don’t know, but we did,” McCleaf said.

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