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Residents, farmers squabble over chicken farm

SALISBURY — A proposal to build a large-scale chicken farm has ruffled the feathers of residents in an Eastern Shore community.

Ben Nguyen, a grower for a Delaware food company, wants to build six chicken houses along a stretch of road on the east side of Somerset County. The chicken houses, roughly 70-by-660 feet, would abut 15 homes in a relatively new residential community along Backbone Road.

The Backbone Corridor Neighbors Association complained to the county’s zoning commission, and the fight has turned nasty on social media.

The uproar could end up leading a review of the county zoning code, which allows large-scale chicken farms to be built near homes.

At a standing-room-only meeting of the zoning commission last week, area residents and farmers came armed with Power Point presentations by healthcare professionals and testimony from neighbors of poultry farms in other parts of the country.

“People who live in a residential area have the right to enjoy their property,” Maria Payan, a York County, Pennsylvania, consultant for the national nonprofit, Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, told the commission, according to The Daily Times.

Nguyen, a native of Vietnam, attended the meeting and brought what he says is proof that some people opposed to the chicken houses have posted racial slurs about him on Facebook.

One comment referenced him as people who “don’t care about any of us here.” Another post said: “They don’t live here (NYC) Chinese.”

“I’ve been racially discriminated against,” Nguyen said.

Lisa Inzerillo, a Backbone Road resident and community association member, defended the postings.

“It’s not against Asian people or people in the poultry business,” she said. “It’s against people not living on these farms. They invest to put them up down here. They hire a tenant to run them, and in that sense, they don’t care.”

She and other association members say the county’s zoning code gives more protections to agricultural operations than to residents.

Growers for the multimillion-dollar chicken industry say they’re within the law.

Gary Pusey, director of the county’s planning office, said he wants the county farm bureau to consider a possible review of regulations for poultry houses and for the county health department to advise whether health-related poultry regulations need updating.

“I will take responses back from the farm bureau and the health department,” Pusey said. “It could lead to poultry house regulations.”