Neighbors Tim McCulloch and Greg Garrett were on separate ends of the residential oyster farming battle that was waging in York County this fall, but yesterday both men fought before the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to lease water bordering their properties to harvest the seafood.
From the York County Planning Commission meeting in November 2010 when Garrett was denied a recommendation for a special use permit to conduct an oyster farming business from his waterfront home in Dandy, to the most recent debate about aquaculture zoning changes on Nov. 17, McCulloch has been vocal against harvesting oysters on a residentially zoned property. Yesterday a VMRC panel approved a request McCulloch made Aug. 8 to lease 27 acres of oyster planting ground in the water that partially lines his property and borders much of Garrett’s leased oyster farming area.
Garrett and some supporters spoke before the VMRC panel, saying that McCulloch was anti-aquaculture and that McCulloch sent multiple emails and spoke against oyster farming on residential properties. McCulloch explained during the meeting that he will not be harvesting oysters on his residential property, but on the commercial property he owns next door to his home.
“The insinuation that I’m against agriculture is ludicrous,” McCulloch said. “I’m against anyone who is against zoning laws. All of my work for my oyster business will be done on my commercial property. I’m so fired up about growing oysters that I’m going to do this in a big way.”
McCulloch said he was “dead serious” about having a large-scale oyster business and that he hopes to one day have millions of oysters, which he said would require thousands of cages.
Garrett protested McCulloch’s VMRC application in October and applied for a portion of the same area his neighbor had requested. Garrett told the panel he was supportive of anyone who wanted to start harvesting oysters, but he believed McCulloch intended to lease the land to insure Garrett couldn’t expand his business and for control of the water around both of their properties. Garrett said he could not expand his business in any other way because the other portion of his leased water is already bordered by water leased by the Yorktown Refinery.
When the panel asked Garrett why he had not applied to lease the water before McCulloch applied, Garrett said he was trying to work with the Yorktown Refinery to expand, which proved to be unsuccessful. Garrett also said he was trying to avoid a fight with McCulloch.
Garrett, a local Realtor, has been fighting with York County for the right to conduct an oyster farming business on his land. Earlier this month he filed an appeal in York-Poquoson Circuit Court, asking for relief from a Board of Zoning/Subdivision Appeals decision that his oyster farming business is operating in violation of county zoning code. Garrett is arguing his oyster farm should be grandfathered as a permitted use under the ordinance in place when he received a letter Aug. 30 that said he was in violation of county code. Garrett believes that ordinance would have allowed him to grow and sell oysters from his home, which is located on property that is zoned residential. York County disagrees, saying the old ordinance wouldn’t have allowed the oyster farm in the first place and the new rule, updated during the Nov. 17 Board of Supervisors meeting, still doesn’t. Click here to read more.
VMRC Associate Board Member Rick Robins told those opposing the application that the Virginia Code gives the VMRC the power not to renew McCulloch’s lease if he is not using utilizing the designated 27 acres of water, but code also states that the application process is first come, first serve.
“We are not in the position to resolve any issues between the applicant and the protestant,” Robins said. “The way that the code is set up, the grounds are given to those who have applied first. The applicant gave testimony that he will utilize the ground, and there is code that the commission has the remedy to not renew the application if the land is not used.”
The VMRC members also explained that McCulloch did not have to prove that he was interested in being an oyster farmer or that he was trying to stop Garrett from expanding his business.
“McCulloch only had to prove he is a resident, not that he has the greatest desire to harvest oysters,” VMRC Associate Board Member Bryan Plumlee said.