Case dismissed against Dunst for commercial trucks on farm

Associate Editor

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (April 25, 2017) — A Howard County court dismissed last week four citations against a Woodbine farmer for parking commercial trucks on his property — an issue that rankled county farmers who vowed to speak out against the charges in court.
The citations against Herman Dunst were dismissed April 18 after Howard County District Court issued a consent judgment, settling the case, said Dunst’s attorney, Alex Adams.
Dunst was required to pay a $500 fine, though the order allows him to continue parking the vehicles on his property, Adams said.
The county seems “to think that you can’t do anything else on your property except farm,” he said.
Dunst was issued four citations March 10: Three for operating a commercial trucking business on rural conservation-zoned property and one for off-street parking or storage of more than two commercial vehicles on rural conservation-zoned property.
Several farmers said they planned to speak before the court at the April 18 hearing on behalf of Dunst until they learned the case was settled.
Farmers in the county have become increasingly frustrated with the county’s code enforcement policies, which have encroached on agricultural activity within the county, said Ricky Bauer, a grain farmer and vice president of the county’s agricultural preservation board.
While the settlement is a good thing, he said, it doesn’t necessarily end the issue.
“The problem is the neighbors can turn right around and start the whole thing over again,” he said.
A complaint from a neighbor sparked the citations, Adams said.
Eric Dunst said he discovered a code enforcement officer taking photos of his trucks — he runs an agricultural trucking company — on the farm at 3 a.m. one morning.
He said the county allows two trucks per lot, and the Dunsts own three lots.
He also said the issue has been ongoing for several years.
“It’s really screwed up the way this county is doing this,” he said in an interview earlier this month. “Ninety-nine percent of what we do is agricultural stuff.”
Andy Barth, a county spokesperson, declined to comment on the issue earlier this month because the case was pending, and a county spokesperson did not return a call for comment last week.
The county’s laws encourage commercial agriculture, but they’re not adequately enforced, particularly when the county faces complaints from surrounding residents, Adams said.
“Agriculture has changed a lot,” he said. “Part of the problem is that the department of planning and zoning doesn’t understand, in my opinion, how agriculture works. … They’d rather enforce the complaint than what’s in the statute.”
Dunst initially faced about $60,000 in fines, Adams said.
Howie Feaga, head of the county Farm Bureau, said he was disappointed with the county’s handling of the issue.
“I think it could have been handled better from the get-go,” he said. “To go in there at 3 o’clock in the morning is a little ridiculous.”