Skip to Content

News & Resources

Mulch ado about farmland preservation in Montgomery County

12/31/2013 | Real Estate Blog

Earlier this month, we wrote about a Philadelphia city councilmember’s efforts to attract a Sriracha sauce manufacturer to the area. The neighbors of the current plant have complained about the odors and fumes that come from the facility during chili mashing season. If city residents would like more first-hand information about what it’s like to live next to a troublesome neighbor, they may want to drive out to Douglass Township in Montgomer County.

About 18 months ago, a mulch company purchased a 53.4-acre site there that had been a tree nursery. A month or so later, the zoning board reviewed and approved the company’s request to operate a mulch business on 7.5 acres of the parcel. Now, neighbors are looking at 20-foot piles of foul-smelling mulch, and they are not happy.

The stinking mess is just part of the problem. The township believes that the company is using more than the 7.5 acres for the mulch piles. If the township is reading the aerial photos correctly, the mulch operation has expanded to 13 acres. According to a recent lawsuit, that amounts to violations of local, state and federal laws.

The property is listed with Pennsylvania’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Program, so it needed the town’s approval to go ahead with the mulching operation; that is, it needed approval to use agricultural land for a commercial purpose. Coloring outside the lines, however, is a violation: The easement is specific, and the property owner must abide by its terms.

It did not help matters that the mulch piles caught fire in November. The mulching process generates heat and that can lead to spontaneous combustion. Firefighters worked for hours before they got the fire under control.

That lit a fire under local leaders. We’ll discuss their next steps in our next post.

Source:, “Administrative trial set to resolve controversy over mulch operation,” Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman, Dec. 14, 2013