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County farmers speak out

The Clallam County Planning Commission listened to farmers who expressed concerns about a potential agriculture-business ordinance Sept. 1.

Complaints of high permitting costs, burdensome regulations and lack of understanding resonated during the first listening session hosted by the commission.

The purpose of the agriculture, agriculture-accessory and farm-based business project is to allow for expanded agriculture uses, to develop specific performance measures and to provide a review process to minimize impacts of such a business, county senior planner Selinda Barkhuis said in a presentation.

Agriculture-accessory uses support, sustain or promote the agricultural activities, she said.

That could include marketing, storing and distributing products or agriculturally related experiences, Barkhuis said.

"The lack of specificity (in what is allowed for agriculture businesses) makes it difficult for people to know what to do," she said.

Questions the staff hoped to have answered during the listening session included what concerns there were about adopting Growth Management Act criteria for agriculture accessory uses, what types of agriculture accessory uses should be permitted on the 6,200 acres of agriculture retention-zoned land and what type should be allowed on rural residential land, she said.

Instead they got an earful about high permit costs, nonsensical regulations and confusion about how to get through the planning process.

Steve Ragsdale, owner of Sunshine Herb and Lavender Farm, said he spent $800,000 on what he thought would be a $200,000 investment.

Due to the county's requirement that he have a lavender drying shed professionally engineered, he forked over $1,800 in addition to the building permit, he said.

Ragsdale said he hoped the county would follow the hands-off approach of Jefferson County, which does not require building permits for agricultural structures as long as they are built to code.

He also said the ordinance should be more industry-specific; for example, lavender farms should have different rules than hog farms, because they have different impacts.

Ragsdale said he doesn't see things representing personal freedom in the ideas for an agriculture ordinance.

He said an ordinance would work against "some poor schmuck who saved all his life to buy property to make into a business and leave for his kids" by burdening him with regulations and fees.

Rick Olson, who owns a lavender farm on Cays Road, said the rural residential zones in the county are driving a suburbia, which hurts the agricultural zones.

"You guys are crazy," he said. "You need to take a step back and think about what you want to achieve."

Friends of the Fields founder Robert Caldwell said the county needs to act to protect small farms and the regulations would put obstacles in their way.

"I hope you'll give full acknowledgement of these things," he said.

The county plans to hold further listening sessions, along with public hearings, as staff continues to examine the possibility of forming an agriculture ordinance.



Reach Amanda Winters at awinters@sequimgazette.com



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