County, farmers talk agriculture accessory use ordinance

Officials say education is first step in compliance

A new agricultural accessory use ordinance went into effect recently that sets new requirements for all Clallam County farms larger than 1 acre.

Some Sequim lavender farmers say it’s business as usual for them with an influx of visitors expected for Sequim Lavender Weekend July 19-21 and throughout the summer.

While each farm has different offerings, a handful of farmers said they’re waiting to talk with county officials before making significant actions.

Bruce McCloskey with B&B Family Farm said he’s comfortable with the ordinance changes.

“I don’t feel the county is going to hang up a bunch of papers and put farmers out of business,” he said. “I feel they’re going to be fair and not going to have any ‘gotchas.’ It’s not their frame of mind. It’s the last thing they want to do.”

Farmers have provided input since November on the ins and outs of the regulations that previously didn’t exist for allowed farm store sizes, farm stands, and activities, such as U-pick, farm tours, and much more.

McCloskey said they made some good, voluntary changes at his farm, such as installing handicap parking signs.

“They’re for the better,” he said. “This is a good start.”

One of the changes during the planning process has been a switch from many farms required to file for a Conditional Use Permit — costing as much as $2,425, along with any required conditions — to a Certificate of Compliance (for a $150 fee).

The certificate requires a staff review, whereas a CUP application requires a staff review and public hearing.

Holden Fleming, Clallam County’s chief deputy director of Community Development, said county staffers are using a checklist to assist in the review process for a Certificate of Compliance.

“This document is subject to change in the near future as the review process becomes more streamlined,” he said.

Certificates of Compliance are being issued within 90 days of an application, Fleming said, with many issued within a month.

For Conditional Use Permits, county staffers are making a decision on applications “well before the 120-day time limit,” he said.

For permits and/or more information, farmers can contact the county’s planning division at 360-417-2420 or visit the Department of Community Development in the courthouse at 223 E. Fourth St., in Port Angeles.


Last winter when planners held outreach sessions across the county, Bruce Emery, Clallam County’s director of Community Development, said the impetus for code changes came after a series of complaints were made about lavender farms just before Lavender Weekend.

He said the complaints didn’t mean action was needed on the farms, and lavender farms in general hadn’t received a complaint in more than a decade.

Emery said the county operates on a complaint driven model for code enforcement, but there were no prescriptive standards to protect farms and show that they are in compliance.

He said their intent would be to seek a farm’s assistance to come into compliance before any enforcement, a point Fleming echoes months later.

Fleming said the county follows a nine-step investigation process “with an emphasis on code compliance by education and prevention as a first step.”

“We will continue to work with the public on this education component as this new code roll-out moves forward,” he said.

So far, one farm has applied for a Certificate of Compliance, Fleming said, and a second farm requested information on the process.

Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash
An upcoming Clallam County Comprehensive Plan update could add broader provisions for farms to allow more activities under its agricultural accessory use code.

Sequim Gazette photo by Matthew Nash An upcoming Clallam County Comprehensive Plan update could add broader provisions for farms to allow more activities under its agricultural accessory use code.

With Clallam County commissioners approving the ordinance on June 25 and it going into effect on July 5, the turnaround for farmers to receive permitting during growing and tourist season is tight — a point farmers mentioned throughout Clallam County Planning Commission meetings.

In November, Emery said there are more “glaring issues” for his department to focus on than “someone’s business that they’re hanging on to by their fingertips to keep going.”

He said the county code is primarily concerned with protecting agricultural land and rural communities from encroachment of commercial use.

“This ordinance has formalized a pathway that farms can use to permit a wide variety of agricultural accessory uses on their farms,” Fleming said.

“This pathway can provide surety to the farms that their activities are permitted.”


Most farms can avoid a Conditional Use Permit under the code, unless they look to hold a farmers market on less than 4.99 acres, or an unspecified “other farm dependent accessory activity” on land less than 9.99 acres.

David Herbelin, co-owner of Old Barn Lavender Company, said he learned late in the planning process that their small farm would still be required to file for a Conditional Use Permit as they are in the Urban Growth Area.

“I was at every single (planning) meeting and it almost feels discriminatory,” he said.

Herbelin said he and his wife Melissa went to seek out permits a few years ago and were told by local agencies they didn’t need them.

“Since day one, we’ve tried to do the right thing and we’re getting the short end of the stick,” he said.

Herbelin even incorporated his series of events into a portion of Olympic Theatre Arts’s melodrama “Lavender Dreams.”

Old Barn Lavender was part of a tour that county officials attended at Sequim lavender farms, and Herbelin said the only issue they encountered was a needed 2-inch ramp for wheelchairs to access the barn, which they added.

He said it’s cost prohibitive to apply for the CUP, and the county could update its Comprehensive Plan to reverse provisions like a required CUP for farms like his.

“We’re going to hope for the best,” he said.

Rick Olson with Lavender Connection calls the ordinance “a major step forward.”

“Overall it’s good for the lavender community and all agricultural endeavors out there,” he said. “There’s still a ways to go to get where we need to be to keep small farms afloat.”

He too is optimistic the Comprehensive Plan update can further explore allowing breweries, cideries and more.

Olson, like several other farmers, say that they’re awaiting to hear what might be required after a building permit inspection for their store.

Under the county’s code, any farm that allows public access into a building requires a building permit.

Lavender Connection hosts a Washington State Heritage Barn that Olson said gives him optimism it’ll be approved without major upgrades as they must keep the barn’s natural aesthetic, and it is only open in the summer.

“If it’s not exorbitantly expensive then we’ll (fix the building),” he said.

“If in the county’s review (they require expensive changes), then we’ll look at other options and not use the barn.

“That would hurt us emotionally as the barn is part of our farm’s identity.”

As they await a building permit and the Comprehensive Plan update, Olson said they’ll continue on.

“We’ve been operating this way for 20 years and we can’t run away or shut things down,” he said. “We’ll keep looking ahead and allow the process to work itself out.”

Katina Hester with Gnomelicious Lavender Farm said she too is waiting on her building permit going through to see just how much any requirements might cost.

If costs are too much, she said they might close their farm store off U.S. Highway 101 to the public. As a contingency plan for possible ill-effects from Clallam County zoning, she and her daughter opened a storefront in Port Townsend earlier this year.

Jeanette Bockelie, co-owner of Kitty B’s Lavender Farm, said they’ve expanded open dates this year and if county regulations required them to change anything significantly they’d likely just close due to costs.

“We’re basically doing this for fun, not having to live off of it,” she said.

Emery said in June that the agricultural accessory use adoption is the first in a two-step process with the second part being the development of the Growth Management Act update to the county’s Comprehensive Plan that could add regulatory freedoms into the agricultural accessory use code.

Public outreach meetings will begin in the fall and the process will take three to six months before staff drafts a comprehensive change document and conducts more public meetings before presenting a plan to county commissioners.