Public Hearing on Deregulation of SlaughterhousesPermalink +
Sat, Dec 01, 2012, 4:42 pm // Wendy Harris
The County Council is proceeding with a poorly thought-out deregulation that amends agricultural zoning to allow slaughterhouses and rendering plants. A public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 7 P.M in the Council chambers.
Currently, the County Code specifically, affirmatively and repeatedly prohibits slaughterhouses in the Agriculture District. This was underscored in 2006 when the County Code was revised to accommodate on-farm processing of agricultural products. The regulatory burden for berry processing plants and other small accessory uses was reduced, while the prohibition against large, inappropriate processing operations, like slaughterhouses, was emphasized. Slaughterhouses were also restricted by requiring that agricultural processing remain subordinate to the primary agricultural use.
Council is now poised to throw this all away by deregulating the Agriculture District to accommodate a single applicant, Gabriel Claycamp. ( If this name sounds familiar, perhaps it is because it has been in the paper numerous times with regard to health code violations and investor fraud.) Mr. Claycamp would like to construct a slaughterhouse in the Agricultural District, and since it is expressly prohibited, he has filed a rezone application to change this inconvenient restriction.
Council Member Barbara Brenner was a co-applicant on the rezone application, which means that Mr. Claycamp is not responsible for costs associated with amending the zoning code. Instead, you, dear reader, are responsible for costs. And given the many hours of work required by the planning staff and the numerous meetings by the Planning Commission and the County Council, this particular deregulation is not going to be cheap.
But do not put your wallets away just yet, because there could be additional costs associated with GMA compliance. The Growth Management Act emphasizes the importance of conserving agricultural land. Nonagricultural uses should be limited to lands with poor soils or otherwise not suitable for agricultural purposes. RCW 36.70A.177. In contradiction, the rezone will allow slaughterhouses and rendering plants under 15,000 sq. ft. to be constructed on agricultural land as an outright permitted use.
The real kicker is that none of this was necessary. While the council cites a need for slaughterhouses to support local farmers, they ignore the Rural Industrial and Manufacturing (RIM) District that allows for such uses. RIM zoning is available in areas close to the Agricultural District, such as Guide Meridian and Smith Road, Custer between I-5 and Portal, Loomis Trail Road and Birch Bay-Lynden Rd.
The RIM avoids fragmenting and reducing viable agricultural land, while imposing higher performance standards to protect public health and the environment from the increased impacts to air, soil and water quality. The rezone fails to address issues regulated in the RIM, such as parking and loading, drainage, pollution control and nuisance abatement, heat, light and glare, odor, dust, smoke, toxic gas and fumes and liquid pollutants. This makes the rezone proposal very clearly an environmental deregulation.
The Council is moving forward despite the strong concerns raised by the Northwest Clean Air Agency, several planning commissioners and many citizens. But the public is starting to fight back. Last month, Lori Erb of Acme submitted a petition in opposition to the rezone, signed by 61 citizens. (This document was not provided to me in response to a Public Record Act request until Ms. Erb contacted me, and I specifically requested this document.)
Most recently, Friends of Whatcom County reactivated to fight this ill-conceived deregulation, and is posting information for the public on its website at http://www.friendsofwhatcom.com. Please consider signing their petition opposing this deregulation, and speaking at the public hearing.
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