Revisions to Clallam County’s code propose provisions for farms countywide, such as requiring guides for farm tours or clearly marked areas visitors can go. Retail stores are also proposed to be 1,000 square feet or less. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Revisions to Clallam County’s code propose provisions for farms countywide, such as requiring guides for farm tours or clearly marked areas visitors can go. Retail stores are also proposed to be 1,000 square feet or less. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)

Hearing set for farm standards

Proposal before Clallam County Planning Commission

SEQUIM — After months of discussions and line-by-line tweaks, Clallam County planners will host a public hearing for code changes focused on Agricultural Accessory Uses that some farmers worried could have led them to shutter or significantly alter operations.

A public hearing for the ordinance with the Clallam County Planning Commission is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday in the commissioners’ hearing room at the Clallam County Courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St., Port Angeles. The meeting is hybrid with more information at clallamcountywa.gov/765/Planning-Commission-PC.

Testimony will be heard on the proposed code changes, and if planning commissioners approve county staff’s recommendations, the changes will go to county commissioners for consideration and potential implementation. No timetable has been given for that process.

Some previous critics of the zoning changes now say proposals are doable and not as cost-prohibitive as they once thought.

“I’m generally happy with the changes,” said Rick Olson, co-owner of Lavender Connection in Dungeness. “Most of my issues have been addressed during the process.”

Bruce McCloskey, co-owner of B&B Family Farm near Carlsborg, said he also feels good about the process, saying, “I think the county is doing their best to keep the farms in business and also comply with rules and regulations.”

McCloskey added that he was “pleased with how (county officials) reached out for input and done a good job of listening to our concerns.”

Starting last November with outreach about possible changes, Holden Fleming, chief deputy director of Clallam County’s Department of Community Development, estimated the county received more than 240 responses from two surveys, and up to 75 individuals participated in public meetings.

Bruce Emery, the county’s director of Community Development, said at the time the impetus for changes came after a series of complaints were made about Sequim lavender farms before Sequim Lavender Weekend regarding various code violations.

Code enforcement of violations is complaint driven, Emery said, but it doesn’t mean the complaints were correct. It had been at least 10 years since a lavender farm received a complaint, he said.

Fleming said agricultural activities are allowed in most zones in the county, and proposed changes are not altering the underlying zoning for anybody.

“What is driving this process is a recognition that our county policies, as outlined in the Comprehensive Plan, call on us to develop prescriptive standards that allow for “compatible on-farm enterprises (CCC31.02.120(2)) ,” he said.

“And we hope to provide predictability and consistency in permitting when local farms want to engage in these compatible accessory uses.”

What is an agricultural accessory use?

Agricultural Accessory Uses are “a use that directly supports, promotes and is subordinate to a permitted primary agricultural use or agricultural activity on a farm,” according to the county’s definition.

Those uses include, but are not limited to: temporary onsite retail stands; onsite agricultural retail stores; onsite retail greenhouses, onsite agricultural processing facilities, farmers markets, u-pick sales, guided tour of the agricultural operations, work stays and other farm-dependent accessory activities.

One of the biggest changes through the planning process has been a shift from requiring a Conditional Use Permit for farms of a certain size to a proposed Certificate of Compliance.

Fleming said the certificate is “a purely administrative review and lacks the formal public hearing associated with a conditional use permit.”

“In both a Certificate of Compliance and a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) the same set of standards are reviewed,” he said. “In both cases, a building permit is always required any time a structure is open to the public.”

A Certificate of Compliance also costs $150, whereas a CUP could be as much as $2,425 — along with any expenses required to come into compliance.

Under the proposed ordinance, Certificates of Compliance would be required for retail stores and greenhouses on farms of any size.

Farmers markets would be required to file for a CUP for up to 4.99 acres and a certificate for 5 acres or more.

U-pick and farm tours would require a certificate for up to 4.99 acres and would be allowed outright for 5 acres or more.

Work stays, paid accommodation on a working farm where guests partake in agricultural work, would be prohibited for farms on 4.99 acres or less but allowed with a certificate for 5 acres or more.

Structures

One of the key elements to the process is providing provisions for temporary onsite retail stands that are allowed outright for any farm so long as they are no larger than 40 square feet and internally accessible, Fleming said.

In addition, at least 75 percent of all products must be agricultural products produced in Clallam or and/or Jefferson counties.

Retail stores hold the same production requirements, and their public accessible space must not exceed 1,000 square feet. Going beyond that is allowed through CUP, Fleming said.

“This also means that our agricultural community can be creative with how these stores are integrated into their agricultural facilities,” he said. “They do not necessarily have to be a stand-alone space.”

During Lavender Connection’s open season, Olson hosts a lavender essential oil station in a tent near the farm store where visitors can smell different plants.

He said county staff indicated they’d view that as part of a farm tour as they aren’t making any sales there. They could also see it as a farm stand, Olson said, which is proposed to be allowed outright as the public is not allowed in it.

“These are the vagaries of how it’s going to be enforced,” he said.

Under the proposal, greenhouses with public access must have a building permit, and 100 percent of product from the site.

Both retail stores and greenhouses can operate from sunrise to 10 p.m. from May to October unless they obtain further permitting.

Stores and greenhouses must have at least one Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant (ADA) parking space, and more may be required depending on the size of the lot.

Visual buffers are required for permanent parking, but farms only open part of the year would not be required to install the buffers.

U-pick and farm tours

U-pick and farm tours — staples at many lavender farms — remain relatively the same, requiring the same parking and hours of operation requirements as retail stores and greenhouses.

Educational tours or events are allowed outright if in partnership with the WSU Extension Office, Clallam County 4H club or accredited educational institutes.

Farm tours also must be guided by a designated farm representative or be contained within areas with clearly delineated boundary lines, according to the proposed ordinance.

Work stays

Under the proposal for work stays, at least one individual is providing agricultural work onsite for no longer than two weeks and with no more than six individuals.

Permanent structures are not allowed, and they must stay in temporary tents not provided by the farm.

Each farm must have no more than three work stay sites per 5 acres, or up to 12 allowed depending on the acreage, unless under a CUP.

Differentiating between campgrounds and work stays, Fleming said any new campground proposal needs approval through a CUP as “neighbors typically have some level of feedback on proposed campgrounds.”

For Agricultural Accessory Uses, he said activities must be directly related and subordinate to the onsite agricultural activity, i.e. lavender.

“When a farm offers a work stay program, it is very important that the ‘work’ aspect comes first, and the ‘stay’ aspect comes second,” Fleming said.

“Staff feels that there is sufficient policy to allow for this distinction between ‘work stays’ and camping.”

Other activities

One element of the proposal “Other Farm Dependent Accessory Activities” is left vague on purpose, Fleming said.

“If it can be demonstrated that a use could meet all applicable standards, that use could be considered under the ‘other farm related activities section (except wedding venues, which are specifically not allowed under this section),’” he said.

“Staff wanted to allow enough flexibility as to not need to create an exhaustive list of all possible activities that a farm may wish to engage in.

“Now, with parcels over 10 acres, unique proposals could simply require an administrative process.”

The proposed code states some “activities may provide an engaging and entertaining experience for participants and may include, but are not limited to, corn mazes and other such maze structures, tractor rides, and/or agricultural demonstrations.”

A CUP would be required for up to 9.99 acres, and a Certificate of Compliance for 10 acres and larger.

The code restricts these other activities to no more than 21 days within a calendar year, and no more than three other activities may be allowed without a CUP.

Fleming said farms operating under a special event permit, such as for Sequim Lavender Weekend, would be covered under those provisions for events.

David Herbelin, co-owner of Old Barn Lavender, just north of Sequim, opened to the public last year and he’s had some concerns through the planning process about impacts on smaller farms, which largely have been reversed.

He said this section of the proposal feels too vague and could be asking for trouble, as activities like playing yard games and wreath making could be considered an “other activity.”

“(Needing) a conditional use permit to do a demonstration seems kind of excessive but I understand trying not to make these farms into county fairs,” Herbelin said.

He added that it would impact silent educational activities and the change would be “overreaching and a detriment to the experience we’re trying to give to visitors.”

“People are coming to farms to learn about farming and they’re here for the farm experience,” Herbelin said.

“It kills the farm experience other than being a store or U-pick. How we are going to make money if you get rid of that experience?”

Enforcement

Speaking about code enforcement, Emery said in November, “my commitment is we’re not doing anything until we get through this process, and then it’s more of an assistance to bring things into compliance.”

Fleming said county staff members’ “primary concern with this proposal is to align development regulations with county policies.”

“To begin enforcement action on farms in rural and resource zones based on development regulations (or a lack thereof) that may be misaligned with existing policies, and especially while this proposed update is in process, could be considered a misplaced effort,” he said.

“In short, Clallam County will continue to pursue those actions that best align with its mission statement ‘[…] to promote public safety, a healthy environment, and a strong local economy, and to provide courteous, timely, and efficient service to the public.’”

Asked about potential provisions at B&B Family Farm, McCloskey said he’s not too worried.

“We needed to put up some handicap parking signs; something we needed to do anyways,” he said.

“One or two things might need a Certificate of Compliance, but they’re relatively minor.

“(Planners’) attitude hasn’t been ‘We gotcha.’ It’s been how can we get through and get you into compliance.”

He added that the Planning Commission is just making a recommendation.

“I have no idea where county commissioners are gonna come down,” McCloskey said.

For more information on documents and meetings, visit clallamcountywa.gov/1751/Agriculture-Accessory-Use-Public-Outreac.

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Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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