articles about Community Development and Planning

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Misunderstanding over the county enforcement process, requirements of the county builiding code including the adopted international building code (IBC) and frustration with government in general has led to Nick and Sara Jones shutting down their Lopez Island farm stand as of November 26, 2011.

Their 1500 word opinion piece is posted in the Opinion box in the right hand column. It is verbatim except for the omission of the county employees' names in keeping with San Juan Islanders' policy.

The Jones have an approximately 200-square-foot enclosed farm stand built without a building permit. If it was an agricultural building it wouldn't require a permit.

The IBC defines agricultural buildings as: A structure designed and constructed to house farm implements, hay, grain, poultry, livestock or other horticultural products. This structure shall not be a place of human habitation or a place of employment where agricultural products are processed, treated or packaged, nor shall it be a place used by the public.

The farm stand is being considered by the county under: Mercantile Group M which occupancy includes, among others, the use of a building or structure or a portion thereof, for the display and sale of merchandise and involves stocks of goods, wares or merchandise incidental to such purposes and accessible to the public. Mercantile occupancies shall include, but not be limited to, the following Department stores, Drug stores, Markets, Motor fuel-dispensing facilities, Retail or wholesale stores, Sales rooms.

According to the code enforcement officer, he is required to enforce the code for the "...benefit of the health, safety, and welfare of the general public, and not for the benefit of any particular person or class of person." SJCC 18.100.030.

A building permit would cost $109. Nick and Sara Jones say compliance would cost them "tens of thousands of dollars" and neither of the county employees "is willing to tell us what exactly we need to do in order to comply before we submit a permit and commit to carrying out all required improvements."

In an interview Friday, CD&P Director Rene Belevieu said, "I can't tell them what they need to do until they tell me what they have now."

The November 15 letter the Jones were sent from the code enforcement officer asked them to contact him within 15 days. Enforcement procedure is based on educating the public and voluntary compliance. The first step is to go in, become informed about the rules and what is needed to comply.

The Jones have interpreted the letter as "We have been informed that we face prosecution if the issue is not "addressed" within 15 days of our notice."

As of Friday, November 18, the Jones had not replied to the code enforcement officer.

In their Opinion piece, which was also emailed widely throughout the community last week, Nick and Sara said: "We operate an organic farm, we produce, award winning, healthful, carbon neutral food. We employ between 5-10 people year round. We bring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the county annually. We pay all our taxes, we donate to community organizations, we sit on committees, commissions and boards, we collaborate with environmental groups to address real resource issues, we innovate to address real safety and health issues, we host regular free, open houses, pig roasts and farm tours. In turn we are treated as criminals, earth rapers and endless piggy banks by San Juan County, Washington State and the federal government. All our business owner friends, particularly owners of resource based businesses, tell the same story."

The couple is shutting their farm stand down on November 26. An open house will be held from 2 to 6 p.m. at the farm stand at 1454 Mud Bay Rd. on Lopez Island.

HISTORY of the JONES FARM CODE ENFORCEMENT PROCESS

In 2009, the health food inspector reviewed their application for a Food Establishment Permit. She asked for information about licenses/permits to comply with section 3-201.11 of the Food Code.

As is normal procedure, the Health Department notified CD&P of the application. The previous code enforcement officer contacted the Jones family and told them they would need a provisional land use permit since under the county code farm stands were not allowed in Agricultural Resource land.

Provisional permits are given by the CD&P director if the use meets conditions - it is easier than a conditional use permit. There is no public hearing, no conditions imposed by neighbors.

Jones replied he thought the County Council had already changed the code to allow farm stands in AG resource land. Long story short - they didn't apply for a Provisional permit. A code violation file was opened.

Since the county is considering changing the rule, no enforcement action was taken against the Jones. They opened their business.

In 2011, the new code enforcement officer, who has a background in building codes, was working on closing out 2009 open files. Reviewing the Jones file he realized the building required a permit and checked for one. Discovering one did not exist, he wrote the letter. A fellow employee wrote a letter explaining the rules.In an interview Friday, an emphasis was made on the life and safety aspect of the building codes and concerns about the entry and what sort of electrical system is used at the farm stand.

While the original code violation involved land use, it is the county's practice to review the project for compliance in all areas. The review is not limited to just one specific item.