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For the Record: The Closing of Jones Family Farms Store

PRESS RELEASE: The owner of a small store on Lopez that sells live shellfish frozen seafood, meat and produce has distributed a two page letter to the media, public officials and some organizations, criticizing two County employees by name and blaming San Juan County for forcing him to shut down at the end of the month.

For the record no enforcement action has been filed against Jones Family Farms.

The action that provoked Mr. Jones response was a letter from the County enforcement officer Chris Laws, asking him to contact the County to discuss a land use complaint filed more than two years ago -- which the County has decided not to pursue at this point -- and a concern about the use of an unpermitted structure as a store.

Mr. Laws is relatively new in the position of code enforcement officer and he has been trying to clear a backlog of complaints on file, particularly those that can be cleared up quickly. This is a service to property owners, because the County code prohibits further development or the issuance of construction permits on property where a complaint is pending.

After reviewing a 2009 land use complaint against the Jones Family Farms property, Mr. Laws decided not to pursue the case, but in doing the review he discovered that a fully enclosed, unpermitted building containing refrigeration equipment and a shellfish tank, was being used to sell food products -- including shellfish, frozen fish and meat --  to the public.

The property owners subsequently talked with another staff member about whether a “farm stand” required permitting. That staff member concluded that, because of the nature of the structure, the electrical hookup and equipment and the fact that customers transact business inside the building, it does need to be permitted.

County building official, Rene Beliveau, said the permit requirements aren't onerous and noted that another farm store was permitted and built earlier this year.

"In this case, we'd be looking to make sure the electrical connections are safe, the equipment installed properly, that people can get in and out of the building safely and that the structure is sound."

According to Beliveau, the permitting process should cost between $100 and $150, not "tens of thousands of dollars. The process will determine what, if any, improvements are needed.

"We try to work with people to make sure that what we’re requiring makes sense under the circumstances – but we have a responsibility to take reasonable steps to minimize the danger that people could get electrocuted or get sick or injured because of a plumbing or structural problem."

After reviewing the situation, San Juan County Administrator Pete Rose said, "Mr. Jones's announcement that he will close his farm store at the end of the month is his own decision. As members of this community, as well as agents for common interests of the people of San Juan County, the County's employees know that the loss of a business is a loss for our community. We are sorry that Mr. Jones feels it advisable to close his business."

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