11/18/2011: "County Action Against Lopez Farm-Stand"
Nick and Sara Jones report the County has effectively closed down their award winning farm-stand on Lopez (Jones Family Farm) due because the building does not have a Provisional Use permit, or a building permit.
Jones said after "two and a half years of operation the San Juan County CD&P (Community Development & Planning has determined that we are operating our farm-stand 'without the benefit of a permit'”.
The Jones family states they "had believed up to this point, and as previous planning department officials had informed us," that as a farm-stand they were exempt from codes for commercial buildings.
SJC Code Enforcement Officer Chris Laws said the Jones building is not a typical "stand" that has some shelves holding local produce that is for sale, but rather a normal building fully enclosed, equipped with freezers, shelves, water tanks for the sale of live oysters, etc.; and does not have a building permit of any kind.
As for the use permit, the Jones family expressed their concern that such enforcement action may mean "By San Juan County interpretation of the laws, every farm-stand in the county is currently in violation of these same codes. Every artist studio, home church, or any private building that is advertised as open to the public does so in violation of these codes. Any person owning or operating such a facility can, at any moment be forced to close or comply, on the timeline, whim and caprice of an individual code enforcement officer, with open ended 'commercial' upgrades to their stand, studio or home."
They may or may not be correct, but Laws said that while he does not drive around looking for violations of the code, they do investigate if they receive a complaint, or if, as in the current case, application was made for a permit that results in a review of the application.
Laws said the Jones family had applied for a Food Establishment Permit from the SJC Health Department related to their food sales. The Health Department sends permit applications to CD&PD for review of any possible land use and/or building permit violations.
It was the Health Department application that set in motion the enforcement action against the Jones family. Jones said the food inspector with the SJC Health department "provided the complaint to the planning department that has resulted in our farm-stand closing" due to the lack of a commercial building permit.
Jones explains that their building is "roughly 200 square feet, self-service, and sells a variety of frozen island grow meats, frozen local seafood, and fresh live Lopez Island Shellfish."
Jones believes the cost of compliance to "satisfy all the legal requirements of a full sized grocery store, restaurant, or any other commercial enterprise" will cost "cost us tens of thousands of dollars, as well as consuming vast amounts of time."
Chris Laws told The Island Guardian that “It’s important to have some perspective in this case, the permit requirement would probably amount to about $109 and would be centered on life and safety issues to ensure a safe environment for the public as is my mandate pursuant to SJCC 18.100.030.”
However, because the County requires some response within 15 days, the Jones Family plans to close their Farm-Stand at the end of the month. Laws points out that is their choice, but it is not necessary to do so, since “Mr. Jones was not given a 15 day deadline to comply, he was given 15 days to simply contact this office to discuss the situation… the mandate for Code Enforcement is to “…encourage voluntary correction of violations.” SJCC 18.100.01.”
The Jones' are frustrated, confused by the County action, and concerned that the County has decided to take a step back from allowing small commercial uses of private land, as they point out:
"Every San Juan County mission statement, public utterance and press release, declares commitment to small business, local agriculture and entrepreneurialism. Our experiences in owning, operating and building our business over the past ten years finds these statements to be at best delusional and at worse a cynical lie. County officials seem to view small business; particularly resource based small business, as an annoyance, an enemy, and a cash cow. We are actively punished for producing, employing and operating in San Juan County. Much of San Juan County code is written like private community CC&Rs and provides endless opportunities for complainants to launch actions against neighbor, citizens and businesses."
In a November 15 letter, Laws stated: “The land-use permits for the [Jones] Farm-Sand are not an issue at this time due to a pending proposal to the Code that will better clarify such requirements” for a Provisional Use permit for the processing, retail and visitor-serving facilities.
But Jones states it is "getting worse and worse. Now we are launching into agriculture CAO [Critical Area Ordinance] star wars, whereby perceived, undefined impacts on unspecified species and natural functions are criminally punishable, and anyone can initiate an enforcement action against anyone they choose, with the burden of proof and expense of proof on the farmer. We who work the land and produce food are set to be fully accountable, at our time and expense, for the impressions and opinions of passersby and activists. We state in unequivocal terms, the CAO will throttle agricultural production and opportunity in San Juan County and will do nothing to improve the environment. The CAO is an existential threat to agriculture in San Juan County.
The Jones family wants some action, and they want if from elected officials: "We challenge our local elected officials: Do your jobs and protect us from your own bureaucracy and from carping citizens, stand up for us against higher levels of government."
And they also " challenge our fellow citizens: Express your views on these issues loudly, politely, insistently and indefatigably to our elected officials. If they cannot help us then let’s get rid of them all and try a new round. These issues transcend party and ideology. We are lifelong Democrats. However, next year we plan to vote against every incumbent, regardless of party, unless given very good reason not to."
The public is asked to join them "at our farm-stand, 1454 Mud Bay Rd. for a last open house and farewell on Saturday November 26 from 2-6pm."