"}
The Gristle

Slaughterhouse Rules

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

SLAUGHTERHOUSE RULES: Whatcom County Council last week wisely delayed bringing advanced a proposal out of their planning committee that would rezone all 80,000 acres of county agricultural land to permit slaughterhouses, planning an additional public hearing on the matter June 4.

The proposal would allow slaughterhouses of up to 10,000 square feet everywhere throughout the county’s Ag zone as an accessory use, in other words requiring no special permit. An alternative would involve county staff earlier in the permitting process, where planners can streamline permits but are still restricted in their review to meager and limited qualifiers such as water access and waste handling. Both options would permit slaughtering facilities larger than 10,000 square feet as a conditional use.

One additional point: The county already permits slaughtering facilities in specialized industrial zones; and no argument has been made—other than land prices in developed versus undeveloped areas—that what is currently permitted does not meet both need and demand.

For a column that attempts to make sense of public policy matters, the slaughterhouse issue has frankly eluded and mystified the Gristle. The controversy makes no objective sense. Between an admission that one or two small livestock processing facilities strategically sited on otherwise unproductive ag land could prove useful to county farmers and local food initiatives to throwing open the entire rural county to unlimited bloodsport is a vast unexplored continent of public policy compromise. The chasm is analogous to asking for a small glass of water and being instead knocked down by a battalion of firehoses; and the fact that significant numbers on council evidently cannot perceive the scale and scope of the chasm suggests something deeply troubling about Whatcom County Council.

Municipal governments by definition are confined to a small range of actions. They can budget. They can nudge the needle on taxes by the tiniest fraction. They can operate in limited ways as utilities. They can exercise a slim range of police powers to enact policies that promote the common good and protect the general welfare of a community, the most important of which is zoning.

Zoning we might define as the art and science of placing things a community needs in places neighborhoods don’t want, balancing the unpleasant against utility. Zoning provides predictability in land use (when developers rage about the need for predictability, they are almost always seeking a change to existing zoning) and serves to protect certain land uses from the encroachment and conversion by competitive, incompatible uses.

Frankly, few things are more unpleasant than a slaughterhouse, animal butchering on an industrial scale, in terms of odors, noises and biohazard wastes produced. And few things require protection from encroachment and conversion more than Whatcom’s dwindling supply of ag land.

Spot zoning, placing things piecemeal where they encounter paths of least resistance, is an abdication of police powers; a blanket upzone, such as council is contemplating, represents a diametric abdication of their responsibility to carefully weigh and balance competing concerns. The abdication simply permits a use without deeply contemplating the potential impacts of that use.

It’s instructive to understand how the county got here:

Someone drafted a business plan that would not pencil against land prices in areas zoned for that business. He speed-dialed a council member—in this case Barbara Brenner—to get her to run interference for a zoning change. Staff planners drafted a couple of scenarios where a business of this kind might reasonably be placed in greenfields, where land prices are lower. Their recommendations were passed to the Whatcom County Planning Commission, which is where everything went off the rails.

County planning commissioners—who despise (or deeply resent) planning and rub in the term “central planning” to impart the vague stink of Evil Communism over the effort—performed a cursory interview of farmers on the issue of slaughterhouses. They learned that if farmers (who were not particularly electrified on the topic) had their druthers, they—surprise!—druther have the option for a land use than not have the option for a land use. Commissioners understood this to mean—er, uh—property rights! Pandemonium ensued, where commissioners scotched the recommendations of planning professionals and swapped in their own steaming, stinking platter of calf scours.

Council gagged at the reek, and sent the mess back to the planning commission kitchen.

Commissioners—in particular, Ben Elenbaas—then had the Madison Avenue brainwave that if an unlimited horizon of industrial slaughterhouses was an unpleasant concept, perhaps the unpleasantness could be papered over by swapping in sunnier terms. Industrial became agricultural (who doesn’t like agriculture?); slaughterhouses became packing houses (packing what, exactly? Popsicles?).

These amateur chefs sent the same platter of liquid dairy waste back to County Council, now festooned with Orwellian sugar sprinkles. Voila!

Council held a subdued discussion last week as their original excitement of doing something simple on behalf of farmers disappeared into the yawning chasm of a countywide upzone that could place these polluting, unpleasant facilities subtractively right up against an organic farm or rural residential neighborhood with limited, extremely limited, environmental review or environmental safeguards. And for several of these Magoos, they can’t see that chasm.

The Gristle’s advice to County Council is simply this: Since this mess was created by the planning commission, and two planning commissioners (Elenbaas and commission chair Michelle Luke) are running for election to County Council, why not put off this decision until November? The election itself should serve as a unique public referendum on what is being proposed.

SVCR-0603 Buffet_ 770x150 CW
Past Columns
A Matter of Equity

August 24, 2016

A Lock on the Crypt

August 17, 2016

Zombie Terror

August 10, 2016

A Raucous Caucus

August 3, 2016

Lockup Lockstep

July 27, 2016

Polar Wastes

July 20, 2016

Chapter Two

July 13, 2016

Close the Schools!

June 22, 2016

Closing a Circle

June 8, 2016

Roads to Nowhere

May 25, 2016

Trails versus Jail

May 18, 2016

‘We Draw The Line’

May 11, 2016

Four, or Forever

May 4, 2016

Five Favor Five

April 27, 2016

Ag Gag

April 20, 2016

State of the County

April 13, 2016

Events
Today
Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

5Point Adventure Film Festival

10:00am|Downtown Bellingham

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

What's Next?

9:00am|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Wild Things

9:30am|Lake Padden

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Ferndale Farmers Market

1:00pm|Cherry Street

Barbecues and Beach Parties

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Summer Concert Series Finale

6:00pm|Seafarers Park

Ferndale Street Festival

6:00pm|Downtown Ferndale

Art Party

6:00pm|Tillie Lace Gallery

Farm Tunes

6:00pm|BelleWood Acres

Wine and Music

7:00pm|Artifacts Cafe and Wine Bar

Final Dancing on the Green

7:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Final Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Historic Fairhaven and downtown Bellingham

A Little Night Music

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center

Doubles

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 5 Point Film Festival
Tomorrow
5Point Adventure Film Festival

10:00am|Downtown Bellingham

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Barbecues and Beach Parties

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Ferndale Street Festival

6:00pm|Downtown Ferndale

Final Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Historic Fairhaven and downtown Bellingham

A Little Night Music

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center

Doubles

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverfront Plaza

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Sedro Car Show

9:00am|United General Fitness Center

Wondermud

10:00am|Bellingham BMX

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Discover Birch Bay Days

10:00am|Birch Bay Drive

Island Market

10:00am|Islander Grocery

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|Peace Portal Drive

Improv for Kids

10:30am|Improv Playworks

Fidalgo Bay Day

11:00am|Fidalgo Bay Resort

A Swinging Weekend

12:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Holly Street History Tour

1:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

This Old House

2:00pm|Point Roberts Community Center

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Drinking for Dogs

4:00pm|Green Frog Acoustic Tavern

Downtown Throwdown

4:00pm|Public Market

Scary Monster & the Super Creeps

5:00pm|Heart of Anacortes

Toys for Tots Benefit Concert

5:00pm|Eagle Haven Winery

Moonlight in Margaritaville

5:30pm|Maple Hall

An Evening with Ann Morris

7:30pm| Lummi Island Library

Circus on the Water

8:00pm|Lookout Arts Quarry and Boundary Bay Brewery

Northwood Steak and Crab Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1
Sunday
Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

A Little Night Music

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center

Discover Birch Bay Days

10:00am|Birch Bay Drive

A Swinging Weekend

12:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Chuckanut Classic

6:30am|Boundary Bay Brewery

Veterans Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Post 1585

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Run to Fight Blindness

9:00am|Cascadia Eye

Marsh Mucking

10:00am|Tennant Lake Interpretive Center

Anacortes Open Streets

11:00am|Commercial Avenue

International Concert Series Finale

2:00pm|Peace Arch Provincial Park

Cirque Literary Journal Reading

3:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Chuckanut Writers Info Session

4:00pm|Village Books,

Sunday Night Fusion

7:00pm|Presence Studio

see our complete calendar »

Swinomish 2016 5 Point Film Festival Bellingham Farmer’s Market Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Northwood Steak and Crab Village Books Andrew Subin Artifacts Wine Bar