Public hearing on county code set for March 6 at Vendome

Ag buildings like the one show above, and ones similar to it, are the target of a new county ordinance that would require a permit for the construction of agricultural structures. A hearing on the issue is set for 3 p.m. on Monday, March 6 at the Vendome Events Center in downtown Weiser. Stock photo
Philip A. Janquart
Commissioners will hear comments on new permit requirement for ag buildings
Washington County has scheduled a public hearing for 3 p.m. on March 6 at the Vendome in Weiser. 
 Commissioners will receive public comment regarding proposed changes to county code that would require a permit to construct an agricultural building and provides a tighter definition of such a structure.
 Washington County code 3-1-4 currently exempts agriculture buildings from building code requirements, defining them as, “structures designed and constructed to house farm implements, hay, grain, poultry, livestock or other horticultural products.”
 The code states further that, “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.”
 In addition, owners are required to file an agriculture declaration with their local building official prior to construction. Any “willful” violation of current code could result in a misdemeanor, a $300 fine or imprisonment of no more than 90 days.
 The original proposed code change was first addressed at a regular meeting on Jan. 9, 2023. It did not allow for certain amenities such as showers, beds, sinks, toilets, etc., according to commissioner Gordan Wilkerson who was attending his first meeting as a newly elected official.
 Since that time, Wilkerson and several farmers and ranchers have come forward in opposition to a measure they say is impractical and even a violation of Constitutionally protected property rights.
 Commissioner Nate Marvin said the issue came to the forefront after the county dealt with a specific landowner that did not adhere to planning and zoning requirements, something that has happened too often in the past.
 “We had some people construct a building in Midvale and planning and zoning told them they had to be so many feet back from centerline of a county road,” he told the Signal American last week. “Well, they didn’t do that.”
 Marvin said checks and balances must be put into place to make sure people aren’t building in right of ways and that they are building far enough away from utility easements such as Idaho Power.
 “We even backed off the drawings,” Marvin said. “It doesn’t have to be an engineered set of drawings, but it does have to be a drawing of some kind that shows they have done their research.”
 He added that some people don’t even bother to declare that they are putting up an ag building or will do so after it is already completed. Fellow commissioner Lyndon Haines confirmed that there have been instances of abuse where some have built what is, essentially, a home while calling it an ag building, thus bypassing the permit and inspection requirement.
 “Yeah, that’s happened, but sometimes it’s just planning to build a shop-type building that’s supposed to be for agriculture, and it doesn’t end up being that,” he said. “There is a process where you are supposed to come in and declare that you are going to build an ag building. There’s no cost to it, but we don’t really gather too much information on it, and it’s been abused. There are also legitimate ag buildings, but they don’t declare and end up building in a right of way for a county road or too close to a property line.”
 After listening to public testimony, commissioners have been working to make changes to the original draft in response to those concerns.
 Wilkerson, a rancher himself, said that for many, ag buildings include showers, toilets, sinks, electricity, heating, and even a bunk, all things that the original draft code change did not allow, he said.
 “Our argument is that the agricultural industry should have the liberty of having these amenities for safety factors,” he said citing state code that mandates equipment used for spraying weeds, for instance, must be washed off following use. 
 “If you’ve been sitting on that equipment all day and it has chemicals all over it, so do you,” he said. “Are you supposed to bring that into your home near your family or should you have the liberty of taking a shower in your ag shop so you can clean up there and put on a fresh set of clothes?”
 On Monday, Feb. 13, Lance Hoch, a rancher, addressed commissioners, posing a similar scenario. He related an incident where a hydraulic hose he was trying to repair blew fluid all over him. He took a shower in his ag building and laid down to get some rest after having been up almost 24 hours.
 “ln my building, I have facilities where I literally do not have to go to the house,” he said. “I climb in a shower and hose myself off in an ag building … About the time I get out, I’m ready to collapse because I’ve been up all night. So, there’s a couch that happens to be sitting there and I may catch a couple of winks. The verbiage that’s in this evolution is not connected to reality.”
 Former commissioner Kirk Chandler conceded that there are those who abuse the system, but decried the current commission’s original exclusion of certain amenities.
 “There are people in the county who have built a garage, or built a shop, basically, and they put a bathroom in it and then they live in the shop,” he said. “ Our code says you need a building permit for a habitable structure, one that is going to be lived in … and what they are trying to do is make it so that any building that has a bathroom, or kitchen, or facilities in it, is no longer an agricultural building. The main thing they want is to take away people’s property rights to do what they want to on their property.”
 Marvin, Haines, and Wilkerson, however, said they are perfectly willing to keep making changes that both serve the county’s and residents’ interests and concerns. 
 “We’ve made some changes already after talking to people; we’re trying to listen,” Haines said. “We’ll have a hearing on it March 6 and then we’ll go back and make more changes and have another hearing if we have to.”


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