Public hearing held on proposed county code changes

Washington County Commissioners held a public hearing Monday, March 6 to give residents the opportunity to comment on a proposed code change that would require a permit to build an agriculture/farm building. Over 200 people attended the event. Above, Betty Sutherland, who owns Sutherland Diesel Performance in Midvale, addresses commissioners, explaining how she left California to escape regulations she said were overreaching and bad for businesses. Photo by Philip A. Janquart

Washington County Commissioners, from left, Nate Marvin, Lyndon Haines, and Gordon Wilkerson heard almost two hourse of testimony from residents during a public hearing held Monday at the Vendome. Photo by Philip A. Janquart
Philip A. Janquart

Residents reject proposed permit procedures for agricultural buildings

Over 200 residents on Monday attended a public hearing regarding proposed code changes that would require a permit to build an agricultural/farm building in Washington County.

 The hearing, held at the Vendome Events Center in Weiser, was standing room only as commissioners heard testimony from farmers, ranchers, and others who said ag buildings should remain exempt from the permitting process.
 Current county code provides some guidance on what an ag building is and what it can be used for.
 “The goal of the proposed changes is to clarify what constitutes an agricultural building and that agricultural buildings are not placed within the setbacks for the right of way of public utilities, county roads, or too close to property lines,” Commissioner Lyndon Haines stated before public comment began.
 The highly contested proposed code changes were first discussed in early January and have since created a firestorm of criticism by residents opposing tighter definitions that, initially, prohibited kitchens, bathrooms, and break rooms, storage of recreational equipment, and repair of agricultural equipment.
 That language does not appear in the most recent version of the proposed code change, copies of which were provided to attendees at the hearing. 
 Nearly 40 individuals stepped up to the microphone to provide their thoughts on the issue, most of them decrying the initial proposed changes and the fact that commissioners were considering applying a permitting process to ag buildings at all.
 One of the first residents to be heard was Betty Sutherland who said she moved to Idaho to escape overreaching laws that made doing business in southern California frustrating and almost impossible, adding that the county is trekking down a slippery regulatory slope.
 “I have video of Los Angeles County Regional Planning rolling in my back yard because I had a shop,” said Sutherland, who runs a diesel repair shop in Midvale. They have rule after rule after rule. And then one day, they roll in there with five unmarked Chevy trucks and guns on their hips and bullet-proof vests. They start looking around like they are doing a drug bust … 
 “I spent every dime that I had to get the heck away from this stuff and now it’s coming here, so I really have an issue with you guys … These people work really hard and if you want to put an RV or you want to put a bathroom in your agricultural building, I don’t think that’s anybody’s business. I don’t think you should be messing with that at all.”
 Kenneth Neufeld of Weiser questioned commissioners’ motivation for the proposed permit requirement.
 “I have an objection to the fact that we have been building barns and agricultural buildings for years and not required a permit, and now you guys want to start requiring permits so you can assess us on property or assets that are not resaleable value for real estate and I have a problem with that,” he said.
 Another resident said that the code has always been vague, referring to over $78,000 the county paid to a Boise law firm hired to interpret it after an issue arose over property splits.
 “These codes are not written to support ag, but rather to obstruct people who live off the land and enjoy the lifestyle that comes with rural living,” said Mike Kaech. “You guys are taking that away from us, a bit at a time. The county code is poorly written, that [leaves] one to wonder if that’s intentional. Even professionals cannot interpret the code that we have.”
 Others cited earlier proposed code changes that stated property owners would be required to derive 90 percent of their income from their land use in order to be allowed to erect an agricultural building.
 “The request of income - I think that is a huge issue, of personal information and … most families here … do rely on outside income in order to have benefits … You can’t just farm on the money you make on ag. It’s impossible,” said Chris Christopherson of Weiser.
 Still, others suggested doing away with the county’s planning and zoning commission altogether.
 Commissioner Nate Marvin said that the county necessarily must have a planning and zoning commission.
 “We can’t go backwards,” he told the Signal American. “We can’t do what Idaho County did and do away with our codes. We are going to go back to the drawing board and look at this.”
 Both Marvin and fellow commissioner Lyndon Haines said there have been abuses tied to the ag building exemption, with some people living in their ag buildings in the past, thereby skirting around the permitting process. They also cited the need for code that designates utility right of ways and easements that protect utility companies and other property owners.
 “I’m optimistic that we will come up with a solution,” Marvin said.
 In regard to certain ag building amenities, he conceded that farmers and ranchers need to have them.“We just need to work through that; if you are a farmer and you are working with chemicals for spraying weeds and bugs and stuff, they always tell you to clean up and shower and not take that home to your family,” he said. 
 “Do we want people living in there? I don’t think that’s what we are trying to accomplish.”
 Commissioner Gordon Wilkerson, a rancher himself, has expressed support for others that make a living off the land just as he does.
 Commissioner Lyndon Haines said an updated version of the draft code changes will allow for the amenities farmers and ranchers need in their ag buildings.
 “We will have another draft that will be made public on Monday that will expressly allow those things,” he said. “There has just been so much talk and confusion about it. Most of what happened yesterday had nothing to do with what we were proposing. We’ve had people coming to our meetings every week talking about it, so we’ve been making changes as we go. That version that we presented yesterday, I wouldn’t have voted for it because it was incomplete, but it’s not supposed to be complete when we bring it to a hearing. You are trying to get the public’s input on something.”


Signal American

18 E. Idaho St.
Weiser, ID 83672
PH: (208) 549-1717
FAX: (208) 549-1718

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