DAYTON — Columbia County commissioners this morning shot down a zoning amendment proposed by Monteillet Fromagerie that would have allowed on-site sales of farm products as a conditional use in the county’s rural agriculture zone.
The amendment to AR-1 zoning was proposed by Dayton cheesemakers Joan and Pierre-Louis Monteillet through their lawyer Mike Hubbard, to bring the business into compliance with the zoning code.
But county staff and commissioners, who voted unanimously against it, said the language of the amendment was overly broad and would allow virtually unrestricted commercial use in a zone meant to be rural and residential.
At issue was the amendment text allowing “on-site sales of farm products processed and/or packaged on site ... together with on-site sales of other agricultural based products, including wine, beer and spirits with tasting room.”
Commissioners agreed with planning commission and staff concerns that the amendment, as written, would allow anyone to set up a business selling any agricultural product, which could conceivably include any type of food and some types of clothing.
“In looking it over, I have to agree that it is extremely open-ended,” said county Commissioner Chuck Reeves. “Nothing that is agriculture-based is excluded, and that would include a hamburger stand.”
Commissioners noted that planners earlier this year proposed a scaled-back revision to the Monteillet’s amendment to address those concerns.
The final sentence of the amendment planners proposed stated that “wine, beer and spirits may only be served and consumed in a tasting room and only with a product grown, processed or produced on site.” Hubbard rejected the language, saying it would not allow the Monteillets to operate their tasting room.
Prosecuting Attorney Rea Culwell read an explanation of the planning and zoning process before the meeting, during which she emphasized that a zoning change is a broad decision affecting far more than one business.
“This is not a case-specific decision like a building permit or a plat adjustment,” she said.
She also said allowing commercial uses in the county’s AR-1 zone went against the county’s comprehensive plan, which the county could be sued for violating.
Port of Columbia Manager Jennie Dickinson, who attended the meeting, said she disagreed strongly with the county’s interpretation of the comprehensive plan. She participated in visioning meetings in 2008 when the current plan was being developed, and said the intention was to protect farmland from large-scale developments.
“We weren’t talking about protecting it from value-added ag,” she said.
Dickinson agreed with Hubbard, who said the amendment would still allow the county control over individual businesses.
“The specifics come through the conditional use process,” he said.
Culwell said, however, that a conditional use process could still open the county up to lawsuits by businesses that are denied permits.
Before making their decision, the commission discussed alternate courses of action, including opening up the county’s comprehensive plan to change the zone the Monteillets live in.
Other courses of action include submitting a new amendment with a narrower scope, or opening the comprehensive plan to change language about the county’s goals and vision to be compatible with some commercial activities in an AR-1 zone.
Joan and Pierre-Louis Monteillet left the meeting frustrated.
“It’s a ludicrous situation that they don’t want to work with us,” said Joan Monteillet.
Hubbard said he will looking at other options for his clients.
Culwell said the county would likely send another cease and desist letter asking the Monteillets to stop commercial activities now that commissioners have made a decision. Not doing so, she said, would open the county up to liability.
Rachel Alexander can be reached at 509-526-8363, email@example.com or on Twitter.