Cheesemaker’s zoning battle headed to county commissioners

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DAYTON — Monteillet Fromagerie’s legal battle with Columbia County is poised to continue after the Planning Commission voted against recommending the cheesemaker’s proposed zoning amendment to the County Commission.

Once planners complete written facts and findings, expected by the end of the week, county commissioners will consider the amendment at a future meeting.

The Planning Commission spent about 20 minutes Monday discussing the amendment, which would allow on-site sales of agricultural products as a conditional use in the county’s AR-1 zone, where Joan and Pierre-Louis Monteillet live, raise goats and sheep, and make and sell cheese.

Fred Clark, Ron Groom and Swan Eaton voted against recommending the amendment, and Jason Towery and Jay Ball voted for recommendation. Commissioner Bryan Martin was absent.

Planning commissioners who voted against recommendation raised concerns that the amendment, as worded, would mean on-site sale of any agricultural product could be allowed in the zone.

“I am not opposed to a farmer selling his goods at his place,” Clark said, while explaining why he felt the amendment text was too broad.

Groom also expressed concerns that the proposed wording would have allowed marijuana growers to sell their product on-site.

Ball, however, said the amendment allowed sales as conditional uses only, which would still give the county the opportunity to deny a permit for an individual business seeking to do on-site sales.

Ball and Towery also cited the overwhelming public testimony in favor of the amendment at the Commission’s June 9 hearing, where 28 people spoke or wrote letters in favor of the amendment and no one spoke in opposition.

Groom countered that many of those testifying were from outside Columbia County.

“About 95 percent of those were from Walla Walla County. We didn’t really have much of a turnout from Columbia County,” said Groom.

Of the speakers and letters entered into the record, at least 16 listed an address in Waitsburg or Walla Walla, while 10 lived in the Dayton area.

Clark also said he felt the zoning would conflict with the county’s comprehensive plan, which says that encroachment by other uses should be discouraged in areas designated for residential development.

Ball said he initially though that too, but felt the AR-1 zone is meant to be agricultural, not strictly residential.

The Monteillets’ attorney, Mike Hubbard, said he was baffled by Planning Commission’s decision.

“They don’t seem to appreciate what conditional use means,” he said.

The Monteillets did not attend Monday’s meeting because they were “busy making cheese,” Hubbard said.

Rachel Alexander can be reached at rachelalexander@wwub.com or 509-526-8363.

Comments

paulgwine 6 months ago

These head-in-the-sand, NIMBY Columbia County Planning Commissioners who voted this down should be embarrassed and ashamed for trying to put these incredibly hard-working people out of business. The stupidity of the argument that somehow this amendment would allow a pot grower to open up a roadside stand is beneath contempt. Pathetic!

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chicoli 6 months ago

Paul, you're right on the dynamics driving this issue into a negative outcome for everyone. The appearance of detracting one element and favoring others is a bad prestige and legacy for the Planning Commissioners. The message we should be getting from such public organization is that of benevolence and proactive cooperation to facilitate the entrepreneur spirit in the county. Problems with the water? Let's help you. Problems with the zoning? Let's help you with that one too. Etcetera, etcetera! By the way, who is the leader? Let's vote him out?

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skylinefluid 6 months ago

Rachel,

I spoke with Commissioner Reeves this morning and he implied that the WWUB isn't giving us all the facts. I have the impression that he feels the WWUB is slighting the facts/article toward the Monteillets. When I asked for specifics he was not forthcoming. Perhaps you, as a reporter, can convince him to be more open. We, the public, should certainly have all the facts, don't you think?

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rachelalexander 6 months ago

Hi Jean,

Thanks for your comment. I spoke to Commissioner Reeves this afternoon, and his comment referred to the scope of the Planning Commission's authority versus the authority of the commissioners.

Up to this point, the conflict between planning and the Monteillets has dealt strictly with zoning relating to on-site farm product sales and wine tasting. However, he said the county is currently working to resolve several other issues with the Monteillet property, such as getting health department approval for their water source.

These issues have come up in county commissioner meetings previously, but as they were outside the scope of the Planning Commission's zoning hearing, I haven't included them in my articles to avoid confusion. Because the zoning issue has moved on to the county commissioners, Commissioner Reeves said it's likely some of these other issues will become part of the discussion. I have yet to speak with the Monteillets or their attorney about the specifics of any other county concerns because so far, they've been outside the scope of my reporting, but I have plans to do that this week as well.

I hope that answers your question, and thank you for commenting.

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skylinefluid 6 months ago

Yes, it does answer my questions. I don't see why the water source issue has anything to do with the zoning decision it shouldn't even enter in the discussion about the zoning.

One other thing I'd like to point out is people can have an address in another county and still live in Columbia County. For example, there are several residences that have Waitsburg (Walla Walla County) addresses, but are located in Columbia County.

If I had known there was going to be such an emphasis put on residences of the people attending the meeting I certainly would have attended. I really thought it was a formality and would pass easily.

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