May 11, 2016
Dear Member of the Agricultural Community,
We are writing you today to inform you about a recent land use appeal filed by Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland (SPF) and Drainage District #17 that concerns a 40,000 sq. ft. agricultural packing facility proposed by Bay Baby Produce to be built on Conway Frontage road. The site plan takes up a total of 5 acres including the parking lot and bin storage. This land was purchased in 2006 by Michele Youngquist and Elizabeth Mitchell with the intent to build a packinghouse for their farming operations. In 2013 Elizabeth passed away and the building plans were put on hold, while the staff and operations recovered from their loss. In June of 2015 our company filed for a SEPA permit to build on said property.
The SEPA permit was granted, and SPF appealed the permit. Bay Baby Produce provided answers to concerns laid out by SPF and the county issued judgment to maintain the permit in July of 2015. During the SEPA permitting process Bay Baby Produce met with SPF to determine if there were options that would appease the group. The group proposed that we move to the port or find a different location to build, e.g., an existing building or a different piece of property. These options had already been considered and well researched by our company. Building is a long process, so an existing building that was economical and met our minimum necessities would have been preferred. There was no such building found in Skagit County.
Farmers build on agriculturally zoned property because it is economical and zoned correctly. After the SEPA permit was granted SPF also offered to mitigate, which they said would cost our company around $11,000 per acre. Currently, no final number has ever been produced. Lastly, SPF made an informal offer to buy our development rights for $150,000.
The SPF group has made the following claim, “We believe the public policies that affect our remaining prime farmland and our agricultural drainage infrastructure can be applied fairly and consistently by local government to all who propose large scale projects on farmland.” The county applied the applicable rules to our permit for the time period in which we submitted the permit. If you speak with the county they will tell you that they fairly and consistently applied the rules to our project. After our farming season in December of 2015, our company filed for our Fill and Grade permit. The Fill & Grade permit was granted in March of 2016. Again SPF appealed the county’s decision.
They made claim that the permit should not have been granted because the SEPA review was issued before any development permits were applied for and before any specific project information was submitted for review. This is the common practice in development to prevent companies from spending money on a project that the county will not grant a permit. The development permit application and project specific information were submitted 5 months after the county determined no adverse effects.
Our company is a seasonal business with a yearly small staff. During the fall months our business must strictly concentration on packing and shipping our perishable product. From the time frame between our SEPA permit and the submission of our Fill & Grade permit our company’s focus did not change. The drainage and irrigation were covered and accounted for in the SEPA and Fill & Grade permit.
Drainage District #17 informed Bay Baby Produce that they would not permit an increase of water flow into the district. Therefore, our civil engineer designed the site plan, so that the water runoff would be dispersed across the property, and that water would enter at a slower flow rate than current. The drainage district claimed that they never received the drainage plan, but the county has proof that said documents were sent. Skagit County adopted the current SEPA guidelines as of January 1st, 2016. All projects submitted before this date were reviewed using the previously adopted SEPA guidelines. Any SEPA or Fill & Grade permits submitted after December 31st, 2015 will have to meet the 2014 SEPA guidelines. As quoted above by SPF, the county must apply the SEPA and Drainage rules fairly and consistently! Thus far, the county has done this. SPF is asking the county to treat us differently, and apply the 2014 SEPA guidelines. Had we filed our permit after the date of adoption, December 31st, 2015, then the county would have required us to meet those standards. Protecting farmland is extremely important to our company. Building is necessary for our company to continue operating and expanding. The success of agriculture businesses is a blessing to our community. Help us continue to farm by supporting our packinghouse. By supporting us you are supporting the economic vitality of our community.
Bay Baby Produce