TONASKET – Council members adopted an ordinance amending the Tonasket Municipal Code to permit slaughterhouses as a conditional use in the commercial (C-2) district following a lengthy public hearing at the Sept. 25 city council meeting.
The ordinance was changed from the original proposal allowing slaughterhouses in both the mixed use and commercial districts, according to a recommendation by the Planning Commission as presented by Building Official/Permit Administrator Christian Johnson.
Citizens expressed concern that once permitted, a slaughterhouse would approach the city asking for further zoning changes that would allow a bigger facility in other part of the community.
“Why hasn't this been attached on a specific project proposal?” asked resident Bob Thompson.
“We can't have a specific proposal until it is something allowed to occur,” explained City Planner Kurt Danison. “We have to change the code from a prohibited use to permitted, in this case conditional use. It's a process. It's limited to a fairly small zone, and there are only a few areas where it would be possible.”
“If for now we are removing multiple use from the proposal, if a facility further seeks to expand and the present site in C-2 is not adequate, could council be approached to amend the zoning to allow facilities in other zones?” asked Thompson.
Danison responded that any citizen can petition the city to change zoning at any time.
“So there's no guarantee that in the future someone might not want to locate one in another area, but they would have to go through this same process,” said Danison.
This is the second open record hearing the city held on the proposal, with one before the planning commission Aug. 21.
Thompson asked if an actual facility would require an EPA statement. Dansion said a specific project would SEPA review.
Thompson then asked if a conditional use permit would allow the same or better protection for concerned community members than the environmental review.
“They work in concert. The results of a SEPA is essentially a contract, for example how will they mitigate odor and aesthetic impacts. Those are available for public comment,” said Danison. “It all comes together into one; the conditional use permit, with conditions and mitigation measures in the SEPA document.”
SEPA review is required for all shoreline substantial/conditional use development permits, commercial buildings in excess of 4,000 square feet and/or parking lots for more than 20 cars, non-routine Highway Access Permits, grading permits in excess of 100 cubic yards, Zoning Conditional Use Permits and amendments to the Zoning Code and Comprehensive Plan.
The amendments to the zoning code contains minimum conditions for any proposed slaughter house including the number of animals held on-site to be limited to no more than 16 beef equivalents in a period not to exceed 48 hours. A beef equivalent one beef being equal to two and a half hogs, six sheep or goats or three-fourths of one bison. The slaughterhouse must be USDA certified as well as the methodology and process. Other conditions address sanitation and waste management; a minimum buffer of 100 feet between the slaughter and enclosure of animals and existing residential uses; slaughtering to be conducted out of view of the public and no animals allowed to run at large. Building Official Johnson also noted that as a conditional use, any proposal would be subject to a public hearing before the Planning Commission which can add other conditions to a permit to address specific concerns of the project site.
Tonasket resident Peggy Wells also addressed the council.
“I understand the council's position is to make decisions in the best interest of Tonasket, and at the planning commission we were told this would benefit ranchers in the county who have to take livestock to Othello,” said Wells. “But how does this benefit the city? I find it offensive and I don't understand.”
Danison said that while he couldn't speak for the council, as city planner he thought it would provide jobs as well as reduce gas and carbon generated to haul the cattle great distances. Additionally, ranchers traveling to Othello would likely shop elsewhere.
“They are probably shopping here, locally,” said Wells.
“If I had to go to Othello, I might stop at Costco along the way,” said Danison, adding Alyssa Jumars, Project Manager of the Okanogan Meat-Processing Study and Gavin Pratt, owner of Double S Meats, “explained they have a certified facility now and we haven't heard any concerns. Looking countywide, this facility is the newest and best-equipped to serve. The council was interested enough to at least look into it, so we went through the process. That's my opinion. I can't speak for the council.”
“I would like to echo what you said,” responded council member Jill Ritter. “It would provide more services and generate revenue.”
Wells said she just returned from a vacation traveling through several states, purposely passing by slaughterhouses in Colorado and Utah.
“It's not a pretty sight,” said Wells.
Jumars spoke up, saying a USDA inspector would be present at the slaughterhouse every day.
“If there is an odor, they will have them address it,” said Jumars. “In Colorado, they might process 1,000 animals per day, whereas here the animals are coming from small farms where their names are known. Tonasket is in the heart of a really rural county with a rich heritage in ranchers, and ranchers are really struggling. This is a really big piece that can help them.”
“We still have a community of people who live in this town and do have concerns,” said Wells. “We could live right next door to it. Do we want one right next door? I don't think so. I'm not convinced they wouldn't say in the future, 'We are growing.'”
“I think you will be surprised. The USDA holds them to really high standards,” said Ritter. “Based on the scale they are presenting us now, no one will really even realize what is going on there. Gavin's family has been in the meat business a lot of years and they've done a really nice job. I don't think they won't meet the requirements.”
“I think the concern is, if they do grow or sell to another entity that does have deep pockets,” said resident Dan Macklehaney. “I think people have fear about the unknown.”
“If the concern is growth, they still have to go through this whole process again,” said Ritter. “If that's a concern, then we share that. If we feel at any time with this scale it didn't work out, we don't have to consider any more growth.”
“Our biggest fear is opening the door to this kind of operation,” said Wells.
“We are just worried if it could impact the community,” added Macklehaney.
Ritter asked Wells what her biggest concern was when she drove by slaughterhouses in the other states.
“It's hard when just visiting for a short amount of time, but, kinda...like the smell, and how it presents itself in the town and how aesthetically it's affecting the town and the people who live there,” replied Wells. “It's not really that pretty of a sight. And Tonasket is such a pretty place.”
“The packing shed (Double S Meats) is already in the city limits and has been in business many years,” said council member Christa Levine.
Wells thanked council members for listening.
“I'm worried if we don't start it in the city, someone could buy property right outside the city and do it anyway, and do it bigger,” said council member Jensen Sackman. “If we have a small one now, that might discourage someone from having another one right outside town.”
“This is more for the small farmers who don't have the money to ship their cows to Quincy or wherever,” said Mayor Dennis Brown. “Buy locally. Keep it local.”
“The Farmers Market here is very popular. As a culture, we are trying to get back to more healthy eating. Don't you think meat is important?” asked Ritter.
“People can still go to S and S Meats,” said Wells. “I think there is pros and....you can talk both sides of this. What benefits the most people who live here, and I'm not convinced a slaughterhouse is the best option.”
“S and S Meats is a very well run, clean community business,” said Mackelhaney.
Resident Jane Thompson spoke up next.
“I'm familiar with slaughterhouses in rural Thurston County, and burned in my memory is the smell, sight; looking at it and the agonized animals. I had family members working there,” said Thompson. “I find it ironic that last year at this time I couldn't even have a chicken in the city, and now you are talking about a slaughterhouse. The fear is allowing such facilities in the mixed use zoning district, I look at it every morning when I get out of bed. What if Oscar Meyer wanted to buy out S and S Meats?”
“They would still have to go through the same process,” Mayor Brown replied.
“But look at what is happening here. You guys are trying to convince us it is a good idea,” said Jane Thompson. “It's inside the city, so they have access to city water, that's the crux of it. It's ironic that I can't have a goat.”
Johnson said the 1965 zoning ordinance allowed slaughterhouses and feedlots with no conditions which wasn't changed until 2013.
“The planning commission was careful in establishing baseline conditions and site-specific conditions,” said Johnson. “The planning commission did take into significant concern the area they were looking at. It's in the commercial service district. Generally speaking, that's where they decided it would be suitable with those minimum conditions.”
Johnson pointed out additional requirements could be added.
The public testimony hearing was closed, and Mayor Brown said the council could choose to discuss the issue.
“I move to adopt and pass Ordinance 793 with the correction noted by Christian Johnson,” said Ritter.
Levine seconded the motion and all voted in favor.
“There it is,” said Wells.