A discussion of whether to allow slaughterhouses on agricultural land came to a halt Tuesday, Sept. 25, after Whatcom County Council members learned county attorneys hadn't reviewed the proposal.
Mark Personius, the county's long-range planning manager, told a frustrated council that he would lead staff in a prompt review of the proposal and bring it back to council Oct. 9.
Changing what types of business are allowed on rural land without legal review could expose the county to a challenge under the state Growth Management Act, which limits rural development.
"We think we can make this happen," Personius told the council. "There are some GMA issues we need to work out, and I think we can do that."
The fact that smaller slaughterhouses would be permitted outright, without a hearing, could result in legal challenges, Personius said. Also, the Growth Management Act might not accept the county's lack of a size restriction on slaughterhouses.
"The potential is there for adverse impacts," he said. "That's where we run afoul of GMA."
Slaughterhouses are currently allowed in industrial zones in Whatcom County, but dairy and beef farmers say there aren't enough slaughterhouses to keep their businesses profitable. The request for a zoning change to allow slaughterhouses on farmland came from an application filed in December 2011 by Gabriel Claycamp, who would start a slaughtering business in the Lynden area.
Shortly after a public hearing on the proposal, county attorney Karen Frakes broke into the council's discussion to say the proposal hadn't been reviewed by her office for its compliance with the Growth Management Act. Frakes had to explain why, if that was true, her name and initials were on the slaughterhouse proposal.
"The only reason my signature is on this is because (county Deputy Prosecutor) Royce Buckingham wasn't there, and somebody came to me on a Friday and said, 'Could you sign this?'" Frakes said.
Council member Kathy Kershner said she was frustrated by the growth management requirements.
"I'm of the mind to just take all of the restrictions out and just pass it, and let the people who want to build a slaughtering house in this community build a slaughtering house," Kershner said. "The system just doesn't seem to be working."