The public will get a second chance to testify about the merits of allowing slaughterhouses on agricultural land in Whatcom County.
The public hearing scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4, is a do-over. County staff pulled the plug on a slaughterhouse proposal on Sept. 25, immediately after the first public hearing. Staff realized in the middle of that council meeting that the county legal office hadn't given the proposal proper review, leaving the county open to lawsuits.
Since then, the council has made enough changes to the slaughterhouse proposal to prompt a new hearing. It will be held Tuesday at the County Courthouse, 311 Grand Ave., Bellingham.
After proper review, the county's legal team concluded that slaughterhouses could be allowed on farmland without a public hearing required for each new application, as long as the facility was technically an "accessory" use with minimal removal of active farmland. The land where the slaughterhouse is built need not be used to raise livestock for meat or even be actively farmed at the time, as long as it is available for agricultural use.
That level of permissiveness was enough for most council members attending a Nov. 7 committee meeting. Two members, however, voted against the proposal. Bill Knutzen and Barbara Brenner said slaughterhouses should be "permitted" outright rather than "accessory." Planning staff said there was no meaningful distinction between the two.
In another change to the September version of the slaughterhouse ordinance, small-scale businesses are defined as those with a building less than 15,000 square feet. The previous measure was the number of employees, which was determined to be unworkable because staffing at slaughterhouses varies too much with the seasons.
Slaughterhouses larger than 15,000 square feet could be allowed, but each application would require a hearing in front of the county hearing examiner. For both large and small slaughterhouses, at least half of their product would need to come from Whatcom County.
Commercial animal slaughtering is already 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 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.
The council could vote on the ordinance after Tuesday's hearing. Council members, including Chairwoman Kathy Kershner, were frustrated by the oversight by the legal department, which caused a delay of more than two months.
The delay has been a setback for Claycamp's proposed new business, the owner said. There's no way he can build a plant to process animals this spring. The season is the second busiest time of the year for slaughter, after autumn, he said.
Reach RALPH SCHWARTZ at email@example.com or call 715-2298.