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Agriculture Resource Committee

Posted on: December 27, 2019

[ARCHIVED] Land Use Goals & Policy Recomendations


To:         Erika Shook, AICP, Director, DCD

CC:         SJC Planning Commission 

Adam Zack, Planner II, DCD

Linda Kuller, Planning Manager, DCD

Mike Thomas, County Manager 

Bill Watson, County Council

Rick Hughes, County Council

Jamie Stephens, County Council

From:         San Juan County Agricultural Resource Committee (ARC)

Date:         October 9, 2019

Subject:     ARC Recommendation for the addition Section 2.2.N Agriculture to the Land Use Element of the Comprehensive Plan


The Land Use Element of the Comprehensive Plan outlines many objectives that affect agriculture in San Juan County but has no stand alone articulation of the goal or policies for agriculture. In order to have a clear goal and policy statement about agriculture in the Land Use Section the ARC recommends the addition of 2.2.N Agriculture.  

Land Use Section 2.2- General Goals and Policies 

This section states the general goals and policies for Land Use in San Juan County. It then uses the same format to detail the goals and policies for the following sectors:

  • Economy

  • Energy

  • Essential Public Facilities 

  • Recreation

  • Natural Resource Conservation 

  • Social Services

  • Historic and Archaeological Preservation 

  • Open Space and Scenic Resources

  • Access to Public Lands and Facilities

  • Sewage Disposal

  • Telecommunications

  • Physical Activity

The ARC is proposing to add a new section: 2.2.N Agriculture.  This is a logical place to state the goal and policies for agriculture.  


The Agricultural Resource Committee is a Citizen Advisory Committee tasked with advising the County Council on issues affecting the Agricultural environment. The ARC is comprised of 15 voting seats, at least 50% of which must be farmers. ARC members act as listening posts throughout the islands and the ARC conducts formal and informal outreach throughout the year that informs the ARC’s work.

The attached comments are the result of work done by the ARC Policy Subcommittee as well as discussions that occurred at ARC meetings on 4/16/19, 5/21/19, 7/16/19, and  9/17/19.  Input was solicited from the agricultural community at Farmer Coffee events on Lopez, Orcas and San Juan Islands during the summer and during outreach at the San Juan County Fair. This Memo was adopted by the ARC on 9/17/19.

Attachments follow the body of memo:

Recommended Addition to the Land Use Element of SJC Comprehensive Plan Section 2.2  

2.2. N Agriculture


Protect agricultural land and promote diverse agricultural activities that enhance stewardship and economic viability, and maintain the rural character of San Juan County. 


  1.  Encourage agricultural best management practices that conserve and regenerate soils; sequester carbon; build climate resilience; and protect water quality, fisheries, and wildlife through incentives, education and promotion of programs such as the Voluntary Stewardship Program.

  1. Protect farmland and encourage productivity by designation and zoning, including innovative zoning techniques and accessory uses listed in RCW 36.70A.177

  1. Adopt a policy of no net loss of Agricultural Resource Land (ARL).

  1. Continue to develop incentives to encourage agricultural activities, ag-related facilities and infrastructure on prime farmland provided these facilities are located in such a way as to minimize their impact on prime agricultural soils. Incentives could include tax credits, expedited permit review, reduced permit fees, permit exemptions for activities complying with best management practices or similar programs.  

  1. Allow farmstands, including direct farmstand sales of food, flowers, fiber and value added agricultural products originating in San Juan County.

  1. Allow agritourism activity as defined by RCW 4.24.830 as an accessory agricultural activity.  

  1. Amend the Open Space Plan’s conservation stewardship goals for agricultural lands to prioritize agricultural production and working farms. 

  1.  Encourage the leasing of lands held in public trust for agricultural use. 

  1. Invest in infrastructure on agricultural lands held in public trust to facilitate agriculture best management practices and support agricultural viability. 

  1. Encourage the Land Bank and other entities to craft conservation easements that support long term agricultural viability.

  1. Invest in and allow necessary infrastructure and services (markets, water, affordable housing, supply stores, technical services, tax incentives) that support commercial agriculture and contribute to growing, storing, processing, and distributing a local food supply and other horticultural and livestock activities.

  1.  Avoid duplication of federal and state regulations that apply to agriculture, resource-based industries and value added production while reserving the authority to address issues of local concern with regard to resource-based activities and operations.

  1.  Allow year round and seasonal housing for agricultural workers, including tiny homes, bunkhouses and other low cost and low impact solutions.

  1.  Create a program whereby Housing REET funds are available to create farm worker housing. 

  1.  Encourage the recycling and beneficial use of island biomass and retention of nutrients through innovative zoning that allows composting and biochar production.

  1.   Define Agricultural Activities as RCW 90.58.065. Create and Revise definitions related to Agriculture, including but not limited to; Farm Stand, Farmer, Farm Worker Housing and Farm Stay in partnership with the Agricultural Resource Committee.

  1.   Explore options that would allow for additional verification of primary agricultural use beyond CUFA for farm stay, farm worker housing and other agriculture related land uses. 

  1.  Strengthen SJCC Right to Farm 18.30.052 with RCW 7.48.305 and RCW 70.94.640

  1.  Promote San Juan County as farm friendly through implementing a New Unit Notification program (information packet about owning land in an agricultural community) .

  1.  Maintain funding for agricultural marketing, branding,educational programs and agricultural policy advisory committee including Agricultural Resource Committee, Washington State University Extension and local grant opportunities. 

In Conclusion:

Thank you for considering our recommendations.  The ARC feels that is an important opportunity to add a clear vision and roadmap to the comprehensive plan and section 2.2 of the Land Use element is a logical place to do that.  Planning and policy can support a robust island food system, support our rural character and lay the groundwork for resilience in the face of a changing climate and world. 

Thank you for your consideration,

On Behalf of the Agricultural Resource Committee,

Steve Bernheim, ARC Chair                Faith Van De Putte, ARC Coordinator


RCW 36.70A.177

Agricultural lands—Innovative zoning techniques—Accessory uses.

(1) A county or a city may use a variety of innovative zoning techniques in areas designated as agricultural lands of long-term commercial significance under RCW 36.70A.170. The innovative zoning techniques should be designed to conserve agricultural lands and encourage the agricultural economy. Except as provided in subsection (3) of this section, a county or city should encourage nonagricultural uses to be limited to lands with poor soils or otherwise not suitable for agricultural purposes.

(2) Innovative zoning techniques a county or city may consider include, but are not limited to:

(a) Agricultural zoning, which limits the density of development and restricts or prohibits nonfarm uses of agricultural land and may allow accessory uses, including nonagricultural accessory uses and activities, that support, promote, or sustain agricultural operations and production, as provided in subsection (3) of this section;

(b) Cluster zoning, which allows new development on one portion of the land, leaving the remainder in agricultural or open space uses;

(c) Large lot zoning, which establishes as a minimum lot size the amount of land necessary to achieve a successful farming practice;

(d) Quarter/quarter zoning, which permits one residential dwelling on a one-acre minimum lot for each one-sixteenth of a section of land; and

(e) Sliding scale zoning, which allows the number of lots for single-family residential purposes with a minimum lot size of one acre to increase inversely as the size of the total acreage increases.

(3) Accessory uses allowed under subsection (2)(a) of this section shall comply with the following:

(a) Accessory uses shall be located, designed, and operated so as to not interfere with, and to support the continuation of, the overall agricultural use of the property and neighboring properties, and shall comply with the requirements of this chapter;

(b) Accessory uses may include:

(i) Agricultural accessory uses and activities, including but not limited to the storage, distribution, and marketing of regional agricultural products from one or more producers, agriculturally related experiences, or the production, marketing, and distribution of value-added agricultural products, including support services that facilitate these activities; and

(ii) Nonagricultural accessory uses and activities as long as they are consistent with the size, scale, and intensity of the existing agricultural use of the property and the existing buildings on the site. Nonagricultural accessory uses and activities, including new buildings, parking, or supportive uses, shall not be located outside the general area already developed for buildings and residential uses and shall not otherwise convert more than one acre of agricultural land to nonagricultural uses; and

(c) Counties and cities have the authority to limit or exclude accessory uses otherwise authorized in this subsection (3) in areas designated as agricultural lands of long-term commercial significance.

(4) This section shall not be interpreted to limit agricultural production on designated agricultural lands.

RCW 4.24.830


The definitions in this section apply throughout this chapter unless the context clearly requires otherwise.

(1) "Agritourism activity" means any activity carried out on a farm or ranch whose primary business activity is agriculture or ranching and that allows members of the general public, for recreational, entertainment, or educational purposes, to view or enjoy rural activities including, but not limited to: Farming; ranching; historic, cultural, and on-site educational programs; recreational farming programs that may include on-site hospitality services; guided and self-guided tours; petting zoos; farm festivals; corn mazes; harvest-your-own operations; hayrides; barn parties; horseback riding; fishing; and camping.

(2) "Agritourism professional" means any person in the business of providing one or more agritourism activities, whether or not for compensation.

(3) "Inherent risks of agritourism activity" means those dangers or conditions that are an integral part of an agritourism activity including certain hazards, such as surface and subsurface conditions, natural conditions of land, vegetation, waters, the behavior of wild or domestic animals, and ordinary dangers of structures or equipment ordinarily used in farming and ranching operations. Inherent risks of agritourism activity also include the potential of a participant to act in a negligent manner that may contribute to injury to the participant or others, including failing to follow instructions given by the agritourism professional or failing to exercise reasonable caution while engaging in the agritourism activity, unless the participant acting in a negligent manner is a minor or is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

(4) "Participant" means any person, other than the agritourism professional, who engages in an agritourism activity.

(5) "Person" means an individual, fiduciary, firm, association, partnership, limited liability company, corporation, unit of government, or any other group acting as a unit.


San Juan County Code 18.30.052 Right to farm and forestry provisions.

A. Applicability. Right to farm and forestry provisions apply to all resource and rural land use designations except rural residential. The provisions of this section are not to be construed to in any way modify, supersede or abridge state or County law relative to nuisances; rather, they are only to be used in the interpretation and enforcement of the provisions of this code.

B. Purpose. To provide the residents of the County proper notification of the County’s recognition and support of farming and forestry activities.

C. Nuisance. The following shall not be considered a nuisance: agricultural and forestry activities, lumber mills operating between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., facilities, or appurtenances thereof, conducted or maintained for commercial agricultural or forestry purposes on land designated as rural general use, rural farm-forest, rural industrial, rural commercial, agricultural resource, or forest resource.

D. Disclosure. The disclosure statement in subsection (D)(2) of this section shall be used under the following circumstances and in the following manner:

1. Approval of any land division, land use, building, or development of lands designated rural general use, rural farm-forest, rural industrial, rural commercial, agricultural resource, or forest resource, and of any lands within 500 feet of lands which are designated as agricultural resource, forest resource, or mineral resource, shall be conditioned on the execution by the applicant of a statement of acknowledgment containing the disclosure statement on a form provided by the department. The executed form shall be recorded by the County auditor in the same manner as a deed. However, if disclosure conforming to the provisions of this subsection has been recorded for a prior permit, subsequent disclosures shall not be required.

2. The required disclosure statement is as follows:

San Juan County has determined that the use of real property for agricultural and forestry operations is a high priority and favored use in the county. The county will not consider to be a nuisance those inconveniences or discomforts arising from such operations, if such operations are consistent with commonly accepted best management practices in compliance with local, state, and federal laws. If your real property includes or is within 500 feet of real property designated as Rural General Use, Rural Farm Forest, Rural Industrial, Rural Commercial, Agriculture, or Forestry, you may be subject to inconveniences or discomforts arising from such farming and forestry operations, including but not limited to noise, tree removal, odors, flies, fumes, dust, smoke, the operation of farm and forestry machinery during any 24-hour period, the storage and disposal of manure, and the application of permitted fertilizers and permitted pesticides. One or more of these inconveniences may occur as a result of agricultural and forestry operations which are in conformance with existing laws and regulations.


RCW 7.48.305

Agricultural activities and forest practices—Presumed reasonable and not a nuisance—Exception—Damages.

(1) Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, agricultural activities conducted on farmland and forest practices, if consistent with good agricultural and forest practices and established prior to surrounding nonagricultural and nonforestry activities, are presumed to be reasonable and shall not be found to constitute a nuisance unless the activity or practice has a substantial adverse effect on public health and safety.

(2) Agricultural activities and forest practices undertaken in conformity with all applicable laws and rules are presumed to be good agricultural and forest practices not adversely affecting the public health and safety for purposes of this section and RCW 7.48.300. An agricultural activity that is in conformity with such laws and rules shall not be restricted as to the hours of the day or day or days of the week during which it may be conducted.

(3) The act of owning land upon which a growing crop of trees is located, even if the tree growth is being managed passively and even if the owner does not indicate the land's status as a working forest, is considered to be a forest practice occurring on the land if the crop of trees is located on land that is capable of supporting a merchantable stand of timber that is not being actively used for a use that is incompatible with timber growing. If the growing of trees has been established prior to surrounding nonforestry activities, then the act of tree growth is considered a necessary part of any other subsequent stages of forest practices necessary to bring a crop of trees from its planting to final harvest and is included in the provisions of this section.

(4) Nothing in this section shall affect or impair any right to sue for damages.

RCW 70.94.640

Odors or fugitive dust caused by agricultural activities consistent with good agricultural practices exempt from chapter.

(1) Odors or fugitive dust caused by agricultural activity consistent with good agricultural practices on agricultural land are exempt from the requirements of this chapter unless they have a substantial adverse effect on public health. In determining whether agricultural activity is consistent with good agricultural practices, the department of ecology or board of any authority shall consult with a recognized third-party expert in the activity prior to issuing any notice of violation.

(2) Any notice of violation issued under this chapter pertaining to odors or fugitive dust caused by agricultural activity shall include a detailed statement with evidence as to why the activity is inconsistent with good agricultural practices, or a detailed statement with evidence that the odors or fugitive dust have substantial adverse effect on public health.

(3) In any appeal to the pollution control hearings board or any judicial appeal, the agency issuing a final order pertaining to odors or fugitive dust caused by agricultural activity shall prove the activity is inconsistent with good agricultural practices or that the odors or fugitive dust have a substantial adverse impact on public health.

(4) If a person engaged in agricultural activity on a contiguous piece of agricultural land sells or has sold a portion of that land for residential purposes, the exemption of this section shall not apply.

(5) As used in this section:

(a) "Agricultural activity" means the growing, raising, or production of horticultural or viticultural crops, berries, poultry, livestock, shellfish, grain, mint, hay, and dairy products. "Agricultural activity" also includes the growing, raising, or production of cattle at cattle feedlots.

(b) "Good agricultural practices" means economically feasible practices which are customary among or appropriate to farms and ranches of a similar nature in the local area and for cattle feedlots means implementing best management practices pursuant to a fugitive dust control plan that conforms to the fugitive dust control guidelines for beef cattle feedlots, best management practices, and plan development and approval procedures that were approved by the department of ecology in December 1995 or in updates to those guidelines that are mutually agreed to by the department of ecology and by the Washington cattle feeders association or a successor organization on behalf of cattle feedlots.

(c) "Agricultural land" means at least five acres of land devoted primarily to the commercial production of livestock, agricultural commodities, or cultured aquatic products.

(d) "Fugitive dust" means a particulate emission made airborne by human activity, forces of wind, or both, and which do not pass through a stack, chimney, vent, or other functionally equivalent opening.

(6) The exemption for fugitive dust provided in subsection (1) of this section does not apply to facilities subject to RCW 70.94.151 as specified in WAC 173-400-100 as of July 24, 2005, 70.94.152, or 70.94.161. The exemption for fugitive dust provided in subsection (1) of this section applies to cattle feedlots with operational facilities which have an inventory of one thousand or more cattle in operation between June 1st and October 1st, where vegetation forage growth is not sustained over the majority of the lot during the normal growing season; except that the cattle feedlots must comply with applicable requirements included in the approved state implementation plan for air quality as of July 23, 2017; and except if an area in which a cattle feedlot is located is at any time in the future designated nonattainment for a national ambient air quality standard for particulate matter, additional control measures may be required for cattle feedlots as part of a state implementation plan's control strategy for that area and as necessary to ensure the area returns to attainment.

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