Public letter to the city of Enumclaw:
Tuesday, June 2, 2009, I attended the CED (Community Economic Development) meeting and the issue of development rights and Thomas Farm (next to Frankie’s Pizza, across from McDonald’s) came up. The Planning Commission put forth a recommendation (#2009-1) for the city to take action in reversing the King County purchase of the development rights for the Thomas Farm purchased under the Farmland Preservation Program. The letter had a watermark of “draft” and stated the Planning Commission recommends “the city use any means necessary” to reverse the development rights on Thomas Farm that are held by King County.
When Mike Thomas (community development director) was asked what that meant, he commented the city would use any resources available to them including financial and/or legal. He further stated the city of Enumclaw should have been consulted prior to the purchase of those development rights by King County. He conveyed the importance of the city regaining control of Thomas Farm for zoning purposes and the process could take up to 10 years.
As a member of the Enumclaw community and business owner I am concerned about our city staff, council and committees using city resources and taxpayer money to fight King County. I also question those on the Planning Committee and what their vision is for our city. Once I learned some of the facts regarding this issue it only took me a few phone calls and a bit of creative thinking to find an alternative solution to “paving the farm over and putting in light industrial.” That is what our Planning Commission, administrators and mayor plan to do if successful in reversing the development rights, a long shot at best.
“The Farmland Preservation Program began in 1979 when the voters of King County approved an initiative authorizing the county to preserve rapidly diminishing farmland by purchasing the right to develop it. During the 1980s, King County acquired the development rights on 12,600 acres of high-quality farmland within its boundaries. The county is continuing to purchase development rights on select properties and there are now approximately 13,200 acres that are permanently protected.
“FPP properties include dairies, beef, horse and other animal operations as well as nurseries, turf farms and farms raising hay, silage, berries, row crops, flowers and Christmas trees. These protected farmlands are located primarily in the Green, Sammamish, and Snoqualmie river valleys and on the Enumclaw Plateau and Vashon Island” (King County Web site).
Our City Attorney Mike Reynolds said reversing the development rights on the Thomas Farm will never happen. If our city attorney does not believe these land right decisions can be overturned then why is our Planning Commission wasting time recommending the city “use any means possible”? This is not a “vision” for Enumclaw, nor is it a suitable way of using city time and resources when the land is clearly being held “in perpetuity” for agriculture.
Enumclaw’s roots are in agriculture. It’s time to embrace that and help our farmers create more sustainable farms. The Thomas Farm could be a gem for our community. There are model farms around the nation as well as locally, providing proof that farming can and does provide jobs, education and tax dollars. More importantly they provide food. A 155-acre farm located within our city limits could also provide recreation for the public. It could also tie into the “equestrian theme” if that is the direction our city staff and council are determined to take.
I see a wonderful opportunity for the city of Enumclaw to help create a working and sustainable farm that people from all over the Plateau come to visit and learn about. That spells tax dollars to me and in keeping with the history of our town.
Judy Herring, FPP coordinator, said King County had hoped the city of Enumclaw would come up with a plan to tie the Thomas Farm into the development of the Expo Center. King County thought the focus of the Expo Center would be on agriculture and not just equestrian.
Sylvia Kantor of WSU King County Extension also thought finding a way to link the Thomas Farm with the Expo Center was a fantastic idea and there are educational resources available through their agriculture program. WSU Extension works directly with staff at Green River Community College as well as other education programs in our area.
Deanna Burnett Keener, Green River small business adviser said she has been involved in legal disputes over these land development issues and knows of none that have been reversed. Not only does Deanna advise small businesses, she is also a wine producer and teacher. She works with WSU extension, teaching about the business of small farming. These programs fill up each semester with 50 students and growing. The Small Business Adviser group Deanna heads up for GRCC is invaluable to our community.
Mary Embleton of Cascade Harvest Coalition and Washington FarmLink are available to help find solutions to the challenges of a dairy farm located with city limits.
“Washington FarmLink is the state’s leading program to link aspiring farmers and landowners and help build sustainable farming operations. FarmLink addresses barriers that farmers face in keeping their land in farming and answers the call for more technical assistance and education.”
The names listed above are only a few of the resources available to the city in coming up with a realistic solution to the issue of a fully operational dairy farm within city limits. Is city staff aware of the six farmers outside the city limits partnering with Daryl Maas from Northwest Farm Power (www.farmpower.com)? In less than two years there will be a fully functioning anaerobic dairy digester (recycling farm waste into renewable energy) located between Enumclaw and Auburn. We have two successful Farmers Markets just beyond city limits and less than 10 miles away in Buckley there is a CSA (community supported agriculture) providing food for 130 customers on a weekly basis. A raw dairy was certified Grade A just over a year ago, not to mention Del’s Farm Supply located just a few blocks from city hall and another just across the bridge in Buckley. Magazines, newspapers as well as the media are featuring stories about feeding the world and the future of small farming. Enumclaw is a Mecca of small farms from alpaca, dairy, horses to produce – entrepreneurs abound and thrive when given the resources. A more suitable use of city staff time would be to help the Thomas family find solutions for incorporating their farm into the agricultural vision our mayor set forth.
Eight years ago I was living in Laguna Beach, Calif., where I participated in a citywide visioning process. Two hundred residents attended sustainability and walkability seminars and workshops with a goal of creating a 30-year vision of our community. I think it’s time the citizens of Enumclaw step forward and participate in creating our own vision with a mission to preserve and protect agricultural. Thomas Farm could be a key component in bringing tax dollars along with tourism into our community.
As a concerned citizen I volunteer in helping to create a more sustainable Enumclaw.
Credit given where its due with WSU
Re: Buckley signs long-term lease for state land.
Credit should be given where due, and as I am somewhat familiar with what transpired, I’d like to include those who laid the groundwork for this lease.
When the WSU dairy facility ceased to operate I contacted the then Buckley city administrator to input about getting control, as allowed by law, of this land to supplement the meager parks situation in Buckley. City Administrator Tamarah Knapp had already done some preliminary work and invited me to ride to Olympia for the prelilminary negotions, which were held in State Sen. Pam Roach’s office. Sen. Roach brought the players together and what you see today is the result of all those efforts. I was there so was able to view first hand what would eventually transpire. I would note that there was some discussion of also gaining the DSHS land east of Levesque Road, but that was sidelined by a Pierce County proposal to obtain the land for a regional park, since tabled by funding issues.
There are a couple of things in the lease that cause concern. The first being the right of DSHS to terminate the lease without compensation for any improvements made, which makes infrastructure investment of any magnitude not a particularly good deal and the second being the cost-of-living escalator clause in the lease. Neither are items which should be hanging over the city’s head when doing improvements or thinking of the long-term future.
While purchase is not an option at this time, the codification is very recent and has nothing to do with WSU. The land has always been DSHS land so, the day WSU moved out they relinquished their considerable investments in the property. A concerted lobbying effort could put the purchase option back on the table, while making sure all stakeholders are treated fairly. I believe purchase to be the long-term option that should not be dismissed.