The Thurston County Planning Commission recommended adding 7,200 acres of land for long-term agriculture as part of an agricultural zoning update, Senior Planner Maya Teeple said to the Board of County Commissioners on Wednesday, August 23.
The update also looks into amending provisions of the Thurston County Code to provide flexibility for agricultural operators, clarify procedures, and streamline the permitting process.
One of the regulations being looked into is block size requirements for agricultural lands. The county currently requires agricultural blocks with a minimum of 320 acres and a minimum of 200 acres if the land is near another agricultural area. As part of their recommendations, the Planning Commission suggested reducing the minimum block size to 40 acres, with parcels of at least 20 acres.
The commission is also recommending that the board consider updates to conservation incentive programs, such as the Transfer or Purchase of Development Rights program, which allows agricultural landowners to transfer development rights to a developer while continuing to utilize the land.
The commission undertook a public engagement process from October 2022 to August 2023, conducting stakeholder meetings, a community open house, and a public hearing before coming up with their recommendation. The county received 80 public comments about the following issues:
The county currently has about 15,500 acres of land designated for long-term agriculture, 72% of which already have existing farms.
Meanwhile, the Thurston County Planning Commission is making no recommendation regarding the requested land use change for a 1.5-acre property along Old Highway 99, Associate Planner Amelia Schwartz said to the board on the same day.
The property is located at 12625 Old Highway 99 and is southwest of Offut Lake and east of Millersylvania State Park. The property owners, the Pogue family from Tenino, request that the site be designated to Neighborhood Convenience (NC). According to the county website, an NC designation allows for small businesses that provide everyday goods and services to nearby residents.
The site is currently classified as Rural Residential/Resource 1/5, which allows low-density residential, agriculture, and forest practices and open space.
Schwartz told the board that the commission could not make a majority vote on any of the options they had considered due to several issues.
There is already an NC district south of the Pogue site that consists of a gas station, a convenience store, and a tavern. Designating the Pogue site as NC would have created a gap between the two NC areas, which went against guidelines for NC designation as such areas should be clustered together.
County staff also acknowledged that the property between the two areas already has a coffee stand despite being designated as rural residential.
To address this issue, the Planning Commission had considered extending the NC designation to property in between to make one contiguous NC district.
In both options, the designation would have made the area too large according to guidelines for NC districts. Schwartz said that guidelines for NC designation allow for a maximum of one acre but acknowledged that other NC sites in the county also exceed this limit.
Public comments received by staff are in support of the designation.
The board would need to hold public hearings about the agricultural zoning update and the requested land use change for the Pogue site before making a consideration.
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