A large cherry processing facility northeast of Selah which drew objections from dozens of area residents, a local business and several agencies was approved this past week by a Yakima County hearing examiner.
Following a June 30 public hearing and nearly a year of reports, studies and written comments, hearing examiner Patrick Spurgin issued his decision Wednesday to approve the conditional use permit for the 280,000-square-foot facility near Harrison and Pomona roads, near the Yakima River. northeast of Selah.
Spurgin wrote that the proposal is consistent with Yakima County’s development regulations and the Yakima County Comprehensive Plan, and those conclusions “support a recommendation for approval with conditions of the proposed agriculturally related industry (cherry processing and packing facility) on 56.4 acres.”
Conditions include improving Pomona Road along the western border of the property, with construction and county approval of the new roadway required before the processing facility may be built. A stormwater pollution prevention plan is required and must be approved by the state’s Department of Ecology.
Finally, a minimum of 300 parking spaces must be built for employees of the facility, unless housing for H-2A workers is built on the property, which reduces the number of workers driving there, Spurgin wrote.
Details of the proposal
The proposal was submitted to Yakima County planning officials on Sept. 22021, by developer Leanne Liddicoat of Digital Design and Development (3D) of Yakima.
It was filed on behalf of property owners Aaron and Marlena Buchanan. The site was subsequently sold to Giddings Cerasus USA, a fruit company based in The Dalles, Ore. The company is a subsidiary of Giddings Fruit, a worldwide exporter of cherries, berries and other fruit based in Santiago, Chile.
The 56.4-acre site is at the southeast corner of Pomona and East Pomona roads, about 2 miles northeast of the Selah city limits. Also adjacent are 10 homes on Rivers Edge Lane, which sits between the proposed processing facility the Yakima River. North of those homes is a lot owned and operated by the Department of Defense to provide services to the nearby Yakima Training Center.
Plans submitted to the county indicate the facility would operate seasonally, primarily during cherry harvest, six days a week with one or two shifts of 300 workers each. It is anticipated that temporary agricultural worker housing will be built on the site in the future. Building heights would not exceed 35 feet, and primary access to the site would be via State Route 821 and East Pomona Road, according to the developer.
Two public comment periods last fall generated more than 35 letters, most in opposition to the proposal. The objections included the traffic impact of the project, potential interference with existing wells or other sources of water, impacts on the rural character of the area and property values, and conflicts with the military’s use of Pomona Road.
Issues raised by adjacent residents were summarized by the views of Bill and Molly Madison, who have lived in the area for more than 21 years and believe a processing facility “the size of two Costcos” that employs 300 to 500 people would drastically change the area. .
“I understand what they’re proposing, that they’re trying to do something with the land, but it’s just not in the right place,” Bill Madison told the Yakima Herald-Republic in late October.
Besides residents, letters of opposition or questions about the project came from the city of Selah, Zirkle Fruit Company, the state’s Department of Ecology, the Selah-Moxee Irrigation District and the Rosa Irrigation District.
Many of these concerns were addressed both in-person and online during the June 30 public hearing, Spurgin noted in his decision. He visited the site and the surrounding area immediately following the hearing.
‘Agriculturally related industry’
In the end, Spurgin cited the conclusions in the county’s Final Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance, filed May 31 of this year, which determined the project would not have a probable significant adverse impact on the environment, with three caveats:
- The potential disturbance of human skeletal remains during construction
- Obtaining a senior water right (pre-1905) for the Yakima River mainstream or a tributary
- Working with the Northwest Pipeline Corporation on encroachments and development within their right-of-way on the site.
These issues were addressed by Spurgin in his list of conditions for approval.
Regarding the concerns of residents regarding the rural character of the area and their property values, Spurgin wrote that while residential development has occurred on land zoned for farming and related activities, “agriculturally related industry is permitted with minimal review in such areas.
“Agriculturally related industry is specifically permitted in the R10/5 zone (the processing plant site’s zoning), with the main goal of ensuring compatibility with neighboring uses, so it is difficult to categorize such uses as ‘non-rural,'” he wrote. .
Spurgin added that residents’ concerns about future H-2A housing on the site will be addressed through required compliance with US Department of Homeland Security rules and Washington Department of Health regulations.
His decision stipulates that the conditions imposed on the developer must be met with three years.