A large cherry processing plant northeast of Selah, which has attracted objections from dozens of area residents, a local company and several agencies, was approved last week by a hearing examiner from Yakima County.
After a public hearing on June 30 and nearly a year of written reports, studies and comments, hearing examiner Patrick Spurgin issued his decision Wednesday to approve conditional use permit for the 280,000-square-foot facility near the Harrison and Pomona roads, near the Yakima River northeast of Sela.
Spurgin wrote that the proposal is consistent with Yakima County Development Regulations and Yakima County Comprehensive Plan and those conclusions “support a recommendation for approval with the proposed agricultural sector conditions (processing and packaging plant cherries) on 56.4 acres “.
Conditions include improving Pomona Road along the property’s western edge, with construction and county approval of the new roadway required before the processing plant can 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 for the facility’s employees need to be built, 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 presented to Yakima County planning officials on September 22021, by Yakima’s Digital Design and Development (3D) developer Leanne Liddicoat.
It was filed on behalf of owners Aaron and Marlena Buchanan. The site was subsequently sold to Giddings Cerasus USA, a fruit company based in The Dalles, Oregon. The company is a subsidiary of Giddings Fruit, a worldwide exporter of cherries, berries and other fruits based in Santiago, Chile.
The 56.4-acre site is located on the southeast corner of Pomona and East Pomona Roads, approximately 2 miles northeast of the Selah city limits. Adjacent are also 10 homes on Rivers Edge Lane, which are located between the proposed processing plant and 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 presented to the county indicate that the facility would operate seasonally, mainly during cherry picking, six days a week with one or two shifts of 300 workers each. Temporary housing for agricultural workers is expected to be built on the site in the future. The height of the buildings would not exceed 35 feet and the main access to the site would be via State Route 821 and East Pomona Road, according to the developer.
Two bouts of public comment last fall generated more than 35 letters, most of them opposed to the proposal. Objections included the traffic impact of the project, potential interference with existing wells or other water sources, impacts on the rural character of the area and property values, and conflicts with the military use of Pomona Road.
The issues raised by adjacent residents were summed up by the views of Bill and Molly Madison, who have lived in the area for more than 21 years and believe that a “two Costcos-sized” processing plant employing 300 to 500 people would change dramatically. the area .
“I understand what they are proposing, that they are trying to do something with the earth, but it is not in the right place,” Bill Madison told the Yakima Herald-Republic in late October.
In addition to the residents, letters of opposition or questions about the project came from the city of Selah, the Zirkle Fruit Company, the State 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 public hearing on June 30, Spurgin noted in his decision. She visited the site and the surrounding area immediately after the hearing.
‘Industry linked to agriculture’
Eventually, Spurgin cited the findings in the Final Mitigated Determination of County Insignificance, filed May 31 this year, which determined the project would not likely have a significant negative impact on the environment, with three caveats:
- The potential disturbance of the human skeleton remains during construction
- Obtain a senior water right (pre-1905) for the main current of the Yakima River or a tributary
- Cooperate with Northwest Pipeline Corporation on intrusion and development under the right of way over the site.
These issues were addressed by Spurgin on his list of conditions for approval.
Regarding residents’ concerns about the rural character of the area and their property values, Spurgin wrote that while residential development occurred on land intended for agriculture and related activities, ” agriculture is allowed with minimal overhaul in such areas.
“The agricultural sector is specifically allowed in zone R10 / 5 (zoning of the processing plant site), with the main aim of ensuring compatibility with neighboring uses, so it is difficult to classify these uses as ‘non-rural'”, he wrote .
Spurgin added that residents’ concerns about future H-2A housing at the site will be addressed through necessary compliance with U.S. 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.