Pierce County planning commissioners are considering what the future holds for Agricultural Resource Lands in our area. Residents, farmers, civic organizations and other stakeholders filled a hearing room last Wednesday and provided hours of public testimony.
It was clear there’s a lot of confusion and misunderstanding around what resource land really means. According to state code, land should be considered ARL if “used or capable of being used for agricultural production.”
I’m hearing a lot of folks argue that farming is a thing of the past or that it’s not a viable business. First of all, if that’s true, how are we continuing to feed ourselves? It may seem like a relic if you drive through the warehouse jungle of Sumner, but that is a result of our county’s poor planning decisions.
It’s a fact that the business of farming is difficult, but to say it’s not viable is an insult to all of us who are capable of running a successful farm. One farmer testified grossing upward of $90,000 on fewer than 10 acres.
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The question remains as to what criteria capture the best resource lands our county offers. There are several good recommendations. At present, there is a minimum parcel size recommendation. This makes sense but leaves out resource lands that are split into several tax parcels.
If these criteria are changed to include common or contiguous ownership, we will be able to capture much of the remaining prime farmland, especially in the Puyallup and Orting valleys.
While it is possible to opt in to ARL, property owners should not be responsible for cleaning up the mess of patchwork zoning on their holdings. Opting in is more than a simple phone call or email; it is a legislative process that could take several years.
Speaking of the Puyallup Valley, the River Road/Mid-County area is facing tremendous threat from every angle. This is the most prime farmland in our county for both soils and location. Special consideration must be made for these productive resource lands.
Under the proposed rules, the majority of currently farmed land in this region would be moved from an agricultural resource to a rural separator designation. This would open up Mid-County farmland to development, as the separator designation allows 5- and 7-acre parcels to be even further subdivided.
What will these farmers be financially forced to do if their neighborhood is developed all around them, causing even more flooding and more difficulty for them to make a living? Getting rid of the abutting parcel size criteria for this area is paramount to ensuring we don’t lose prime resources on our urban fringe.
The Planning Commission will make its recommendations to the County Council on Feb. 1. Comments can be submitted until Jan. 26 at 4:30 p.m. by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope county leaders are able to differentiate between the perceived definition of agriculture and the county code for designating resource lands.
We all complain about rapidly vanishing farmland throughout our valley. It’s time for decision makers to step up and consider our community as a whole. This consideration must include planning for the health and resources for our children, grandchildren and future residents of wonderful Pierce County.
If the status quo continues and decisions are made based on individual desires and profits, then we collectively lose. Everyone who eats food should be paying attention to this issue.
Amy Moreno-Sills farms in the Puyallup Valley and works for Futurewise, a nonprofit organization focused on protecting Washington farmlands, forests and waterways.