On Saturday, Feb. 24, Agrarian Ales issued a website and Facebook statement that caused a stir in the beer-loving community. It said that Lane County forced Agrarian Ales to cease operation of its business on Friday night, before the busy weekend. EW began checking into the shutdown of the popular brewery and tasting room and found the story is a little more complicated than it first appeared.
“When advised of the impact that this action would have on our business the county officials offered no leniency or clear course of corrective action,” the Agrarian Ales statement reads.
Agrarian Ales pointed to a similar problem that cropped up for wineries in 2012 which was eventually solved in the Legislature, and asked for similar leniency. “Wineries were allowed to continue operating as they took steps towards compliance; at least one of those steps was re-writing the county codes to accommodate their specific situations.”
The post led to an outcry from the community, with Lane County commission candidate Joe Berney weighing in: “I call on on the current commissioners to work with small businesses like Agrarian Ales and remove these arbitrary roadblocks to success.”
In response to the outcry, county spokesperson Devon Ashbridge provided a response to media inquiries and clarified the county’s position.
The county says that Agrarian Ales was closed to the public due to code violations relating to health and safety, including improper use of outdoor propane stoves indoors, unsafe use of extension cords and insufficient structural supports. Agrarian Ales is also zoned in an area for “Exclusive Farm Use,” severely limiting the legal usage of the land.
Ashbridge also outlined the timeline of Agrarian’s permits with the county — the business was informed in 2015 that it needed new special use permits for it to operate beyond processing of farmed crops: the 2012 special use permit did not include a tasting room or a restaurant. Agrarian indicated interest in submitting a special use permit application in the future.
In February of 2016, “Lane County Land Management issued a “Request for Voluntary Correction” to inform Agrarian that any events held on the property would be in violation of Lane Code 16.212(4)(c). In the following year, Agrarian received multiple extensions on its special use permit application.
In May of last year, Agrarian submitted an incomplete application, which was automatically voided in November after 180 days “due to failure to complete the application as required.”
Agrarian submitted a new special use permit application on Feb. 2, 2018, which was also deemed incomplete by the county. And on Feb. 12, “Lane County Land Management was notified by a deputy state fire marshal that an inspection of Agrarian resulted in the requirement to remove an outdoor propane camping stove from the kitchen area. The fire marshal also discussed with an Agrarian representative requirements to meet building code.”
After some discussion on Feb. 13 between the county and the company, “The Agrarian representative was instructed to contact the County’s building official as soon as possible to discuss the option of a temporary permit.”
Following that discussion, there was no communication from Agrarian Ales to the county, the county’s statement says. “A site visit was conducted in the afternoon of February 23, during which the building official noted a variety of health and safety violations, including that the stove ordered removed by the fire marshal was back inside the kitchen. The building was posted as an unsafe building.”
Agrarian Ales General Manager Stephen Harrell says that Agrarian never initially intended to become the site it has become, which is why the permitting didn’t encompass their full activities in 2012. “We did it organically the way that a small business does,” he says.
Harrell doesn’t blame the county for what has happened. “I’m trying to tell a human story about people trying to cobble together a business.”
“We are asking for the same leniency that was offered to the wineries in 2012,” he says, referring to a shift in land use code at that time which allowed wineries to operate tasting rooms in designated farmland.
The county’s full statement, provided by Ashbridge, is below.
Feb. 28 update: Below the county’s response is Agrarian’s response to the county.
LANE COUNTY STATEMENT
This month, after several years of working to address compliance land use and building permit requirements with Agrarian Ales, Lane County became aware of potential building code violations related to health and safety. When efforts to correct the violations were not undertaken in a timely manner, a building on the Agrarian property was deemed unsafe and closed to the public.
The health and safety issues included the use of an outdoor, propane stove indoors, the use of extension cords in an unsafe manner, and insufficient structural supports.
Lane County is committed to working with Agrarian in order to address the immediate building safety issues, as well as working within state law regarding any zoning issues. Lane County Land Management staff, as well as the Economic Development manager, are available to help provide guidance and expertise to Agrarian.
It is our hope that we can find a way to help a beloved and thriving rural business operate in a way that provides for the safety of the public and meets the same requirements that other businesses must also operate within.
There are two concurrent issues with the Agrarian property: 1) building safety and 2) land use.
First and foremost, Lane County is obligated to prioritize the health and safety of the public when evaluating buildings. On February 12, Lane County became aware of potential health and safety violations at a building on the Agrarian property. February 13 Agrarian was notified that the building was not designed for public occupancy and directed to contact the County building official to find out what was required to make the building safe and to request a temporary permit. That did not occur and on February 23 the building was posted as an unsafe building and occupancy was banned.
The Agrarian property is zoned as “Exclusive Farm Use” and as a result the activities that can occur on the property are highly restricted by state land use law.
Several years ago, wineries successfully lobbied the State Legislature for changes to state land use law that allowed them to operate tasting rooms
in addition to processing facilities – breweries were not included in this law change.
Lane County staff will continue to work with Agrarian as much as current law allows in regard to zoning restrictions.
Commissioners have expressed their support and desire to advocate at the state level for a similar land use law change for breweries.
Below you will find a timeline of the significant events over Lane County’s 12-year history with Agrarian. Documents can be found online at http://apps.lanecounty.org/LMDPro/.
July 17, 2006
Agrarian owners file a Land Use Compatibility Statement (LUCS) for brewing beer and specifically stated that no one other than owners would be involved (no employees and no public). PA 06-6020
April 25, 2012
Special Use Permit approved to allow processing of farm crops on-site. No approval for tasting room or restaurant is included.
September 18, 2015
A representative of Agrarian visited Lane County Land Management Division’s planner-on-duty desk and was informed that, based on statements made by the representative, a Special Use Permit and building permits would be required in order to begin additional processing and any other uses on site.
December 4, 2015
Agrarian representatives met with Lane County Land Management and shared their desire to establish a tasting room and enough food production to satisfy the requirements of their Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Control Commission (OLCCC) license. The representatives indicated they would submit a Special Use Permit application in the near future.
February 29, 2016
Lane County Land Management issued a Request for Voluntary Correction to inform Agrarian that any events held on the property would be in violation of Lane Code 16.212(4)(c).
March 2016–May 10, 2017
Agrarian requested and received multiple extensions on the Special Use Permit application. A reminder of the Request for Voluntary Correction and a request to submit the Special Use Permit application was sent to Agrarian on April 27, 2017.
May 4, 2017
Lane County Land Management issued Agrarian with an order to comply with the correction request.
May 25, 2017
Agrarian submitted a Special Use Permit application. The application was incomplete. According to state law, a completed and correct application must be completed within 180 days of the initial submission date or the application automatically becomes void. PA 17-05476
November 22, 2017
Agrarian’s Special Use Permit application is automatically voided due to failure to complete the application as required.
February 2, 2018
Agrarian submitted a new Special Use Permit application. The application is incomplete and must be completed within 180 days from this date. PA 18-05092
February 12, 2018
Lane County Land Management was notified by a deputy state fire marshal that an inspection of Agrarian resulted in the requirement to remove an outdoor propane camping stove from the kitchen area. The fire marshal also discussed with an Agrarian representative requirements to meet building code.
February 13, 2018
Lane County’s Land Management Division Manager responded to questions from an Agrarian representative and indicated the County could not approve occupancy of the building until building code issues were addressed. The Agrarian representative was instructed to contact the County’s building official as soon as possible to discuss the option of a temporary permit.
February 23, 2018
The County’s building official was not contacted by an Agrarian representative after February 13. A site visit was conducted in the afternoon of February 23, during which the building official noted a variety of health and safety violations, including that the stove ordered removed by the fire marshal was back inside the kitchen. The building was posted as an unsafe building.
Tuesday, Lane County published their response to our statement. Public outreach has put pressure on the county to give us the permission we need to operate and keep our business alive. While we appreciate the response from the county, we would like to point out some specific details and correct the record that they have indicated.
On February 9, 2018 a Deputy State Fire Marshal did visit our site. This was the first fire inspection that has occurred since we opened in 2012. During that visit there were a few issues that were noted. In the verbal communication with the Fire Marshal words like “suggestion” and “advise” were used. No “orders” were issued. No paperwork was issued; the whole interaction was informal and friendly.
Based on that interaction we immediately began taking steps to comply with the Marshal’s suggestions and advice. Extension cords previously used in our kitchen were replaced with plug strips with breakers as explicitly suggested by the Marshal. All doors utilized by the public in any capacity were re-hung to open out – as explicitly advised by the Marshal. Our fire extinguishers were serviced per the Marshal’s suggestion as well.
The temporary stovetop utilized in our kitchen was originally our only processing option offered by the Oregon Department of Agriculture. The Fire Marshal’s advice was in direct contradiction to the advice originally offered by the DOA about our requirements for a kitchen. The entire tone of the meeting with the Fire Marshal was informal and advice given therein was received as guidance, not as an order as indicated by the County. The county’s characterization of this interaction is misleading – especially when used as precedent for a building inspection that would ultimately close our facility.
The county also referred to the site visit conducted on February 23 saying, “…the building official noted a variety of health and safety violations, including that the stove ordered removed by the fire marshal was back inside the kitchen.” During that site visit the conversations with the building official communicated precisely zero health violations. We are proud of the food we serve and stand behind its quality and safety. Any violations noted by the building official were not communicated to the staff in writing. The notice posted on the front of the building prohibiting public entrance is the only paperwork we have received related to “safety,” and it lists zero details regarding specific violations.
The county describes submittal of incomplete Special Use Permit Applications. To be clear, applications submitted require a month of review before they are deemed complete or not, and the information they seek to complete the application is dependent upon the inspector reviewing the application. This is not a process whereupon objective standards must be met to satisfy code. Not satisfying complex code requirements and failing to explain congruence with obscure land use decisions are more than enough to deem an application incomplete. The final SUP submitted by Agrarian was over 30 pages in length.
The County’s own timeline indicates the lengthy process by which Agrarian has sought to comply with a complex set of codes. The County’s own timeline mentions building permits twice; once in 2015 and not again until 2018. No notices were ever issued related to “health and safety,” as the County has characterized it’s enforcement action.
The first clarification of our need comply with building codes was the posting prohibiting the general public from our facility. Moreover for an agency that requires 30 days to acknowledge the completeness of an application to allow only 10 days to contact them regarding any issue creates the appearance of a double standard. The informal nature of the contacts made by the County did not acknowledge the urgency and gravity of the situation.
Additionally, we acknowledge fully that we have not always been as proactive as we could have been in addressing issues raised by Lane County. We operate a wholly unique agricultural business that does not fit neatly into any checkbox on bureaucratic forms. Convincing county land use officials that the nature of our farm-based business complies with Exclusive Farm Use codes has been an arduous, sometimes impossible, task. We are fallible human beings trying to keep a small farm alive and operating. When we have made errors we have always worked diligently to correct them. We have never put our employees, our patrons or our neighbors in danger in any way.
All of this being said, the public pressure from our loyal patrons and people who believe in what we are doing has caused action to be taken by the County and the state legislature. We are looking forward to the swift resolution of this issue and getting back to hosting the public at our unique agricultural establishment. Thank you to our supporters and the administration that has shown a renewed commitment to resolving the issues at hand.