Routt County commissioners: No building code exception for dairy farmer

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— Small-scale dairy farmer John Weibel didn’t get the answers he was seeking from the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, but he did get a promise that county officials will take a step back this year and look at how they manage the growing interest in promoting agricultural-based tourism here.

Weibel wants to begin making cheese with raw milk from about a dozen cows he milks during the summer on his ranch on Routt County Road 52E in the lower Elk River Valley. And he wants to get started in a 300-square-foot cheese room he built adjacent to his almost 80-year-old barn.

However, as he left the Commissioners Hearing Room on Tuesday, he said that in order to meet his goal of economically making cheese this summer, he’d probably purchase a trailer and make cheese in it rather than meeting county regulations placed on his new cheese room.

His beef with the county is its insistence that he must live up to the building code, which requires a firewall be built between commercial facilities and adjoining buildings being used for different purposes.

“It would be nice to expedite the process if someone wanted to milk 20 cows and make artisanal cheese” they could, Weibel told the commissioners.

“I can understand in an urban situation why you would need separation (in the form of a firewall). The building codes are written for large cities. That’s where we come to you and see how you can revise these codes,” he said.

Weibel already has a conditional-use permit from the county allowing him to make cheese on his ranch, but he objects to that process, too, contending that making small-batch cheese next door to his milking shed is an agricultural process and not a commercial food production process, as the county insists it is.

All three commissioners backed up Routt County Building Department official Carl Dunham in his enforcement of the International Building Code.

“The building permit part of it seems pretty black and white to me,” Commissioner Tim Corrigan said. “I’m very supportive of Carl based on the rules and regs of the building code.”

Commissioner Steve Ivancie noted that Dunham showed some flexibility in Weibel’s case, allowing him to build a firewall of lumber and drywall rather than the more typical cinderblock wall. And he added that the building code was written to protect lives in case of a fire.

“I don’t have the option of choosing what rules and codes I’m going to enforce,” Ivancie said. “The issue of safety, general welfare and public health is something I take very seriously. I think it’s a small price to pay.”

Weibel estimates that by the time he had a wall designed, built and electrical components installed, it would cost him $5,000 to $10,000. He reasons that he could purchase the trailer for the price of building the wall and get most of his money back out of it with a later sale when he’s ready to move cheese production into a permanent facility.

Marsha Daughenbaugh, executive director of the Community Agriculture Alliance, reminded the commissioners that encouraging small-scale food production in the valley could diversify and broaden the agriculture sector of the local economy.

“I think we have some opportunity here for some economic development,” Daughenbaugh said.

Commissioner Doug Monger said that in his mind, processing milk to make cheese is clearly a commercial enterprise, but he also said he thinks the time is right for the county to have a broader discussion about how it regulates on-farm food production in the context of agricultural tourism.

He asked Steamboat Springs Planning Director Chad Phillips to include CSU Extension agent Todd Hagenbuch in future meetings to look at the subject and said it is possible the county will revisit pieces of its 2003 master plan in the process.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

John Weibel 1 year, 2 months ago

Agricultural versus Commercial

Unfortunately it seems that the paper misrepresents what I am after.

I was not seeking revision to the building codes. I was seeking the definition of the processing of farm products on farm as an agricultural use, as it seems to be in most regions of the country. In addition I was seeking that any one seeking to operate a small scale dairy, like I am, need not go through the planning department.

If my facility were all agricultural or commercial there would not need to be a “wall of separation”. The State department of health does not require one. The only reason I need one is that the processing of agricultural products on farm changes the classification of the use in Routt County, which then requires a firewall because.

In Elkstone Farms case they needed a firewall to separate the wash room from the agricultural application. Personally, it is all agricultural and should not require the economic and environmental expense that is/was required on their farm, my farm or any future one.

If the classification was not changed, then yes I disagree with the code in this instance, not for what the code was designed to prevent.

John Weibel

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John Weibel 1 year, 2 months ago

Paragraph two needs the last sentence finished with, because one aspect of my operation is commercial and the other agricultural. Though the land trust have viewed it as agricultural and in compliance with the conservation easement, forbidding commercial operations on the property. The insurance company views the structures as entirely agricultural as a risk factor even with the processing of cheese.

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john bailey 1 year, 2 months ago

the IBC is a broad spectrum code, thats why they state , subject to local building official.we all can't have our own way. even in my field, the strictest apllication can't apply because of buiding constraints. thats why carls office is open to discuss the issues. carl has always been open about code issues, and in my mind some what better than his predessor (sp)? wish you the best john, and still love me some local fresh any thing. now if we could bring back the lettuce. i can say though, is that there is absolutley no messing around with the fire code. as some have insisted its ok to install this like that. um ok , i will ,but,you're gonna pay me to re-do the install. because your stubborn..................and will not listen to a professional in that trade.

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John Weibel 1 year, 2 months ago

John,

The IBC does not require a firewall between low risk uses F2 and U, which is what I have. The only issue is that in the minds of some in this county that the processing of milk or lettuce moves an operation from agricultural to commercial and requires a firewall between two uses. Yet in other parts of the state and country, the act of processing farm products on farm is still considered agricultural and actively encouraged as an agricultural process.

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John Weibel 1 year, 2 months ago

I am not trying to change the building codes, I am trying to change the classification of use from Commercial to agricultural.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 2 months ago

The difference between commercial and agriculture on a ranch/farm is very fuzzy. A shop that would clearly be commercial if in a city is normally considered ag on a ranch. The shop might not be just for equipment used on the property, but for equipment used on other properties. If you drive county roads then you'll notice there are excavation companies located on ag ranches.

For John's operations, the danger of not having a firewall for a 300 sq ft space was zero. It would take a couple of seconds to evacuate the building and it is not believable that anyone could be trapped or fail to notice there was a fire.

With a trailer then you can use your First Amendment speech rights to make it a big sign visible from the road protesting the county's rules noting that the reason they are seeing a trailer is because the county made it too hard to put into your barn.

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john bailey 1 year, 2 months ago

best of luck john, during the course of my time working here. one of the things stressed to me by the building officails, was the need to install jobs in a workman like manner. well, the things i have seen by obviously under quilified workers was appalling. then adding insult to injury, there is no need to have a licsense to install these jobs, really. so its a blessing to work on projects where all trades know what there doing and take pride in doing so. when the construction died down, believe me most of the scab workers left . now you'll see better cleaner installs then when the madness was taking place, saw it all wit my own eyes. sad commentary, but then the truth hurts sometimes

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John Weibel 1 year, 2 months ago

Fortunately, pretty much everything has been done by qualified individuals. What wasn't a qualified individual inspected.

The answers that are rolling in as far as how other areas consider the processing of agricultural products are that they are agricultural in nature.

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Charles Preston-Townsend 1 year, 2 months ago

It is unfortunate that our County Officials view the gray area around these designations as a risk rather than an opportunity. Routt County has historically been an agricultural region, producing everything from lettuce and strawberries to beef, pork, chicken and other meats.

There are numerous individuals trying to provide food products in the county, unfortunately the primary barrier to entry is bureaucratic. There is a place for rules and regulations but to use such a broad set of guidelines as the International Building Codes, and expect prospective food producers to meet these standards is not practical.

It is unfortunate that the county commissioners are not willing to interpret the International Building Codes to work for our community. Rather than adhering rigidly to the codes, I believe it is the commissioners role to interpret these regulations to fit our community.

By viewing the gray areas as opportunities, Routt County could lead as an example of a viable, sustainable local food system.

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