Routt County commissioners have an appetite for providing simple 1st step to permitting food production

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— The Routt County Board of Commissioners reacted enthusiastically Tuesday to a plan to help would-be producers of locally grown and processed foods engage the permit process at the local government level with less brain damage incurred along the way for both parties.

“This is a no-brainer,” Commissioner Doug Monger, a cattle grower himself, said. “You guys have done a great job coming up with this.”

He was addressing a gathering of county department heads who this winter have been meeting with Marsha Daughenbaugh, of the Community Agriculture Alliance.

The change for entrepreneurs will come with an informal review process intended to educate applicants before they actually apply for a permit.

Within the past two years, Routt County has seen local food entrepreneurs enter the county approval process with their tentative plans to slaughter chickens, make cheese and grow produce. In some instances, those people have found it difficult to understand the variety of regulations they must satisfy for different departments of county government, from Road and Bridge to the Building Department.

Often convinced that their idea is a simple one that shouldn’t face regulatory hurdles when the idea still is in the exploratory phase, the passionate applicants have expressed their frustration in public hearings.

Karen Massey, director of the Colorado State University Extension Office here, told the commissioners that the interest in producing food locally is not about to die down, and her office would like to be the first point of contact for people seeking to start a food business here.

“It’s cheese making, yogurt, sourdough, poultry — we don’t get the same thing twice,” Massey told the commissioners. “It’s why we’re starting with the Extension Office, because education is what we do.”

Daughenbaugh told the commissioners that after a half dozen meetings with county department heads this winter, everyone involved has increased their own understanding of the overall regulatory hurdles new food businesses must clear.

“Every time we met, we educated each other,” Daughenbaugh said.

The non-regulatory process that has emerged begins by directing entrepreneurs to CSU Extension where they will be given a one-page questionnaire that also will be available online.

The questionnaire will ask basic questions, for example: Will food products be produced on site or in an off-site kitchen? How will products be produced, processed, cleaned, packaged, sorted and transported? Will food be served on site? What existing structures and new structures will be involved? Describe your water source?

Not only will the answers to those questions help county officials understand what needs to be done to grant the business a permit, it also will give entrepreneurs a clearer picture of the task ahead, Massey said.

After the applicant returns the questionnaire, CSU Extension might make suggestions on gaps in the information. If the answers are sufficient, the questionnaire would be circulated among all department heads as well as to Erin Light, district engineer for the Colorado Department of Water Resources.

County planner Alan Goldich pointed out that one benefit of circulating the questionnaire would be to provide the prospective applicants comments in writing well before they formally apply for a permit.

Light said Tuesday that she will readily embrace the process in hopes that it avoids causing people to be upset with her office.

County Commissioner Steve Ivancie said the process as outlined reminded him of the process new development projects go through at the city of Steamboat Springs. In the city process, a Technical Advisory Committee reviews development proposals to identify any issues within a range of very pragmatic concerns from emergency access to storm drainage.

“People could look at this and see, ‘I’ve got some work to do.’ But it creates efficiencies,” Ivancie said. “It not only saves the county time, but saves the applicant time. I think this is a very good step. I think it’s all about expectations.”

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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