Distillery seeks compliance with town plan, no other businesses under scrutiny


Staff Writer

King County is requiring that one business on Vashon, the Seattle Distilling Company, obtain a permit that complies with the Vashon Town Plan.

At last Wednesday’s public meeting on a proposed town plan amendment, some islanders expressed concern that some business on Vashon do not comply with town plan zoning rules drafted in 1996. Since then, however, officials with the county’s Department of Environmental Permitting and Review (DPER) have said only the Seattle Distilling Company has an open code enforcement case related to the town plan. That case has been open for months, they say, because the business never obtained the permit it needed to open its doors in 2012.

“We may have other code enforcement cases that deal with zoning, but not because of the town plan issue,” said Sheryl Lux, a code enforcement officer with DPER.

The Vashon Town Plan, which is folded into the county’s comprehensive plan, has been in the spotlight recently because of the county’s efforts to amend it. A section of the plan specifies what types of businesses can be located in Vashon town and at Center, providing a basis for zoning restrictions at those properties. A county amendment to add marijuana business to those uses was recently proposed and was vetted at a public meeting last Wednesday.

As the town plan amendment has been considered, islanders have also raised concerns that that portion of the plan, last updated in 1996, could be out of date and prohibit current businesses. At the meeting last week, county officials said they were early in the process of looking into the issue.

In interviews afterwards, however, DPER officials said they knew of only one conflict with the town plan, at the Seattle Distilling Company, and have no plans to shut the business down.

Lux said that when the distillery opened  at a building at Center in 2012, its owners failed to obtain the required change-of-use permit from DPER. Ishan Dillon, a partner in the business, said they admittedly overlooked the permit as they dealt with the complexities of setting up licensing their new operation.

In June of last year, however, an anonymous complaint about the distillery was filed with DPER. The department then realized the business was not permitted and notified the owners, Lux said. As the owners began the process of obtaining the required permit, they realized the distillery was not allowed under zoning restrictions tied to the Vashon Town Plan.

“It’s going to be an issue, and it looks like the town plan doesn’t allow it without a revision,” Lux said.

Dillon said the business owners hope to see a town plan amendment proposed that would allow the distillery go through at the same time as the one related to marijuana is proposed.

Lisa Verner, DPER’s legislative coordinator, said the county would give the distillery time to get the town plan amended for its use, whether that means proposing their own amendment or adding it to a larger amendment of the town plan. The business will be allowed to operate in the meantime.

“If it takes a year or possibly two years, that’s what would be allowed in order for there to be a resolution,” she said.

Verner and other county officials said they know of no other businesses that currently have to go through the same process and are unsure why some people thought many businesses are out of compliance. Verner said she looked into the gas stations, which are apparently out of compliance with the plan but existed before 1996 and are therefore considered a legal nonconforming use.

DPER’s code enforcement department is complaint driven, she said, so the department won’t investigate whether businesses comply with the town plan unless it receives complaints.

At the county’s meeting last week, Lauren Smith, a land use policy advisor in the executive’s office, noted that a portion of the town plan is out of date. She said Fall City recently went through a town plan revision process, something that could happen on Vashon.

“I think that’s something we need to talk about,” she said.

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