Bridgeport Orchard Property appeal heard by Bridgeport City Council


Attorney Allison Foreman (standing), representing the interests of Bridgeport Orchard Property, addresses the Bridgeport City Council at its regular monthly meeting on Wednesday, July 19.
In a May 2016 email, Conklin advised Cope family member Tricia Coley that “the property you are addressing has not been changed. It has been zoned RI for many years. The change would be that the property has not been used as agriculture property for over a year,” wrote Conklin, “and that the grandfather status was surrendered.”

BRIDGEPORT – The city council and the Cope family, owners of Bridgeport Orchard Properties (BPO), 120-plus acres of RI-zoned land bordering the south side of town, are attempting to resolve an issue that dates to 2016, over the property’s grandfathered use in an agricultural capacity.

Following receipt of complaints from residents adjacent to BPO property that tumbleweeds were piling up along fence lines and creating a fire hazard, city officials last year discussed rescinding the property’s farming status. The city claimed that the property had not be used for farming for more than a year, thereby supplying cause to surrender its use as farm land. Evidently, however, no official action was taken to change the property’s status.

Meanwhile, the Cope family was actively marketing the property and claimed to have one or more interested buyers who required written affirmation of the property’s future agricultural availability. 

In a 2016 letter to Mayor Janet Conklin, Dennis Slack of Washington Orchard Brokers wrote that his company “has had good activity on the listed (BPO) property and has two highly qualified buyers that would have proceeded to offer until the future of the property farmability was in question.”

In a May 2016 email, Conklin advised Cope family member Tricia Coley that “the property you are addressing has not been changed. It has been zoned RI for many years. The change would be that the property has not been used as agriculture property for over a year,” wrote Conklin, “and that the grandfather status was surrendered.”

When Cope family representatives addressed the issue before the council last year, city planner Kurt Danison recommended that council should secure evidence of farming activity on the property before any further was taken.

That set the stage for a comprehensive review of the Cope family’s case before the council on Wednesday, July 19, as Allison Foreman of Foreman, Appel, Hotchkiss & Zimmerman, PLLC, in Wenatchee, asked council for an official resolution confirming BPO’s status for nonconforming agricultural use.

In a 50-plus page presentation, Foreman provided copies of hay production lease agreements from 2009 to the present, tax records from Cope family CPA Leonard Evans and other records related to BPO’s farming use.

“In 2009 prices for fruit fell through the floor,” said Slack. “Orchardists everywhere were going out of business and the Copes removed the fruit trees and switched to hay.” 

“The initial burden of proof is on us,” Foreman said of documenting the BPO’s continued agricultural use. “Once we have done that the burden shifts to the municipal of the city to show evidence of abandonment,” 

“We have not received formal notification from you that we cannot farm the land,” said Cope family member, Tricia Coley. “Can that be put in writing?

Coley said that such a written statement from the city could be taken to potential buyers to reassure them that the property’s nonconforming farming status has not been altered by the city.

Citing state RCW statutes, Foreman said that the city has the power to confirm the legality of a nonconforming use.

Foreman requested a Statement of Zoning Compliance resolution from the city and attached a proposed example.

In a somewhat contentious exchange, the city’s legal counsel, Julie Norton of Ogden Murphy Wallace, PLLC, in Wenatchee, said that the city is not legally obligated to provide any such affirmation and added that the mayor was not comfortable providing such a written confirmation.

Norton suggested that the Copes proceed to with the use they deem most suitable for the benefit of both buyer and seller because further written assurance from the city would not be forthcoming. 

The discussion was concluded without the resolution the Copes were requesting.

TIP Public Hearing

In other business, council held a public hearing on the city’s Six-Year Transportation Improvement Project and subsequently approved the six-year TIP.

 

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