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Coyote Farm faces setbacks after running afoul of permitting issues

By RICHARD D. OXLEY
Bainbridge Island Review Staff Writer
January 26, 2013 · 9:52 AM
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It’s the kind of conflict that arises as a rural community fades in light of the modern world moving in.

Homes replace farms. Chains set up shop alongside Ma and Pa establishments. And rural enterprises find themselves side-by-side with new suburban neighbors.

Coyote Farms knows this all too well. Owners of the farm, home to a woodworking operation and an up-and-coming goat dairy, are wondering how they will change to fit in an increasingly urban landscape.

Last May, a neighbor sent a complaint to the city about the Coyote Farm and the noise that it produces. The neighbor has continuously written the city every month since asking for action on Coyote Farm.

From there, the dominos fell.

“Frankly, it stemmed from a fence line, really,” said David Kotz of Coyote Farm. “We were putting up a fence on our property line and he wanted us to leave him a 20-foot buffer on our property.”

Kotz couldn’t, given the farm’s operations with a wood shop mill and the dairy.

“He has 20 acres, and we weren’t going to do that,” he said. “He’d been fed up for a long time with noise and stacks of wood. He wasn’t sure if we were in compliance,” Kotz said of the neighbor. “I felt like he fished a little bit to find where he could hurt us.”

Kotz’s parents purchased the 10-acre property in 1962. He was born in 1963, and grew up mending fences and caring for horses. The farm also was home to cows, pigs and sheep.

Today Kotz runs the Coyote Woodshop on the land, sustainably salvaging wood from the island and milling it into usable material.

The family has also generously helped brothers Andrew and Wesley Barclay establish the Coyote Farm Creamery, a goat dairy, on the property. The dairy is steadily on its way to premiering its product in spring of this year.

The Barclay brothers work in Kotz’s wood shop to support themselves while taking on the dairy endeavor. The Kotz family also let them live in an old cabin on the property.

City code officials visited the property, and the grievances over noise and wood piles paled in comparison to building code violations that city officials found during multiple visits since June.

The city said that many of the buildings were being used for purposes that didn’t fit with their historical use.

“There are a lot of issues of noncompliance,” Kotz said.

On that, there’s no disagreement with the city.

“We went out to the site and did a comprehensive review,” said Meghan McKnight, the city’s code enforcement officer. “At that point we established that there were numerous buildings constructed without permits.”

As a result, the Barclays were kicked out. They have until the end of January to find a new home, one they hope will keep them close to their herd.

Kotz is currently seeking a trailer for the Barclays to live in until another rental property on the farm becomes available.

“They have a goat herd here, they need to be on the farm,” Kotz said.

The dairy will be able to continue its operation on the property, but the eviction does create a financial issue for the Barclays.

“This sets us back,” said Andrew Barclay. “We already have our hands full with day-to-day operations and now with the city pushing us up against the wall about the housing, we are not as certain about being able to continue going ahead.”

“We would like to, and hope, we can still get ready to sell Grade A milk by end of March. But financially, we are stretched thin,” he said.

The dairy business will be allowed to continue. Even so, the city’s inspection of the rest of the property didn’t go as well.

There were problems with wiring, foundation materials, and even the widths of door frames were examined. In the end, the city ordered Kotz to either repair or demolish many of the accessory buildings on the property.

The city said the woodworking operation didn’t meet the standards of an agricultural business.

Kotz, however, understands this.

“Part of this is that we have a lot going on here,” Kotz said. “My woodworking operation has grown, which goes out of the bounds of a small home operation. It was nice to have it here, and grow it, but it needs a new home.”

Kotz figures that he needs at least an acre to run his small business. He is looking at other areas on the island, such as spaces on Day Road.

In addition to moving, the Coyote Woodshop has to move all the wood off the property before the end of next summer. Kotz is seeking woodworkers to take much of it off his hands, or finding households in need of firewood.

In the meantime, Coyote Woodshop is in a state of flux. Kotz is currently setting up a Kickstarter campaign — an online method of raising money for causes — to help pay for the changes. When this happens, he will post it on his website, www.coyotewoodshop.com.

The issue of neighborly complaints and code compliance isn’t a new matter on Bainbridge. Small, home-based businesses growing beyond what’s allowed in city codes is not uncommon.

Fletcher Bay Winery is another small business that faced similar hurdles in the past.

“It’s something that we deal with quite a bit,” McKnight said. “And we have pretty strict standards for our minor home occupations (on Bainbridge), but then many expand beyond what is a home occupation,” she said. “In many instances they are not ready to move into a commercial or industrial space.”

Kotz feels mainly for the Barclays and young farmers like them. He said it is difficult to establish a new farm these days.

“We are learning and we are realizing that this is a debate that needs to happen to support local farming,” Kotz said. “For most young farmers, it’s hard to make it here. We say we want farmers here on Bainbridge, but it’s hard.”

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