Persistence paid off for Frank Penwell and Consignment Treasures.
After nearly 15 years of wrangling over local land-use regulations, the Roche Harbor Road recycle and resale operation has a new permit and is ready to roll, or, more to the point, ready to build.
On Sept. 4, the county hearings examiner issued a decision approving a new conditional-use permit for the property. Frank Penwell is pleased, but his neighbor Mark Larsen isn’t.
“He just wanted to wipe the slate clean, be forgiven, and then go back and continue to operate the way he has in the past,” said Larsen. “I’m not bitter or angry about it, just disappointed because nothing will change. My only hope is that he runs the recycling business into the ground.”
Another neighbor who opposed Penwell’s operation, Ross McCallum, also attended the hearing. He couldn’t be reached for comment about the latest developments.
In 2012, the San Juan County Council amended the development code with a footnote that permitted Consignment Treasures, as an existing recycling center, to file an application for a new conditional use permit that allowed the public to drop off recycling materials at the CT facility on Roche Harbor Road.
“It’s not an ending, it’s a beginning,” said Penwell, who moved to San Juan Island almost 40 years ago and obtained his first permits for the six-acre property in 1978, for a commercial driveway and the first of four buildings he’s built on the property.
Penwell became involved in community recycling as a Lion’s Club member, then formed a non-profit company in 2004 to sponsor a thrift and reuse store and recycling operation at the Roche Harbor Road property. The non-profit has been granted 501(c)(3) charitable status, retroactive to 2011, according to Penwell.
Penwell says that over $150,000 in local community contributions have been made, including scholarships and contributions of goods and money to numerous local community groups.
He pointed to passage of the growth management act in the 1990’s and “continual changes in land use regulations” as the source of many problems for Consignment Treasures. He also says mistakes by county staff and the intrusion of politics into the process cost the non-profit “15 to 20 thousand dollars in fees and related costs, and added lots of unnecessary aggravation.”
“We’ve applied for permits for everything we’ve done,” said Penwell. “You have to follow the rules, and I did.”
In addition to permitting recycling drop-offs, the new conditional-use permit allows Consignment Treasures to build a new sorting building and shed-roof additions to accommodate recycling drop-off and storage. A building formerly used for storage can now be used as retail space.
Penwell says that the CT Recycling unit will now be able to expand its recycling and reuse activities and “serve San Juan Islanders in a more efficient manner.”
The hearing examiner included several conditions in his decision. CT must complete a landscaping and lighting plan, a noise mitigation plan, and a written plan to protect the aquifer recharge area. It must also agree to fire protection requirements suggested by the fire marshal, and allow site inspections by county staff. The county staff recommended against issuance of the new CUP.
County Councilman Bob Jarman, a supporter of Penwell who organized a community meeting supporting Penwell and Consignment Treasures before his election, was pleased with the CUP decision. “I’m excited about what’s happening out there and I’ll take the time to take my recycling there” now that recycling dropoff is permitted, he said. “They’re also the place to take e-waste,” Jarman added, referring to the designation of CT by the state Department of Ecology as an official e-waste depository.
Penwell says he expects only a “small increase” in the number of people using the facility. He estimates that maybe a hundred people a week stop by to shop for used goods of all kinds. “Now they can drop off recycling, too,” he said.
“I was ready to give up, but the community and the CT board encouraged me to continue,” he said. “The needs of the community overtook my original expectations, and the results are even better than I envisioned when I started.”