By Thea Skinner
Triplicate staff writer
Rumiano Cheese Factory's efforts to improve its facility has run smack into zoning laws aimed at protecting nearby property.
Cheese factory staff have met with city officials three times in an attempt to update its equipment to be more efficient and what company officials say will be more environmentally friendly.
But Planning Commission officials, who recently rejected the proposal, wonder how much the surrounding neighborhood's character would be affected and if property values will become a an issue.
Rumiano officials say they will ask the City Council to exceed structural height regulations and reconstruct cheese drying equipment.
The proposed reconstruction would add either two separate silos or a single structure housing new equipment.
The first option involves two cylinders with an evaporator used to boil water and a condenser to clean the water.
Crystallizer equipment will create crystals out of liquid whey transforming it from from 20 to 60 percent solids.
The second option is a cylindrical stainless steel tower similar to a water tower. The equipment will dry whey more efficiently by allowing it to fall to the ground at a longer distance.
The new equipment will eliminate the six trips a day that trucks make to cart the whey to farmlands while benefiting public safety and traffic flow.
Crescent City's height limit in the commercial zone on Ninth Street, where the construction would occur, is 40 feet. The new equipment will require a variance in city and government code to allow for a 60 foot structure.
Will Caplinger, city planner and economic development specialist, said he recommended that the Planning Commission approve the project, "because there is a special circumstance available to the property owner."
The variance process allows some flexibility for certain situations, he said.
But several "landmark decisions" from the California Court of Appeals and Supreme Court had Planning Commissions worried about approving massive structures. Caplinger will research if other decisions exist that approved such variances.
Commissioner Sylvia Ann Bos said that any decision made will affect the whole city, as the surrounding zoning areas have lower height requirements.
The area around the factory was originally meant to be a height transition zone, he said.
The height limits along Front Street's manufacturing district increased from 45 to 70 feet in recent months. Height limit requirements are lower inland.
The effort to get a variance could prove expensive for the cheese factory.
Rumiano Cheese official Kirk Olesen said providing architectural drawings to the Planning Commission is pricey.
"It would cost me $35,000 dollars to get the drawings (the commissioners want) done," he said.
The city gave the factory $350,000 in past years to handle the waste water given to farms.
"The government is subsidizing ethanol every day," he said. "The 20,000 pounds of whey that we are not recovering we hope to recover. We prefer, since we are landlocked, to gain efficiency with the cylinders."
Any discussion about what the structure will look like can occur after a decision is made on the variance, he said.
"We talked to Crescent Elk Middle School, and they want to put in a windmill," Olesen said. "If I were four blocks closer to the ocean, where the variance is 75 feet, there would be no question."
But Planning Commissioner Kirk Robert said he believes there are other solutions than taller buildings.
"I think we are opening a Pandora's box on feet applications," he said. "There needs to be an alternative to meet the needs of the community."