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PJR-116 Small-Scale Agricultural Processing Facility Application

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Version 10/15/2014

Agricultural processing includes those activities and processes conducted on a farm which change the unprocessed agricultural commodity from its natural state to a different form; examples include, but are not limited to, processing, milk into cheese, fruit into jam, olives into olive oil. Though most agricultural processing involves the processing commodities into food or beverage for human consumption, commodities may be processed into non-food items as well.

Though larger agricultural processing facilities, or processing facilities in the AR Zoning District, are required to obtain a conditional use permit approval prior to commencement, some small-scale operations in the LIA, LEA, DA, and RRD Zoning Districts may be administratively approved and authorized through this faster, less expensive, zoning permit application if they comply with the approval criteria and performance standards attached. However, this application form may not be used for operations which process meat, alcoholic or cannabis products.

To be approved, the applicant must submit a complete application to Permit Sonoma. An agricultural processing facility which does not meet all of the standards attached, either initially or on an on-going basis, will not be considered for administrative approval and a conditional use permit must be obtained.

The applicant/operator is responsible for complying with requirements of Federal, State and local law which apply to the type of agricultural processing proposed. These could include: permits and licenses, food safety laws, building, well, septic, fire, and accessibility requirements. Prior to applying, applicants should thoroughly research all the requirements applicable to their proposed processing facility and conduct the necessary preliminary investigations and cost estimates to assure that their business plan takes into account all costs associated with start-up and operation of the processing facility and that full compliance is feasible. In some cases, a project’s feasibility and approval can be significantly affected by costs related to adequate water supply, waste disposal, and building code compliance. Applicants are encouraged to consult with County staff regarding requirements of the County Code. The County’s Agricultural Ombudsman at the University of California Cooperative Extension can also lend assistance in determining what other Federal or State permits may be required or providing agency contacts.


The applicant submits a complete zoning permit application to Permit Sonoma in person at the zoning cubicle (mail in applications are not allowed). Permit Sonoma will assign a project planner to review the application and verify that it is complete and that the proposed processing facility and operation conforms with the approval standards and requirements.

Permit Sonoma will require that verification be submitted to confirm that the other applicable regulatory agencies and divisions have determined that the proposed operation will comply with their requirements and have granted any prerequisite approvals, permits, licenses and clearances required by their agencies. Once compliance is verified, Permits will issue a zoning permit approval letter to the applicant/operator.

Required Application Materials

A complete application is required and must include all of the following documents:

  1. Zoning permit application PJR-001 (PDF: 82 kB) signed by all property owners.
  2. Signed indemnification form PJR-011 (PDF: 72 kB)
  3. Signed Small-Scale Agricultural Processing Facility Affidavit PJR-117(PDF: 34 kB)
  4. 8 ½ inches x 11 inches site plan, drawn to scale, that clearly identifies all structures on the property, the structure where the small-scale agricultural processing facilities will be conducted, the proposed water supply and septic area as well as any areas to be used to manage or dispose of processing waste. The site plan should show access to a public road and indicate the parking and loading areas. The site plan should also show any adjacent wells, residences, or streams in the proximity of the operation.
  5. 8 ½ inches x 11 inches floor plan, drawn to scale, of the proposed agricultural processing facility, including any outdoor or covered work or loading areas. Proposed facilities may be repurposed from existing structures or newly built under the appropriate building permits.
  6. Written proposal that describes the proposed type, scale and intensity of the processing facility. The proposal should address each of the approval and performance criteria and provide adequate explanation, data or supplemental documentation to verify how the proposed facility complies with each. It should also indicate the percentage of processing ingredients produced by the operator and the typical source and delivery mechanism for offsite ingredients, the number of employees, and any plans for public visitation of the facility.
  7. Waste Management Plan indicating how all waste by-products of the processing activities, such as cheese whey, pits, pulp, etc., will be stored, handled and reused or disposed of. This Plan should characterize the volumes and types of waste generated, and the operational measures that are proposed to manage the wastes in an environmentally sound manner which does not result in nuisance complaints or health hazards. Where waste discharge is within the jurisdiction of a Regional Water Quality Control Board, the owner or operator shall provide documentation of Waste Discharge Requirements, or waiver thereof, and shall comply with applicable discharge and monitoring conditions.
  8. Verification from a registered Civil Engineer or Registered Environmental Health Specialist indicating that the type and volume of waste discharges to any existing or proposed septic systems which may serve the facility do not exceed the design, capacity and loading restrictions of the system.
  9. Submit documentation that any existing or proposed well and water system serving the proposed processing facility will comply with applicable water well requirements in Chapter 25b of the County Code. The water system must also meet any performance standards and/or improvement requirements from other regulatory agencies. Installation of new wells with required well seals, backflow devices and storage tanks may be required.
  10. Documentation that the water supply well is equipped with a meter to allow the amount of groundwater used to be measured and a sounding tube or other apparatus with a measuring reference which will allow and the groundwater elevation to be measured and reported. 
  11. Verification that the intended water supply complies with all applicable water quality, testing and monitoring requirements as required by the applicable regulatory permitting agencies.
  12. One of the following three submittal options:
    1. A detailed estimate of existing and proposed water use demonstrating that there will be no net increase in water use on site, or
    2. Evidence indicating the water supply is located within Groundwater Availability Class 1 or 2 and is also outside of any area with an adopted groundwater management plan, or
    3. Documentation showing the water supply is located within Groundwater Availability Class 3 or in the area of an adopted Groundwater Management Plan, and a groundwater report prepared by qualified professional that describes the hydrologic setting and evaluates water availability for the proposed use as discussed in the attached “Guidelines for preparing Groundwater Reports for Small-Scale Agricultural Processing Facilities” and concludes and certifies that the proposed onsite water supply will provide a sufficient quantity of water quantity to meet needs of existing and proposed uses without adversely affecting adjacent wells or streams or contributing to groundwater decline or saltwater intrusion.
  13. If the proposed site would disturb undeveloped areas within a potentially sensitive environmental resource area, a site-specific biotic study prepared by a qualified professional shall be submitted demonstrating that sensitive environmental resources areas are avoided.
  14. Graphic details indicating the size, location, and text of proposed signage that complies with standards..

Filing Fee 

See a current Permit Sonoma Project Review fee schedule

Processing Facility Standards

Small-scale agricultural processing facilities shall comply with the following standards in addition to the requirements of the base zone and other applicable combining zones.

  1. Number of Facilities. No more than one (1) small-scale agricultural processing facility may be approved per contiguous ownership.
  2. Minimum Parcel Size / Maximum Size Thresholds. Small-scale agricultural processing facilities up to 3,000 square feet must be located on a parcel of at least two (2) acres in size; and up to 5,000 square feet on parcels five (5) acres or greater.
  3. Square Footage Limitations. All processing activities shall be conducted inside a building or in covered outdoor areas. The total combined square footage of all buildings and areas where agricultural products are processed, aged, stored, packaged, and areas were equipment is stored and washed, shall not exceed the allowed size threshold.
  4. Compliance with County Code Requirements. All applicable building, plumbing, electrical, fire and hazardous material codes and permit requirements set forth in the County Code shall be complied with.
  5. Compliance with other Agency, and Statutory Requirements. All other permit, license, approval, inspection, reporting and operational standards and requirement required by other local State and Federal regulatory agencies having jurisdiction over the processing operations proposed shall be complied with.
  6. Processing Commodities. At least seventy percent (70 %) of the agricultural commodities used in the processing must be grown on-site or on lands owned or leased by the operator in the County.
  7. Water Supply Well. Any water supply well used for agricultural processing facilities shall conform to the applicable water well requirements of Chapter 25b of the County Code. The system must meet any performance or construction standards stipulated in the operational permits and well construction permit.
  8. Water Supply – Quantity. The onsite water supply shall be considered adequate if:
    1. The proposed processing facility would not result in a net increase in water use on site; or
    2. The water source is in Groundwater Availability Zones 1 or 2 and is not within a groundwater basin which has an adopted groundwater management plan; or
    3. The water source is in Groundwater Availability Zone 3 or is within a groundwater basin covered by an adopted groundwater management plan, and a qualified professional prepares a groundwater report, in compliance with the attached guidelines, certifying that the onsite groundwater supply is adequate to meet existing and proposed uses on the site on a sustained basis, and the operation of the agricultural processing facility will not:
      1. exacerbate an overdraft condition in a groundwater basin;
      2.  result in reduction of critical flow in nearby streams; or
      3. result in well interference at offsite wells
  9. Water Supply - Quality. The water supply used by the agricultural processing facility shall comply with all applicable water quality standards and monitoring requirements as required by the applicable regulatory permitting agencies. Operators shall be responsible for submitting verification of compliance from the appropriate agency.
  10. Groundwater Monitoring: Water wells used for agricultural processing facilities shall be equipped with a meter and sounding tube or other water level sounding device and marked with a measuring reference point. Water meters shall be calibrated at least once every five years. Static water level and total quantity of water pumped shall be recorded quarterly and reported annually. Groundwater monitoring reports shall be submitted annually to the Permit and Resource Management Department, Project Review Division by January 31 of each year. The annual report shall show a cumulative hydrograph of static water levels and the total quarterly quantities of water pumped from well(s) used in processing.
  11. Waste Management. A comprehensive waste management plan for the proposed facility is submitted by the applicant, and approved by Permit Sonoma, for ongoing implementation of its and its operational measures will be implemented on an ongoing basis to manage and dispose, or reuse the wastes in an environmentally sound manner which does not result in adverse environmental impacts, nuisance complaints or health hazards. Where waste discharge is within the jurisdiction of a Regional Water Quality Control Board, the owner or operator shall provide the Director with documentation of Waste Discharge Requirements, or waiver thereof, and shall comply with applicable discharge and monitoring conditions.
  12. Septic Systems. The owner shall maintain a properly functioning septic system which complies with sewage disposal regulations set forth in Chapter 24 of the County Code. The nature and quantity of the waste discharged shall not exceed the design capacity of the septic system and any existing restrictions unless a new code-conforming replacement septic system is built. Septic systems built before 1975 need additional testing in order to determine the design capacity of the system. Proper functioning and design capacity of the septic system shall be verified by a registered Civil Engineer or registered Environmental Health Specialist.
  13. Signage. The small-scale agricultural processing facility shall be limited to one non-illuminated sign not exceeding sixteen (16) square feet.
  14. Hours or Operation. Indoor processing activities may be conducted seven days a week, 24-hours per day as needed. Outdoor processing activities, deliveries and shipping shall be limited to the hours from 8 am to 5 pm, except during seasonal harvest when the hours may be extended for limited periods.
  15. Noise Limits. Noise generation shall not exceed the following General Plan noise standards: 
    Maximum Allowable Exterior Noise Exposures for Non-transportation Noise Sources
     Hourly Noise Metric 1,dBA Daytime
    7:00 AM to
    10:00 PM
    10:00 PM to
    7:00 AM
     L50 (30 minutes in any hour) 50 45
     L25 (15 minutes in any hour) 55 50
     L08 (4 minutes 48 seconds in any hour)  60 55
     L02 (72 seconds in any hour) 65 60
    1 The sound level exceeded n% of the time in any hour. For example, the L50 is the value exceeded 50% of the time or 30 minutes in any hour; this is the median noise level. The L02 is the sound level exceeded 1 minute in any hour. 
  16. Setbacks. In addition to structural setbacks of the base zone, agricultural processing facilities shall
    be set back a minimum of sixty feet (60') from watering troughs, feed troughs, and buildings, pens or similar quarters where livestock or poultry congregate or are confined. Outdoor loading and activity areas must be located at least 200 feet from the outdoor activity area of any dwelling unit on an adjacent property.
  17. Lighting. All exterior night lighting fixtures shall be fully shielded and downward casting and do not cause glare or spill over onto neighboring properties or roadways.
  18. Customer and Site Visitor Management. Educational tours are allowed subject to building code and accessibility requirements.
  19. Environmental Resource Areas. Sensitive environmental resource areas shall be avoided.