A judge has ruled that Michael and June York jumped the gun in suing Cochise County last year when they sued over a dispute about an agriculture processing plant that has been operating near the couple’s home in rural Willcox since 2017.
Judge David Thorn issued a Dec. 20, 2019 order dismissing the Yorks’ May 2019 lawsuit which contended county officials violated local zoning regulations by allowing Willcox Cotton Seed Products L.L.C. (WCSP) to operate without a special use authorization permit. WCSP is located on 58 acres off East Sulphur Springs Road, between U.S. Highway 191 and Kansas Settlement Road.
The Arizona Corporation Commission lists Dennis Williams as co-owner of WCSP but county records show he does not own the land on which the business operates across from the Yorks’ property. Court documents show WCSP opened in 2017 and relies on freight trains to bring cottonseed into Arizona before tractor-trailers deliver the seed to WCSP where it is turned into animal feed after being pressed for its oil.
The Yorks argued the county made an error in determining “Ag-processing” business such as WCSP can operate in the area without a permit. However, the judge ruled that state law requires the Yorks to first exhaust all administrative options, including an internal appeal, offered by the county before litigation can commence.
“This court declines to conclude whether or not Willcox Cotton Seed Products L.L.C. is an ‘as right’ use for the area in which it is located at this time becomes the Cochise County Planning and Zoning Department have already done so,” Thorn noted in his ruling. “Plaintiffs have not appealed to the Board of Adjustment even though they dispute the Zoning Inspector’s interpretation of the zoning code.”
Even though the Yorks’ lawsuit was denied, Thorn did not order them to pay any court costs incurred by the Cochise County Attorney’s Office in defending the case. The judge’s dismissal of the lawsuit does not prevent the couple from filing such an action again if they are unhappy with how their concerns are eventually resolved by county officials.
The couple was seeking a court order requiring WCSP to apply for a special use permit, which would have triggered public notification of nearby property owners and residents. The lawsuit contended WCSP disturbs the peace of their community and causes heavy truck traffic that damages Sulphur Springs Road, a county-maintained dirt roadway.
They also argued ag-processing zoning exceptions apply to products grown in the area, not trucked from out of state.
“Plaintiffs have an interest in seeking a declaration that Cochise County comply with the Cochise County Zoning regulations, both as citizens and residents of Cochise County, but also as parties directly affected by the actions of the Neighboring Property,” attorney Corey Larson noted in the lawsuit.