City council to determine fate of Matson Fruit — again

10/23/2009 03:02:59 PM
Don Schrack

Matson Fruit Co., a Selah, Wash., apple and pear grower-shipper-packer, will soon learn whether its future is in the Yakima Valley community in which the company was founded 101 years ago.

The Selah city council is scheduled to vote Oct. 27 whether to approve Matson Fruit’s application for a zoning change, said Julia Gray, an administrative assistant for the city.

The issue began nearly three years ago when Matson Fruit agreed to purchase 14.4 acres adjacent to the company’s warehouse and packing plant, pending the city’s approval of a zoning change from commercial to industrial.

“We have no room to even become efficient,” Rod Matson, company president, said of the facility, parts of which date back to the 1920s.

The city’s planning commission approved the zoning change from commercial to industrial in the fall of 2007. Weeks later the city council rejected the application, a decision Matson Fruit challenged in court.

In April of this year, a Yakima County Superior Court judge declined to reverse the city council vote as Matson Fruit had sought in its lawsuit, but he ordered the matter sent back to the planning commission. The commission unanimously approved the zoning request Aug. 4. 

“They just reinforced the decision they had made two years ago,” Matson said after the vote.

The only hurdle left is city council approval, a vote that will determine whether Matson Fruit remains in Selah.

 “This has to work for us, or we’ll be looking at moving to somewhere else around the valley,” Matson said.

The dilemma facing the council is that the city purchased 23 acres near Matson Fruit and rezoned the property from industrial to commercial. The plan was to sell the land to developers who would, in turn, help to generate sales tax revenues by building and leasing retail business complexes. In 2007, some council members said expanding Matson Fruit could interfere with those plans.

The complexion of the council has changed, however. Four of the council’s seven members are serving their first terms and did not participate in the 2007 vote.

Closely following the council’s decision will be Matson Fruit’s employees who number more than 400 during the six month long harvest and packing season, Matson said. Many of them live and shop in Selah, he said. A council decision against Matson Fruit’s application would cut into the tax revenues the company’s payroll generates,

Regardless the council’s decision, family owned and operated Matson Fruit will not leave the fresh fruit industry.

“One way or another we’ll continue to keep serving our customers whether we have to move to another site and start over or continue at this site,” Matson said. “We’re in this for the long haul.”



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