By MARCY STAMPER
Okanogan County planning commissioners are trying to strike a balance between including enough detail in the comp plan to guide water use and lot density, with an explicit decision by the board of county commissioners to keep regulations out of the plan.
“The county commissioners were very sensitive about loading the comprehensive plan with regulations, zoning, public health stuff. It was a conscious decision to remove all this stuff and instead to make this a policy document,” said Perry Huston, planning director for Okanogan County, during the planning commissioners’ deliberations on the comprehensive plan Monday evening (July 22).
As a result, the plan suggests areas for discussion when the county takes up its zoning code, where more specific decisions about lot sizes and permissible uses by property owners are made, said Huston.
Despite a growing desire to finalize the document – now in its seventh year of revisions – the planning commissioners zeroed in on sections of the plan that deal with the availability of water for development and irrigation, special provisions for the Methow Valley, and procedures for agricultural resource lands.
Planning commissioner Dave Schulz, whose district includes the Methow, said he was concerned that the current draft of the plan does not identify the two Water Resource Inventory Areas that cover the Methow and the county. Specific planning for these areas provides information about availability and use of water resources and is administered by the Department of Ecology.
The planning commissioners voted to include language in the comp plan requiring ongoing coordination with the water resource areas.
Schulz was one of several commissioners who found the chapter creating a “more completely planned area” for the Methow Valley confusing because it does not include clear boundaries or specify when it refers to the Methow Valley or only to the area around Mazama.
The intent is to leave the boundaries covered by the special Methow Valley area intact, meaning they would be the same as the Methow Valley School District, said Huston. Huston said there had been suggestions to use the two existing plans for the Methow Valley and the Upper Methow in the update, but that he had not included them verbatim because some of the information was no longer relevant.
Huston said he had instead used a document submitted by an advisory group from the Methow, but acknowledged some confusion about whether it was intended to completely replace the two older plans.
Huston told the planning commissioners he would clarify the boundaries for the Methow area and include cross-references to the comp plan map in the next draft.
The working draft, from May, is based on a rewrite by county staff incorporating changes requested by the county commissioners after a series of public meetings around the county two years ago. It also incorporates revisions suggested by an attorney who reviewed the plan.
The planning commissioners will hold at least one more meeting to discuss the plan on Aug. 26 before handing it off to the board of commissioners, two of whom have been elected since the last detailed review of the document. Although no date is currently projected for ultimate adoption of the plan by the county commissioners, “they really, really want this back so they can get moving,” said Huston.