By Marcy Stamper
Okanogan County is considering raising the threshold for mandatory environmental review of building projects, which would change existing policy in the Methow, where smaller buildings must now get scrutiny.
The proposed changes coincide with revisions to the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) and would be made uniform across the county. At present, thresholds for review in the Methow are stricter than in the rest of the county.
For single-family residential projects, the new limits for projects exempt from SEPA review would go from four units in the Methow to 20. Multi-family projects, all of which must now be reviewed for environmental impacts countywide, would no longer require a review if they are under 25 units.
Barns and storage facilities would not have to undergo environmental review until they hit 40,000 square feet. At present, any barn larger than 10,000 square feet in the Methow – or 30,000 square feet in the rest of the county – gets an environmental analysis.
Commercial buildings in the Methow must now be analyzed for their environmental impact if they are larger than 4,000 square feet. That threshold would increase countywide to trigger a review only above 12,000 square feet. Parking lots, now requiring a review for 20 parking spaces, would be exempt up to 40 spaces.
Landfills in the Methow must presently get an environmental review if they are larger than 100 cubic yards; that would change to 1,000 cubic yards, which also doubles the current county threshold.
The current exemptions apply throughout the Methow Review District, which has the same boundaries as the Methow Valley School District.
The state environmental rules have not been reviewed for almost 20 years, according to the Department of Ecology, which administers the state’s environmental policy. Ecology says the intent is to make the process more efficient and provide exemptions from review only for minor projects not considered to significantly affect the quality of the environment.
This code amendment would increase Okanogan County’s thresholds to the maximum allowed by the state.
The Okanogan County planning commissioners will consider the proposed SEPA changes at their meeting on Monday (Aug. 26) at 7 p.m. in the commissioners’ hearing room in Okanogan. The county commissioners will hold their own hearing on the proposal at a later date.
For more information on the environmental review process and proposed changes, or to comment on the proposal, contact Okanogan County Senior Planner Ben Rough at (509) 422-7160 or firstname.lastname@example.org. People may also comment at the hearing.
Comp plan hearing
The planning commissioners will also continue their review of the county’s comprehensive plan at the hearing on Monday (Aug. 26).
The planning commissioners focused on the availability of water and on special provisions for the Methow Valley at their last meeting in July. They also asked the planning director to clarify the boundaries of the special planning area for the Methow and to include cross-references to the comp plan map in the next draft of the plan.
The planning commissioners have said they are eager to finalize the document – now in its seventh year of revisions – and pass it to the county commissioners.