By Marcy Stamper

A unanimous response from some 75 Methow Valley residents apparently persuaded the Okanogan County Planning Commission to recommend against allowing large building projects in the Methow Valley to proceed without an environmental review.

The commissioners decided at their hearing Monday (Oct. 28) to recommend keeping the minimum thresholds for review unchanged in the Methow Valley, but to recommend adopting new standards elsewhere in the county, according to Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston.

The changes were proposed to match increases in the maximum allowable size for building projects exempt from environmental review under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), which have been updated for the first time in 20 years. The county commissioners had asked the planning commissioners to consider making the standards uniform throughout the county, which would have changed more than three decades of more stringent review requirements in the Methow Valley School District.

The planning commission encouraged residents and business owners in the Methow Valley to comment on the proposed changes, which would have increased the size of single-family residential projects in the Methow five-fold, allowing 20 units rather than four before a SEPA review was required. Barns and storage facilities could have been four times bigger.

The proposed changes raise the thresholds in the rest of the county for barns and storage sheds, which will go from 30,000 to 40,000 square feet before an environmental review is required, and for landfills and excavation projects, which will double, from 500 to 1,000 cubic yards, if the changes are adopted. The minimums for other building projects in the rest of the county were already at the new thresholds.

The planning commission received little input on the changes from anyone outside the Methow, according to Ben Rough, senior planner for Okanogan County.

In raising the statewide thresholds, the Department of Ecology said 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.

Huston is preparing a resolution reflecting the planning commission’s recommendation for their Nov. 25 meeting. The county commissioners will make the final decision about the changes after that.